The beauty of grace cannot be adequately expressed in words. But if I had to pick a word, it probably wouldn’t be one you would expect.
Grace is messy.
For many Christians, extending grace is difficult. It is uncomfortable, because it runs headlong into what is proper and fitting behavior for those who consider themselves among the religiously correct.
I can remember a time in my life when I was on the outside looking in, so to speak, when it came to church. My mother had a little army of people who had been dispatched to offer random expressions of guilt and condemnation regarding my lifestyle and choices.
In hindsight, I know my mother’s heart was absolutely in the right place, and I am grateful for the countless hours she spent praying for and worrying about me.
There were lessons I learned from way back when that came through my own gradual transformation, also known as sanctification. Here are a few of the more useful ones that shape how I approach my ministry to others and my interaction with those outside of my ministry today.
First, people who do not go to church are not the enemy. In many cases, the church is why they don’t go. Rather than adopting an adversarial posture, I try to look at all people as children of God, and then love them as such.
Secondly, my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ might be different from yours, and that is OK. Depending on who you are talking to and where you are, cultural context shapes the way people understand the call to discipleship.
That is not to say that there isn’t truth. Jesus is truth, regardless of culture. But unless the things Jesus actually taught are being contradicted, we have to be careful not to codify into sacred law something that originated within our cultural norms.
Another lesson I learned is that the amount of time it takes to become Christ-like varies, and not one of us ever gets all the way there. It is unlikely that a person will change immediately and become what Christ wants him or her to become. Furthermore, it is unreasonable to expect people to become what I think they should become and when. (See above for justification for that last point.)
Finally, I learned that grace is a delicate dance that requires that I get off my high place of self-righteousness and look for the Christ in each and every person I meet.
Oftentimes it is the person I am most likely to ignore or dismiss who will provide the best opportunity to offer grace.
Without grace, I would be a hopeless case. Without grace, I would still be on the outside looking in. Without it, I would probably still hold the church and God in great contempt. But I was extended grace by a godly man for whom interacting with me had to be messy.
I am grateful for his willingness to see something in me that I did not, and for the lesson I learned: Offer grace to others in the messiest, most liberal way I possibly can.
The Rev. Randall Monk is the lead pastor of Ekklesia Faith Community in Grovetown.