Who Said Grace is Fair? – by Greg Albrecht

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The inscription on John Newton’s granite tombstone in the small cemetery of the parish church of St. Peter and St. Paul in the town of Olney (population about 6,500), Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England, reads: 

John Newton, clerk [pastor], once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the Faith he had long labored to destroy. 

Newton, who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” once shared these thoughts about the wonders of God’s grace: “If I ever reach heaven I expect to find three wonders there: first, to meet some I had not thought to see there, second, to miss some I had thought to meet there, and third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there.” 

God’s grace means that God loves you, me and everyone, not because of lovable things we have done or any lovable things we are ever capable of doing, but because God is God.  Even though grace might initially seem an attractive and beautiful message that rescues us from slaving away endlessly trying to please God, two further implications of grace cause many to reject it: 

  1. God’s grace means that God will never owe anyone anything. God cannot be purchased or owned. 
  2. God’s grace is for everyone, even for those who, from our perspective, don’t deserve it…even for those who don’t think they need it…even for those who don’t want it…at least, yet. 

God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, does not belong to any nation, culture, race, church or denomination. God came in Jesus to offer his grace and love to the entire world. The grace of God is for all mankind, whether we like it or believe it or not. God’s grace is the absolute proclamation that God is free to be God. 

To utterly believe in the God of love, grace and mercy, without reservations, is to disavow much of what Christ-less religion does its best to produce, proclaim and promote. Part, if not much or even most of the business of Christ-less religion is to establish market share, pushing, endorsing and advocating its dogmas, doctrines, confessions, prayer books, ceremonies and rituals. 

The business of Christ-less religion is to evangelize with its brand and establish its own franchises. The business of Christless religion is to build its own empire, pretending it has virtually captured and confined God to its basement or attic. If one completely buys into religious dogma and doctrine as an absolute test of truth, eventually one must conclude that God is not free to be God. But God’s grace flows where it will, when it will. God’s grace is not stored, redirected or dispensed by human institutions, traditions, systems, rituals or dogmas. 

When all of the implications of God’s grace are carefully considered, the human mind determines that God’s grace is impractical and even absurd. Grace contradicts our human sense of fairness, and doesn’t add up when subjected to human logic and calculation. 

God’s grace is not “fair.” Grace is a radical gift that offends our deepest sensibilities, especially when it is given to someone we believe doesn’t deserve it. Some Americans might even fee

that God’s grace is un-American, because America is all about working hard and getting what you deserve. 

lBut God’s limitless grace and love confronts and challenges us with the undeniable reality that he lavishes his grace on some who (in our humble estimation at least) don’t deserve it. Many church-goers and the churches they attend have come to be known as people and places of judgment, bigotry and hate – filled with condemnation toward outsiders. 

Why is it that so many “Christians” are so excited about receiving God’s love for themselves, while insisting on eternal conscious torment in hell for those whom they don’t believe deserve God’s grace

Here are two of the most toxic, un-Christ-like messages that masquerade as the gospel which I will characterize with fictitious church names/titles – sadly these two streams of thought accurately represent churches within Christendom – watch out for them and their different gospel – which is really no gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-7).

  • Stay away from “The Church of Grace for Us, But None for You.” If you give this bunch a chance, even though its inmates/members aren’t qualified to condemn you, they will continually do so. These deluded folks are industriously trying to grab God’s mercy and grace for themselves and then squirrel it away, all the while trying to dislodge and deny his love when they think it might be extended to others. 
  • Stay away from “The Church of Justice” – such a church fervently believes that everyone who, in their opinion, richly deserves punishment will really, really get it in the end (both chronologically and anatomically). 
  • Stay close to Jesus, the head of the universal body of Christ, the only One who is qualified to condemn, for he will never condemn you. 

There’s an old story about the latest group of new arrivals in heaven who were huddled together in front of the pearly gates, waiting for St. Peter to greet them and welcome them inside. A few adventurous ones climbed up on the wrought iron fence, peering through, trying to see what heaven was really like. 

Suddenly, those who were looking through the fence saw someone who they all remembered as a great sinner on earth. The new arrivals were scandalized. One person demanded, “What’s he doing here?” Another new arrival said, “After all I went through to get here and after all my hard work, now I find I’m going to have to live for all eternity with the likes of that sinner!?”

Within a few minutes, the group worked itself into a frenzy of rage. They were all outraged and disgusted by God’s generosity and his forgiveness, and there, standing at the gates of heaven, they all started to curse God. 

Grace is not given so that it can be displayed in a trophy case or hung on the wall, like a credential we earned. Grace is not given so that we might hide it for safekeeping (Matthew 25:2425). Grace doesn’t flow like a river to a religious dam where it can be stored and dispensed by religious authorities. Grace overflows. Grace flows to us and through us. 

Grace is dynamic and alive – we might even describe it as restless. Grace never sleeps. Grace is the proclamation and the spiritual reality that God is free to be God. We don’t own grace – it’s given to us that we might share it and pass it on. 

Another of my favorite “grace stories” is about a lady who had a stranger knock on her door one morning and hand her a $100 bill. She wasn’t asked to sign a contract – in fact, no words were exchanged – just a smile from the stranger as he walked away after giving her the unexpected and unmerited gift. She couldn’t believe it! Nothing like that had ever happened before to her. 

The same thing happened the next day and the next and the next. The stranger always smiled, but never said anything. No explanations. He just gave her a crisp new $100 bill, smiled and walked away. This routine continued for 30 days. 

On the 31st day, she was waiting on her front porch for her $100 bill when she saw the stranger walking down her street. But he didn’t walk up to her front door. He passed her house and walked up to her neighbor’s house, and gave her cranky, hard to-get-along-with neighbor lady a $100 bill. 

The first lady, who had received a new $100 bill every day for 30 days was indignant, and she yelled at the filled-with generosity stranger – “Hey, where’s my $100 bill?”

The love of God is perfectly made known to us in the cross of Christ, and his love is for everyone – whether we like it or not or whether we believe it or not. The love and grace of God is not defined or limited by religious ideas of “justice” that glories in the assurance that sinners will “get theirs” when all is said and done. The love and grace of God is not about retribution and payback:

…the executioners will not finally triumph over their victims… in the end the victims will not triumph over their executioners. The one will triumph who died for the victims and then also for the executioners, and in so doing reveals a new righteousness which breaks through the vicious cycles of hate and vengeance…. – Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, pg. 178

With gratitude and thanksgiving that we might serve our Lord, by his grace, proclaiming the gospel to a world in desperate need, 

By his truly amazing grace!

Greg Albrecht

Friend and Partner Letter from June 2016

Letters to My Friends

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