Turn my Grief to Grace

I recently had a less than pleasant exchange with a well known theologian and I’ve been trying to decide how to write about it for a couple of weeks now. I know, who am I to take on a theologian, right? Blame it on my age or the fact that I am my mother’s daughter, but I’ve always believed in seeking the truth even when it means asking questions of those whom other people may just take at their word. For this very reason this particular theologian called me “arrogant”. Perhaps you also think it’s arrogance, but I hope not.

Rather than tear this person and his beliefs apart in a public space, instead I just want to address one topic from the exchange, the heart of it really- “cheap grace”.

I’ve heard the term “cheap grace” used A LOT recently and it immediately registers both pain and anger in me because I don’t think there’s anything cheap about grace. My understanding is that grace costs quite a lot. It cost our Savior his life, can it be more costly than that? It seems the part that some people are referring to as “cheap” is wrapped up in what it doesn’t cost to receive grace and that’s the part I want to speak to.

Why Grace Isn’t Cheap
In a moment of divine intervention as I struggled with writing, my friend sent me this message

“This is an excerpt from a book I’m reading for school called Sin and Grace in Christian Counseling by Mark McMinn. It is so good. I’m in class right now reading it and here McMinn is writing about a friend who suffered from clinical depression and how most of the people who tried to comfort/counsel him were not helpful at all. But he had one friend who would come every afternoon and massage his feet. They would talk some, but usually just enjoy silence together. He said he ‘offered human touch and comfort to a sacred soul with weary feet.’ I just thought this was beautiful…”

“It is one human being sitting with another, being present in a time of darkness, offering a ministry of mercy while avoiding trite words of advice or comfort… But as they sit together in a posture of sorrow, there is a glimmer of hope because, however sorrowful they may be, they are still sitting together, enveloped in a common faith that God is good even in the darkest moments. Hope may be found in a steady thumb caressing a calloused foot, in a timely smile, in a simple prayer offered by one for the sake of the other or in a word of compassion. Our world is broken, terribly broken – God knows- but it is not shattered. Creation is still good, God is still active, Christ is still sustaining our world (Col 1:17). And so there is love and hope and faith, and where they all intersect there is the possibility of grace.”

For me this really captures what I believe grace looks like and then 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 got my attention-

14For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and there for all died. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

I can wrap my brain around the mentality that looks at what I call grace and calls it cheap, it’s not pleasant, but I can go there. The disconnect between the Theologian and myself on the issue of grace seems to come at the point of receiving grace; I believe that it costs nothing to receive grace and he believes it should cost something.
My trouble with this and why I will continue to believe that it doesn’t cost anything on the receiving end of grace is that the very nature of grace is that it is something given that is undeserved or unearned, otherwise how could it be grace?

What I find amazing is how little responsibility we place on ourselves in giving grace. So many people put all of their emphasis on earning the right to receive grace, even in their personal lives, that that pay very little attention to the responsibility of giving grace, and this for me is where the cost actually does come in, and Jesus’ example to us is paramount.
Do we understand what happened on the cross? Truly? Can we wrap our heads around what it literally means for God to have become sin for us and then murdered sin itself on the cross? It’s a sacrifice that I can’t fully take in, it defies all of the “rules”, how could we earn that kind of sacrifice? We can’t so we’ve received grace freely, no strings attached, no questions asked, no expectations. It’s terrifying. Does this mean that people are allowed to have a relationship with God with zero cost to themselves? Absolutely. Here’s the thing… Corinthians says that God committed to us the message of reconciliation, that it is as though his appeal to the world is being made through us! Those are serious and beautiful words! We are given the ministry of reconciliation, we are called to reconcile as God did, through grace which costs a life- that is our time, our money, our emotion and energy, it costs sitting in silence with a hurting friend, not demanding that they give, but just offering them the opportunity to receive freely.

Grace costs a great deal- do we realize that we pay that cost so that others can receive grace just as Christ paid the cost so that we could receive? How might the world change if we were committed to making God’s appeal to the world for reconciliation by bearing the cost ourselves, as Jesus did through grace instead of drawing lines in the sand and demanding that people earn the right to receive grace?

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6 thoughts on “Turn my Grief to Grace

  1. One of the things I love so much about the Eastern Orthodox Church is how radically different is the use of the word “theologian”.

    In the West, this word came to be tied to scholasticism, the fusion of philosophy and other academic abstractions with what had always previously been understood to be “theology” — knowledge of God.

