We’re working through Leroy Garrett’s book “What Must the Church of Christ Do to Be Saved?” We’re losing members and congregations at a steady rate in this country. Some would say we’re losing, or have already lost, a great deal of credibility. As a denomination (just wanted to see if you’re paying attention) there are some changes we need to make if we’re going to remain a viable partner in the Kingdom of God. Garrett’s fourteenth suggestion is a call for all our congregations to not just believe in the grace of God, but act on it. Live it!
Stand in the grace of God.
Every member of the Church of Christ believes in the grace of God. They would all readily acknowledge that we are saved by the grace of God and not by our own works. No one among us has the slightest interest in minimizing the significance of the grace of God. However, we must stand in the grace of God, and not simply believe in it. The Church of Christ has a head knowledge of grace, but at the gut level it does not, generally, know the grace of God. It is like living in a house wired for electricity and not being plugged into the power. This is why we’re not going anywhere, we’re not plugged in.
When we consider what grace does for people, we do not appear to have “seen the grace of God,” to quote Acts 11:23, even though we believe it is around. Grace makes believers more and more like Christ, but we are not known for our Christlikeness. Grace causes them to exult in their blessings, filling them with joy, good humor, and laughter; but we are not known for those qualities. Grace makes people gracious, less critical, more tolerant and more accepting; but is this where we are? Grace is never what one deserves, but is this what we have emphasized? Grace is God’s free gift, unconditionally bestowed, no strings attached; but haven’t we attached strings?
By now you’ve noticed a couple of fairly prominent themes in Garrett’s writings: Christian unity and grace. Our misunderstandings and misapplications of both have certainly stunted our growth as a Christian movement and greatly stifled our salvation impact in God’s world.
We have such a hard time realizing that God’s gift of grace is absolutely free, that it’s completely undeserved and totally unearned. We have traditionally understood the grace of God as his gift that makes up the difference as, or after, we travel the road to eternal life. We do the good works, we pray the right prayers, we worship in the correct manner, we get baptized by the proper method, we set everything up in our churches according to the Scriptural pattern, and God’s grace closes the gap to get us to heaven. We have lived by a “God helps those who help themselves” mentality, which, by the way, goes wholly counter to everything we read in the Bible. Scripture makes it clear that “God helps those who can’t do a crying thing for themselves.” But we don’t accept that. Or, at least, we’re not living like we do.
The proper view of God’s grace will, as Garrett observes, transform us into a more Christ-like people. We will act more like our Father when we finally realize what our Father has done for us. Jesus says we are to love one another as God has loved us. That means loving one another even when everybody around you is at their most unlovable. Our Lord tells us to forgive as God forgave us. That means forgiving everybody of everything. Everybody. Everything. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. And Scripture says we are to accept one another as God in Christ accepted us. That means we accept each other — yes, we accept all other Christians; those within and those outside our Churches of Christ — who don’t have every single thing completely figured out.
Jesus told the parable about the servant who was forgiven by his master of his great debt and then refused to forgive a fellow servant of his tiny debt, abusing that fellow servant and throwing him in jail. And we’ve been guilty of the same thing. We’ve imagined grace as something that covers us in our sins, but not in our Scriptural interpretations and doctrinal understandings. Grace covers us for things we might do out in the world, but it’s not enough to take care of us if we get something wrong in the Church. We’re not totally saved; we’re just barely saved, maybe. And everybody else is in a lot more trouble than we are!
I hold to the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi: the way we worship is the way we believe. If we view our Father as a tight fisted tyrant who’s keeping track of every single misstep, as a God who’s looking to judge and condemn, as a Lord who delights in watching us sweat it out, then that’s how we’re going to behave, too. If we view him that way and worship him that way, looking over our shoulders to make sure we’re doing everything exactly right so we can get to heaven, we’re going to treat other people the way we think God is treating us. That is not Good News. It’s not salvation.
When we “stand” in the grace of God, trusting in his goodness and mercy, then love, joy, and peace will flood our hearts. We will then be a more gracious people, magnanimous, full of life and enthusiasm, eager to praise God for his great mercy. We will take ourselves less seriously and be able to laugh at our foibles. We will not be so uptight, we’ll quit worrying, be less critical of others, more accepting, more forgiving.