Two years ago (almost to the day), a dear friend of mine passed away. Michael Spencer (or, the “Internet Monk” as he was more widely known) encouraged me for years with his blog writing critiquing the wider church with both wisdom and bite (the site is being continued by one of his good friends and avid readers). He died of cancer, and in that death, the Church lost a great man. His one published book, Mere Churchianity, was published several months later. It’s a great summary of his life and thought. I highly encourage anyone to get it.
While he was still living, I wrote on this site about how he influenced and affected me. I also wrote this piece for Patrol Magazine after he died (I still remember the tears blurring my vision as I typed that up).
Anyway, another dear blogging friend, Lore Ferguson, is going on sabbatical from her own amazing blog and asked me to write a guest post on–of all topics–grace. I told a couple of my friends this the other night, and one of them said, “Wow! That’s you favorite topic!” It certainly doesn’t feel that way.
As I was thinking through that, I was reminded of the best thing I’ve ever read on grace, and I wanted to share it with you all. It’s an essay by Michael Spencer. I cried through this piece as well (a lot of crying in this post. Hmm…). It was the inspiration for the sermon I delivered at my church’s prison ministry that later was turned into a five-part series on this blog called “Holy Week & the Scandal of Grace“.
I want to give you the link to the article, an extended quote, and then the end of his piece that I adapted as a benediction at the end of the sermon. Enjoy. And grab some coffee. And some tissues.
Sometimes Christians go very, very far down the road of sin’s allurements and dwell there for years. When this happens, we shouldn’t be outraged by such behavior, as if the church is scandalized. The church ought to be a scandal of grace every day, and when it’s not, the Gospel is missing. Go find it. Our treatment of that wayward person, in personal relationships and in the congregation, is all about God’s determination to be glorified in the lives of those for whom Jesus died as a substitute and a sacrifice.
Christian young people who have made different moral choices than the majority may truly not see the wonder of grace. They haven’t sinned enough. Or to be more exact, they don’t see the outrage of their own sins clearly. The foundation of morality their parents and teachers built in their lives may make it difficult to see their own sinfulness honestly. The culture war focus that rages around Christian young people puts unusual emphasis on making choices and “being righteous.” It’s not at the exclusion of the Gospel, but it’s often at the expense of the Gospel.
I know I am not very obedient. I know my sinful patterns and my perennial laziness. I know where I fall short. I am well acquainted with my lusts, my pettiness and my stupid pride. I may make more progress on these things, but honestly, I doubt it. My efforts at obedience have about run their course. Most of what I am going to be as a human being living as a Christian on this planet, I’ve probably already achieved. I want all the years God has for me, and I want to honor and glorify him, but if I am going to learn about grace, now is the time. I need it now.
Here’s where I am. When it comes time for me to die, I’ll only have one work to do. All the options will be gone. We don’t like to think about that, because we like to see our lives as full of all the options of youth, vigor, work, opportunity to change and the results of effort. We’re going to do better, we say. But in the end, the only “work” we can do will be to trust ourselves to God. Simple. Beautiful, in its way.
Faith will be the only work. Exactly as Jesus said in John 6:28. “Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.””
May you die daily. May you die to the works that you think bring God’s blessing. May you die to the works that attempt to steal significance from our own obedience–obedience made possible only because of grace upon grace. May you die a little at a time, one day at a time, practicing for the big one at the end when grace will come lapping at your door like a rising tide, and you will have nowhere to go to run away from it; a gracious flood come to take you home from this troubled world to the place Jesus has prepared for you.
May you get ready for the time when resting in the arms of God and grace will be all you have to do. May this be be more than enough to bring you home.
May you choose death to anything but grace, so you can one day be alive in nothing except grace.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in whom we find breath and life, One God, now and forever,