I continually stand amazed at how we function, or dysfunction in the church. Look, everyone in church is looking for grace, and in loads of other places besides. Getting off the hook, not being found out and being forgiven are top of the list for most folks. When we do get caught, grace is wonderful. I remember my dad not whacking me for busting a neighbors window with a poorly thrown rock. Because of his grace that day, I didn't have to suffer any punishment, OR make excuses. Had I been pressured, my 10-year-old mind would have blamed someone... the spinning of the earth on its axis, that fact that my dad hadn't taught me to throw rocks with better accuracy... umm... the target that I was trying to hit moved (Technically the targeted telephone pole had once been a tree in the woods which was moved to our front yard by the power company.).
The question is when is grace appropriate versus consequences, or punishment for our actions? As I write this, it sounds a little harsh, but it is the actual point of this blog. I understand that punishment is greater for seemingly greater offenses. Certainly murder demands punishment. But what about more minor offenses like, not calling someone in the church that you promised to call? Is it OK to decide not to show up as a greeter because, after all, you are just a volunteer? That is the type of dysfunction that I am talking about. The quandary is this. If leaders put pressure on parishioners to do what they say they said they were going to do, is it OK to reprimand them if they don't? The truth, in some cases, people will just find another church where the pressure is off and the grace appears to be greater. We used to call this extravagant grace for just about anything "sloppy agape"; a condition where people gave grace as an excuse for bad behavior.
It is the age old conflict: grace vs. legalism... and who is right question. I think this is a far more important question then "are we predestined or not," don't you think? The answer I suppose needs to be balanced erring on the side of grace. The prefect answer would be to always know what God's will is and do that. Didn't Paul say we must be led by the Spirit?
As Christians we need to grow up. We need to mature to the point of not just doing the right thing, but being led by the Spirit in all things. Spiritual maturity is not just "not drinking, not smoking and not cheating" while touting our testimony as if we have done something great! That behavior is shameful and needs God's mercy and grace. I doubt that acting on our addictions is taken lightly in the throne room.
Spiritual maturity is acting like Jesus did; the healing Jesus, the loving Jesus, the honest Jesus, the preaching Jesus, the teaching Jesus, the praying Jesus, the confronting Jesus, the disciplining Jesus and yes, the overturning tables Jesus. Everything He did was done without judgement, and except for the tables (maybe) without anger. He set boundaries, standards and taught them to those close to him. He was not concerned that few, if any, were going to be there at the cross with Him while he suffered and died. He knew His destiny, and never wavered from God's will. I bet he thought of other things to do while He spoke to the Father about the cup. And it seems, He had less grace for the religious leaders of the time then He did for the tax collectors and prostitutes.
The acceptance of grace is not a license to coast until we get to Heaven. The process of sanctification is life long, and it is never completed. The point is this, we that are more mature, need to teach others, set boundaries that are loving, yet cause others to grow in grace and maturity. We need to teach others to be led by the Spirit, while working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Then we have a starting point.
Hopefully we will stop doing "let's get through the week sermons" and starting teaching and ministering reconciliation and spiritual maturity through example, mentoring and real relationship; the kind where folks are committed to each other for the sake of Christ and the good of the church. Hopefully we can hold each other accountable for that which we said we are going to do in love.
You know, I am not so sure my dad did me any favors letting me off for the rock incident. But I'll never forget the grace that I received that day.