[I’m reposting these for the benefit of our teachers. This is supplemental material in case last week’s outline doesn’t get you through two weeks. The last two are newly posted.]
Feeling forgiven. Obviously enough, the first important consequence of understanding grace better is to appreciate — to feel — the forgiveness God has given us.
Tragically, many of us go through life feeling unworthy, struggling to perhaps one day be good enough to merit God’s forgiveness. It’s a miserable existence. I’ve been there.
Others, however, unwilling to feel so miserable, convince themselves that they really do merit God’s forgiveness and so become arrogant. In the Churches of Christ, this arrogance typically shows itself as doctrinal perfectionism — that is, the idea that only those with perfect doctrine will go to heaven.
Humility. Thus, the next important conclusion is simply humility. Now, “humility” does not mean low self-esteem. Rather, the Biblical concept of humility is simply honest self-evaluation.
(Rom. 12:3) For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
If God has given us a talent or spiritual gift, and if we think it would be too prideful to use it for God’s glory or if we don’t have God’s permission to use his gift, then we’ve despised God’s gift. Indeed, we’ve made ourselves wiser than God, as God is the one who decides who gets what gifts!
On the other hand, Paul’s favorite saying is, “There’s no room for boasting.” It’s a gift, and so it does not make us better than other people.
This should free us to be better, more willing servants of one another and the lost and hurting in the world. Rather than worrying about what the rules are, we should realize that having the gift is certainly authority to use the gift. And as it’s a gift, we should enjoy sharing it with others.
Doctrinal humility. All of which must lead to a vital, essential sense of doctrinal humility. If I don’t have to get every doctrine right to go to heaven, then I can honestly admit that I’m not entirely sure about everything.
Now, the fact is, I am sure about a lot of things. But my experience is that I’ve often been wrong even when I was dead certain of my conclusions! If I’m to learn from the experiences God has given me, I have to be willing to learn from others and get over the idea that I’ve been anointed to correct all error in others.
Rather, my attitude should be collaborative — let’s talk and study together. Leaders in the Emerging Church Movement like to characterize their stance as a “conversation,” that is, an effort to work with others to better understand God’s will. And there’s genuine merit in this.
Most people have no interest in having their beliefs judged and corrected. Nearly anyone is pleased to engage in a conversation about Jesus and his teachings. We’d be much more pleasant people if we could adopt this stance.
The lost. Although we should be humble, even about doctrine, we do a huge disservice to those outside of Christ if we pretend that Jesus isn’t essential for salvation — or that there is nothing to be saved from. There are very real, very plainly taught boundaries to grace. Not everyone qualifies.
Some in the church are embarrassed at the doctrine that the lost are lost. But we who are saved really are saved from something, you know (1 Thes. 4:6; 2 Thes. 1:8-9).
Therefore, if we truly appreciate what we’ve been given, then we realize that others have not received the same thing and so are motivated to share with others God’s good grace.
Sometimes we have the mindset that we joined the church because it works for us, rather like the way we join a country club, and feel no urgency about others who don’t know Jesus. After all, not everyone is into singing and grape juice and crackers. We’re a little embarrassed about church.
But grace should teach us that we have something wondrous to share, not because failing to evangelize is an unforgivable sin, but because we delight in our Savior and want others to have a share in him.
The needy. But there’s another aspect of grace we often overlook. If our Savior is generous toward us, we must be generous toward others.
I’m persuaded that one reason so many in the Churches of Christ are stingy toward the poor is because they believe God has been stingy toward them.
Once this misconception is corrected, we are required by God to change our attitudes to others. We have to learn to emulate God in his graciousness.
This shows in at least two areas. First, this means we delight in helping people in need. It’s no longer a burden. It’s not guilt-driven. Rather, it’s sheer pleasure to give to others. There is no way to be Godly other than to be generous like God.
Forgiving others. The second way in which we must be generous is by learning to forgive others. N. T. Wright, in Evil and the Justice of God, argues that this is the truest foretaste of heaven. And if we remember what Jesus taught, we have to agree.
The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that we are ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. Isn’t that a scary standard to hold ourselves to?
In the parable of the unjust servant who owed his master a fortune, Jesus taught that we can lose our forgiveness if we refuse to forgive even small obligations owed to us.
The point isn’t that we must forgive small debts, but that no debt is too small to remain unforgiven. We are to forgive a brother 70 times 7 times — if we want God to do the same for us.
The church cannot be the church — the Kingdom of Heaven — if we hold grudges, nurse wounds, and seek vengeance. This doesn’t mean that we pretend bad people are good or that dangerous people are safe — but that we see people as God sees them: weak, flawed, sinful — and forgiven.
Matthew 18:15 ff thus becomes the essence of life in the church. We don’t ignore sin — we confront sin, asking for confession and generously providing forgiveness. And our willingness to let our brothers help us fight sin and our readiness to confess and repent marks us as truly God’s people.
This is not to create a perfectionistic, cult-like community. Rather, the sins we must deal with are sins that lead to death — sins that indicate an impenitent heart. Or sins that give such offense that they must be dealt with to preserve our relationships with one another.
Stanley Hauerwas teaches that the foremost task of the church is to be the church. He means by this that the church should live and model the community that Jesus died to create: We must truly be the Kingdom of Heaven.
Kingdom living means living as the parables teach. And it means truly loving our neighbors. Of course, this is easier when we feel loved by God.
[to be continued]