The Scandal of Holy Week {iii}: the limits of Grace?

[Update: this series has been completed. Part 1: the forsaking of GodPart 2: the Grace of JesusPart 3: the limits of Grace?Part 4: the restoration of disciplesPart 5: conclusion & benediction]

In part 1 of this series, we looked at the original Holy Week and saw how everything and everyone has and will forsake Jesus. We said that “Thursday”–the day when the disciples forsook Jesus–will come for every disciple. In part 2, we saw that Jesus, as he relates to those that have forsaken him and those that will do so, responds and relates to them on the basis of pure, unfettered grace. Today we look at why this matters and what it looks like in our lives.

We’ve seen that every disciple will forsake Jesus, but the true disciples of God are the ones that come back after they have left him. And further, it is my contention that what brings people back is not fear, not Law, but the unbounded and free Grace of Jesus.

But let’s be honest–this process can be a long one. It can be months, years, or even decades before these true disciples of God return to Him. People can go very far down the path of sin’s temptations, and still be Christians. In fact, any of us can go very far down the path of sin’s temptations and still absolutely be beloved, regenerated, Christian children of God.

And this is why I’m talking about this; this is why this is so important:

My fear is that often times we try and spend so much of our energy focusing on not falling away that we miss God altogether. We tell ourselves, “I don’t want to fall away from this faith, and to keep myself from doing so I must do A, B, and C” (whatever your particular tradition or preference defines as the “fruit” of still being a Christian).

And then years later, we find ourselves in a season where we are not meeting these expectations we’ve given ourselves. We’re not doing A, B, and C. We are not being faithful. We are not being fruitful. Our hearts are numb to this Gospel and the Bible. We’re not in a community. We don’t really feel like pursuing Christ. We have (using the terminology of these posts) forsaken him.

And yet, since we have said to ourselves “the Christian that will never fall away is the Christian that does A, B, and C,” and we’re not doing A, B, and C, it is easier for us to just to forget the whole enterprise and move along on our merry way, never to return.

Sometimes, when we’ve forsaken God, our faith must run on fumes–fumes we can’t feel, fumes no one can see. And this may have to last for years–each person’s story is different. But I fear that many of us have no category for the wayward person who is still a beloved and accepted child of God, and so when we find ourselves wayward, our faith doesn’t continue running on the fumes; we just stop the car, get out, and walk away.

When we say “The Christian that does A, B, and C is the Christian that will not fall away,” we have in effect defined the limits of God’s grace. In essence, we’re saying that God’s grace is only available, only real, only effectual for those being “faithful” and “fruitful” and “doing A, B, and C” (whatever that might be).

But this is not how God sees our forsaking of him. Recall when Moses is called up to Mount Sinai to talk to God for 40 days and nights. When he returns, we love to remember that he brought with him the Ten Commandments–Law.

But that’s not all he brought down from God. Moses also brought with him–right alongside those commandments–the instructions for the tabernacle: the place where sacrifices would be made that would atone for sins and allow a way for forgiveness. And in this we see a very important principle:

Whenever God gives law, he assumes we will fail in it and provides a way of forgiveness and restoration.

There’s no period where God “tries it out” to see how we do. He knows we will fail, and he’s built that anticipation into this whole system of forgiveness and relating to Him. Jesus was living among those not being faithful in any way towards him–people who were turning their backs on Him–and yet he related to them in absolute, unconditional grace. He loved and accepted them, no matter their “faithfulness” to him.

He did not respond in the that way we so often do. There was no “well, we can’t forget that obedience is important” or “well, technically you can do what you want, but you just won’t want to sin” or “well, we don’t want people to abuse this grace.” No, in fact, with his actions, Christ was screaming at those around him:

“Abuse this grace! Use it to do your worse! Beat it! Flog it! Kill it! Crucify it! It is still yours.”

No conditions. No limits. No waiting around for us to get our act together. No scare-tactics. No fear that we might (god forbid!) actually sin. Just a quiet and humble acceptance that we will abuse this grace, we will take it too far, and we will not take it far enough; but all along it is no less fully ours.

Why does this scare us?

Why, in the face of this scandalous grace, do we all (myself included) have this knee-jerk reaction to add a bunch of disclaimers to this grace? Why are we scared of sin–either that we might do it, or someone else might do it–in light of this extreme grace?

I think it’s because, at our core, one of our greatest rebellions is that we don’t want to feel like we need grace.

We would rather err on the side of not taking grace far enough rather than than take it too far. But Jesus’ harshest words were reserved not for those who erred on the side of sinning too much, but for those that, in a way, did not sin enough: these “white-washed tombs” that had fooled themselves into thinking they were far better than they actually were.

I think we would all prefer to fool ourselves into thinking we are far better than we are. That doesn’t sting so much. And so we will freely define the limits of God’s grace, because when we do that, we then have a law that we can wave in front of God’s face and say “now you must accept me”.

But this is not our story. Our weakness is our tale and it is in fact our glory because it is in that weakness that God’s power is made perfect. And so, out of love, he tells us to freely be weak, for we are His nonetheless, no matter how far down the road of sin’s allurements we travel. As an old pastor of mine once said:

If it can’t be abused, it’s probably not grace. 

If your view of God’s grace is something that cannot freely be taken too far and used as a justification to sin, then I fear you are preaching Law, and not the true Grace of our Lord.

In the last part in this series, we will see the practical ways Jesus prepared his disciples to forsake him and return. We will see those things that are still available to us today, so that when we forsake Jesus, we might be wooed by and take hold of this grace of our Lord once more.


7 thoughts on “The Scandal of Holy Week {iii}: the limits of Grace?

  1. Oh wow. I missed the first two of the posts in this series. I am liking this post though. I am in a season of my life where I am living w/ a sin I used to swear I’d never commit. & I wish I could pray to the father w/ Jesus in the garden that his sacrifice, that his grace be sufficient. Not just for me but for all. From age to age, generation to generation all cultures. Wow thanks for sharing.


  2. Pingback: The Scandal of Holy Week {iv}: the restoration of disciples | the long way home

  3. Pingback: The Scandal of Holy Week {v}: conclusion & benediction | the long way home

  4. Pingback: The Scandal of Holy Week {i}: the forsaking of God | the long way home

  5. Pingback: The Scandal of Holy Week {ii}: the Grace of Jesus | the long way home

  6. Pingback: Holy Week & Meditations on Radical Grace | the long way home

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