    Not knowing about God. Not knowing of God.

    Knowing God.

    The way of knowing as when the Bible says “Adam knew his wife”. By which i don’t mean sex. I mean a concrete, direct, intimate personal relationship.

    Theologians in the East are those who have seen God, heard God, been filled by God. They “believe in” the Trinity because they’ve _met_ the Trinity directly not because some conceptual framework makes it a reasonable assertion.

    The West seems to have forgotten that God is endless, unwavering, boundless love. He is always in relationship with us. He loves everyone and everything and His grace is poured out eternally for all to receive.

    The consequence of sin has nothing to do with God. God is not changed by sin. WE are changed by sin. We cease to be in relationship with Him. But he is always in relationship with us.

    The only cost of grace is repentance. Not some demonstrable proof of a lack of sin or the end of the potential to sin again, but repentance — “a change of mind” which would probably be more accurate in English as “change of heart” except we’d mistake that for something emotional. Ultimately repentance is the assent to return to upholding our end of the relationship that God is already in with us.

    • Kristin Graham says:

      Amen Jim!!! You are so right! I think we have gone to far and delved too deep into scholastic knowledge of God . We know longer care for the experiential way of knowing God. Which would be fine if God was just a fact . But He calls us into relationship with Him and offers us a way to know Him that should amaze us. We base so much on the writings of Gospels and forget that what they wrote was based on the experiences they had with Jesus. Hhmm I think I feel a post coming on. Thank you so much for this wonderful comment!

      • Starting with the writings of Scripture would be fine if that reading of the text wasn’t divorced from the Tradition of the Church which teaches us how to understand it, but this business of everyone having their own hermeneutic has created the myriad thousands of churches we see all around us with manner of crazy doctrine.

        The Gospels tell us that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures”. You can’t just read the Bible and know what it means as plain text. The guidance of the Holy Spirit can’t be _assumed_ every time you crack open the book.

        The key, for me, to remember that God is not “just a fact” is in Genesis 1, starting around verse 26.

        Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;…” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

        The grammar there can be very confusing if you try to take it literally. It sounds like God is speaking in the plural, it sounds like being “male and female” is what the image and likeness of God means, and it looks like God created “him” both male and female.

        A literal hermeneutic could have a field day coming up with all kinds of new doctrines from those verses.

        But the important point is that God is inherently relational. God is One, but God is also three persons which exist in perfect relationship to one another. _That_ is the image and likeness we were created to have, and which we lost by the time we get to Genesis 5:3 and Adam begets Seth in the image and likeness of Adam, not God. To be in perfect relationship to one another and to God is what it means to be saved by grace.

        This is why so much emphasis is put on loving “the least of these”. The less inclined we are to _LIKE_ someone, the more imperative the call to _LOVE_ them. It is the only way we can overcome our fallen nature and recover our human nature — as icons of God through Christ.

      • Ridgeback says:

        I don’t think there is such a thing as too deep when it comes to any facet of knowledge of God. The goal though is to keep your knowledge balanced with all the other facets. Not to look at God through the narrow lens of either logic only or emotion only. (In a simple sense)

        I somewhat disagree with Jim John Marks though. The ‘Tradition of the Church’ (whichever church) can often mislead a persons understanding where the ‘Traditions of MAN’ have made misconceptions and misunderstanding ‘Tradition’. Yes, many times the word needs to be explained by another, but to rely soley on ‘Tradition’ is suspect in my mind. I suggest one use prayer that he might be led to a proper understanding whether alone or by the help of another.

        I really appreciate your breakdown of the cost of grace Katie. Food for thought certainly. Thank you.

      • Hmmm… can’t reply any deeper, I hope Ridgeback sees this…

        That’s actually the exact opposite of what I said!

        There is only _one_ Church, and it has _one_ Tradition which was forged not in the mind, but in the heart, through prayer and direct knowledge of God. There is no “tradition of man” in The Church. The tradition of man doesn’t come along until 1517 when The Reformers tell everyone they can read the text alone and plainly understand it all for themselves… 500 years later we have 30,000+ denominations of “churches” because that approach simply doesn’t work.

        Read the lives of the Patristics along side their insights into The Scriptures and then really decide which is more reliable, your mind and your prayer, or their heart of endless prayer and what they _know_ of God and His Word through direct experience.

  2. […] this post from a few days ago Katie talked about how God has committed to us the ministry of […]

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