The one thing that summarises Jesus, all his teaching and the way he responds to sinners and the non-religious is ‘grace’. Grace flows through him out into all those he met in large groups or one on one. It is this grace that flows from the Father and the Spirit that blows our minds when we realise how much grace, God has for each and every one of us. There is no place we can hide and no action too far from experiencing God’s grace.
As I’ve travelled around the country and even within my own church, I have been challenged by one line many Christians seem to say to me. I am looking for a ‘grace community’; a church that really embodies Jesus’s grace. Last year I heard of a church called Community of Grace that had split over an issue… the irony. I’ve recently heard this myself within our own community and it’s got me thinking. What do we really mean when we say we are looking to find a church that is a grace community.
In practice I think we are saying we are looking for a church that will accept all my failings and shortcomings, and allow me to still remain a fully committed member of this family. Wouldn’t we all say yes to that? Don’t we all need that?
The thing that I am coming to realise is that what we mean by a grace community isn’t necessarily what Jesus means by a grace community in the gospels. Often, we want a community that will allow all my shortcomings and failures to be swept under the carpet and never mentioned. We want a church that ignores our bad behaviour and pretends it never happened. Essentially a church where anything goes and no-one will ever comment. But if we think about it, this isn’t Jesus’s way either. Jesus always responds with grace but also responds with ‘sin no more’. Grace for Jesus was always hand in hand with repentance.
Paul writes that God’s grace is sufficient for us, his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
For us to really be a grace community we need to start to recognise that our shortcomings and failures can be responded to with bucket loads of grace, but that there is also a time when we too as individuals need to respond by recognising our weakness.
Recently I have been a part of something that made me need to receive grace from someone else. To receive any grace from them, I first needed to acknowledge I had done the wrong thing. If I never admitted there was a problem with me, how could I ever receive their grace? We want to receive the grace without ever acknowledging our actions. We want a grace that paints over our failings without ever routing them out.
Grace never paints over our sin, it replaces it.
We all dream of a community of grace in which we can be fully accepted, a place where we can fall short and still be fully present in that community, but what we also need, therefore, is to be fully aware of our sin. Grace can only be lived out when our sin is out in the open and un-avoided. Essentially we all need to be nudists, living our lives fully in the open, our failings for the world to see; not hidden away but hanging out, warts and all.
Grace isn’t avoiding our sin, pretending it doesn’t exist or covering it up. Grace is being aware of our sin, sitting with it and allowing Jesus’s grace to become present to us. A community really can then be a community of grace. The question for us is, in wanting to receive grace, are we really willing to publicly hold up our hands and admit the problem? Are we, in wanting to receive grace, willing to give grace? If we want a community of nudists, all living in grace, we may need to be the first to take away the fig leaves.