God’s grace. A wonderful Christian teaching. If you are trying to serve, if you have mercy for the hurting but you make mistakes, God has abundant grace.
The journey to the kingdom of heaven is paved by works of the Spirit. We all fall down in the journey of loving others. We stumble as we learn to embrace humbleness over power and selflessness over greed. Grace covers our fall and gently helps us back on the path.
But the American evangelical church has twisted the definition of grace into a selfish, Me-first mentality.
Grace, grace, God’s grace…
Grace. As a young child in church, I was taught to sing about grace. I learned from American evangelical pastors to claim grace over every part of my life. Every time I was greedy or selfish, I learned that I could excuse my behavior with some platitude about grace. But I was not taught about works or about mercy. On my spiritual path beyond the church, Jesus has taught me that grace covers mistakes, but grace does not cover willful disobedience to the promptings and the works of the Holy Spirit.
How can grace exist without works? Many American evangelicals have recited the salvation prayer. They ask for God’s grace, and the blood of Jesus, to cover their sins. Then they turn around and stomp on that blood through their harshness to the poor and hurting. They show no grace to their brothers and sisters.
Zaccheus the tax collector understood grace. He climbed the tree to meet Jesus. He was ecstatic when Jesus asked to visit his house. Jesus gave him holy grace to cover all his sins. Zaccheus immediately vowed to do works and return all the taxes he had harshly demanded from the poor.
Today’s bill collectors and bankers pray for grace on Sunday, then turn around and destroy the poor on Monday. Today’s police officers and judges ask for grace on Sunday, then extend harsh judgments to petty criminals or innocent victims of the justice system on Monday. Today’s employers receive grace on Sunday, then fire their minimum wage employees on Monday because of a broken car or a sick child. How can society’s powerful people expect to receive grace when they do not extend grace to the society’s weak and vulnerable people?
Zaccheus had incredible wealth and power as a Jewish tax collector. He embraced grace for his own sins, mistakes, and failures, and then immediately extended grace to those underneath him. The powerful in today’s society claim Jesus’ grace for their own sins, mistakes, and failures, and then destroy the lives of those underneath them. They do not understand grace at all.
Zaccheus did works by returning money he had wrongfully collected. He gave back to the poor eight times what he had taken from them. Could you imagine a prosecutor, police officer, or manager today giving back eight times the money and life they steal from the wrongfully convicted, wrongfully arrested, wrongfully fired? God’s heavenly system of grace and works is so far removed from this earthly system of little mercy and great selfishness.
If you want to receive grace, you must give grace. To whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).
If you want to understand grace, you must understand works. There is no grace without works. If you want to understand works, you must understand mercy. Mercy is compassion, walking a mile in another person’s shoes, and doing everything in your power to help them on the journey. Mercy and works is the kingdom of Jesus.
I have heard some Protestants go so far as saying “doing works is evil.” I am boggled by the mental and theological gymnastics required to reach that statement. In the Bible, God tells us over and over to help the poor, take care of the least of these, and visit the prisoners and the sick. How are these things evil? These are selfless works of the faith.
I have also heard many people, most grievously some American Christians, who declare that the poor are lazy, and the prisoners are sinful. Who are you to judge? Many poor people work multiple jobs. Many prisoners are innocent victims of poverty, place, or the broken justice system. Only God knows the heart. God has immense grace for the poor, the humble, the broken, the repentant. There is no grace for the proud and judgmental.
The Pharisees acted the same way, judging everyone around them and stealing the poor widow’s very last mite. They did not see a need for grace or mercy. Jesus rebuked them many times for their sinful attitude.
Protestant Christians often say that the cross of Jesus, accessed by a “salvation prayer” and dependence on “God’s grace,” is the only way to heaven. All other religions, they say, are damned to hell because they do good works and try to “work” their way to God. But this argument makes no sense.
How could grace exist without works? If a simple prayer is all that’s needed for salvation, then how is grace needed at all? Doesn’t grace mean a covering for mistakes, permission to try and try again as we perfect our heavenly walk?
Saying the name of Jesus is not some magic spell that equals for some “Christian” social club. If you are not trying to do works, you are not covered by grace. Just as faith without works is dead grace without works is dead.
James 2: 14-16
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
The cross is a bridge to heaven. God’s grace covers us as we follow Jesus and take up our own cross, our works, to grasp heaven. Grace, and salvation, is not a one time event. The Protestant church has last its understanding of grace. We desperately need grace in this fallen world. If you are actively trying to help others, as you have the power to do, and you sometimes slip up, God has abundant grace for you.
Thank God for his grace as we practice the works of the Holy Spirit and the kingdom of Jesus.