Romans 5: 1-10

Alistair Johnson
Alistair Johnson

Read Romans 5: 1-10

When I spent a year in a church in Columbia, Maryland, I was struck by a certain instance that enlightened me to a major flaw in our understanding of grace.

In our youth group there was one child who was so full of life and energy, so much so that he was sometimes too much for people and annoyed and upset certain members of the church. I heard one of the more elderly members of our church telling the young boy, "God only likes good little boys".

Although this evidence is anecdotal it points us to the truth that we as a church are unsure of how to dispense God's grace because we do not fully understand it.

In an increasingly graceless culture, where do people find the motivation to understand and accept the concept that grace is a foundation of our faith? Where do people find the motivation to dispense grace when dispensing grace seems counterintuitive or possibly even futile? This is a deeply imperative question that the church has to address if the church is ever to take the message to its roots, conveying a gospel of grace as God intended.

Brennan Manning in his book 'The Ragamuffin Gospel' argues that the church has lost its way in its understanding and dispensing of grace. Manning states, 'The Christian community resembles a Wall Street exchange of works, wherein the elite are honoured and the ordinary ignored. Love is muted, freedom impeded and self-righteousness secured.' The institutional church has become a wonder of the healers rather than a healer of the wonders.

For too long we have understood grace as a business exchange. John Piper continues this sentiment when he describes the relationship between grace and the church. Piper presents his opinion, 'In the effort to repay God in the ordinary way we pay our creditors, would nullify grace and turn it into a business transaction. If we see acts of obedience as installment payments, we make grace into a mortgage.'

It is important not to stray from the fundamental nature of grace; that it is free and abounding to whomever accepts it. We must guard from turning it into a business transaction where our works are taken into account in their standing with God. Misinterpretation of grace results in a misinterpretation of the gospel message and God's intention for us.

We have misunderstood the real transformative power and meaning of grace. Swindoll writes, 'For too long grace has been misunderstood as punishment avoidance'. But God's grace was flourishing long before the first sin was ever committed. The grace crisis has plagued the church and it is this crisis that we must address. You may be surprised to find that Jesus never actually used the term grace. He just taught it and more importantly lived it out.

Rediscovering Grace

Something is stirring in the Nevada desert outside of Reno. A movement is gathering force, taking shape and it is not leaving participants untouched. Its influence is affecting the lives of today's generation that is searching for an experience and for meaning in their life. In the U.S.A The Burning Man festival takes place on a 400sq mile flat-floored basin in the blazing heat of what has become known by artists and musicians around the world as the Black Rock Desert. In 2008 it was reported in the LA times that 49,599 people attended the event. Each year the event attracts thousands of artists, musicians, bohemians, the punk subculture, (which is based around punk-rock), graffiti artists and other artists and subcultures that descend on this playa, in the very heart of the hot, rugged Nevada desert. On the official website it says, 'You belong here and you participate. You're not the weirdest kid in the classroom - there's always somebody there who has thought up something you never even considered. You're there to breathe art.' The festival represents for many a chance to feel accepted and included in a way they experience nowhere else in society. The festival is called the Burning Man, because it builds up to the climax on the Saturday where attendees burn the wicker man that is the central focus of the festival. This festival and festivals like it have captured the nature of grace.

Albert Einstein said, 'We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.' There is truth here that people of God must let grace reign in our church community lives if the people of God are to experience the phenomenal spiritual experiences of the early church; to meet the challenges of this generation and to create the type of experiences they crave for at festivals like the Burning Man festival.

The new uncertain epoch the church faces is one full of fresh new challenges that will need the gospel of grace to be placed at the centre of communities if Christians are to impact this broken world. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.