Thinking about the wonderful grace in which we walk in Christ Jesus, it occurs to me anew that grace carries with it a sting.
Abstract grace - some disembodied concept that floats around inside my head - that doesn't sting. No, that kind of grace is safe, faraway, romantic, painless.
But the grace that is mine in Christ is not abstract. It is real, practical, personal. It reaches into the mess of my day-to-day life and touches my flesh, my mind, my heart, my soul. It touches what I say and think and do. It touches everything about who I think I am. No part of me escapes God's relentless grace.
Whatever this grace touches, it exposes. Not sin in the abstract - sin that is mine by virtue of my being a daughter of Adam, that faraway misty sin - but sin in the particular. My actual, lived-out, freely-chosen sin. My pet, I-don't-want-the-world-to-know, today sin. MY sin.
This exposure hurts. (I did so want to believe better of myself!) Sometimes, the pain of exposure is excruciating. Sometimes it hurts the people around me, too, because they stand too close to me or because they love me.
Perhaps it is fear of this exposure and pain, this initial sting of grace, that makes some people so reluctant to receive it. Grace can indeed appear terrible.
But I can testify...
That initial sting, however painful, is nothing - NOTHING - compared to the joy that follows as grace washes over the great festered sores in my soul and transforms rancid flesh into living tissue.
All this thinking about grace brings to mind the following post from a couple of years ago...
- originally posted August 17, 2012
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
- Romans 1:16-17
"I am not ashamed of the gospel..." Why would Paul make such a statement, unless there was some possibility, some assumption, even some likelihood, that shame would be a natural emotion for someone associated with the gospel of Christ? Why would he need to assert that he was not ashamed? Ashamed of what? What is shameful about the gospel?
I suppose there are lots of answers to those questions, but one in particular has occupied my thoughts this week. Let me try to explain...
By trusting in and testifying to the gospel - by confessing my own complete poverty and filthiness before a holy God, and by resting only in Christ's righteousness applied to my account - I am basically proclaiming to the entire world that I am a Loser. Worse than a loser. No, I am not "all that and sliced cheese." I can't even do the first little thing, take the tiniest fumbling baby step toward a right relationship with my Creator.
The gospel - the "good news" - begins with the very bad news that I am a sinner, that I hate the things of God, that not only do I deny His holiness and justice, but I run from it with everything I've got.
But captured by God's grace - captured and captivated! - captured by grace which flows from God's infinite mercy, I have been made new. Transformed by my Creator from a God hater to a God lover. Not because I desired God and sought Him out, but because He desired me and pursued me. Not because of any virtue in myself, but entirely because of the virtue of Jesus. Not because I had faith, but because Jesus is faithful. Not because I have within myself one iota of righteousness, but because Jesus has applied to me the very "righteousness of God."
As a redeemed sinner, I find the gospel message beautiful - it is life and hope and joy and peace. But the gospel also has a dark side...it exposes me for what I truly am. I cannot tell you about the radiant beauty of Jesus without exposing the darkness in my own heart from which He has saved me.
If I am going to tell you that Jesus died to save sinners - I am going to have to put down the facade, strip away the self-deception that so desperately labors to make me (and you) believe I have any righteousness in myself.
To truly believe and rest in and live out this gospel - it's like standing in front of the world naked.
Yes, the shame of the gospel would be too great to bear, were it not for the glory of Christ, were not for Christ's covering me with His own righteousness. Thankfully, the gospel is powerful - powerful enough to overcome my shame. Indeed, it is the very "power of God for salvation"!
It's a power that makes a dirty, trembling, naked sinner look up in faith and joyfully proclaim to the world around her, "I am not ashamed!"