In my experience, a lot of churches think they are pretty squared away on grace. Their statements of faith rightly hold to gospel doctrines, you know, “the gospel of grace.” In Bible College I learned all about grace. I learned all the big words that help give the grace its depth, its power. I am grateful for that, really.
What I didn’t get, or at least missed, was the application of grace. Looking back, my understanding of grace was significantly more fuzzy than I realized at the time. It boiled down to, “God will save you if you repent of your sins.” This is a glorious truth, of course, but there is a lot more to grace than justification. Part of the message of grace has to be its power in our sanctification as well.
The message of grace isn’t only that it pardons us, but that it also cleanses us and transforms us “from one degree of glory to another in the image of Jesus.” I thought I was squared away on grace. Not that I am “fully squared away” now by any means, but thankfully God has given me much more full understanding of his grace than I had in college.
I used to, many churches today, proclaim grace as little more than a get out of hell free card. I never saw how grace has daily transforming power. It took me a long time to hear and understand that message. The message of grace goes much further than where we spend eternity. The message of grace is one that also sets us free from sin now, fills us with both joy and hope, and changes us from within by ripping our hands off our idols and helping us cling to Christ.
Our churches need this full message of grace because without it our church cultures will remain more religious than spiritual, more works than grace. A message of grace is indeed attractive. People are drawn to good news of forgiveness, acceptance, and approval by God.
We can’t stop at the message though. It must affect our culture. Often times the “Christians are hypocrites” claim comes from people hearing a message of grace, but not seeing a culture of one. They hear, “We are all sinners,” but then get stones when they confess their sin.
People can be attracted to a message of grace, but if they don’t find a culture of grace that is marked by vulnerability, confession and repentance, and a community of people that apply and walk in grace together they will usually walk away.
All too often what happens is we as churches, “Deny with our culture what we declare with our message.” We must absolutely declare a message of grace. But we must also be careful to make sure our culture affirms our message.
What does this lost, hurting, and broken world need? Thousands, millions of churches that both proclaim and practice grace for sinners, like you and me.
Grace has saving and transforming power. Let us declare it and demonstrate it.