Joy and the Dominos of Grace


Photo by Petras Gagilas / CC BY4.0

In New Testament Greek, the root word for grace is ‘joy.’

Isn’t that interesting? By inference, when our lives are full of grace—if we truly understand grace—then joy increasingly characterizes our personality and outlook. A domino effect begins, tempering our words and attitudes. We are less easily offended, more understanding, more patient. Joy extends inward with peace and hope, and outward in generous relationship toward people from all walks of life. Opportunities for joy transcend everyday disappointments.

Yet somewhere along the line, the ekklesia forsook the warmth and scandal of grace, preferring instead a religion marked by self-effort, judgment and the requisite sourness that comes from self-effort and judgment. The typical aroma of the church in the world today is anything but sweet. Did God change? No, His grace is constant. Nevertheless, something has gone horribly wrong. The world views the ekklesia primarily by what it is against, often in political terms, than for the love Jesus said would mark his disciples. Years ago, Brennan Manning captured this damaging shift in his classic, The Ragamuffin Gospel:

“Though the Scriptures insist on God’s initiative in the work of salvation–that by grace we are saved, that the Tremendous Lover has taken to the chase–our spirituality often starts with self, not God. Personal responsibility has replaced personal response. We talk about acquiring virtue as if it were a skill that can be attained like good handwriting or a well-grooved golf swing. In the penitential seasons we focus on overcoming our weaknesses, getting rid of our hang-ups, and reaching Christian maturity.

Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if it is only personal discipline and self-denial that will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing. Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufflciency. Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut…Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves while hiding our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat denial of the gospel of grace.

Remember, [God] is not moody or capricious; he knows no seasons of change. He has a single relentless stance toward us: he loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods–the gods of human manufacturing–despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course this is almost too incredible for us to accept.

Here is revelation bright as the evening star: Jesus comes for sinners, for those as outcast as tax collectors and for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams. He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, hookers, addicts, IRS agents, AIDS victims, and even used car salesmen.

Something is radically wrong when the local church rejects a person accepted by Jesus: when a harsh, judgmental and unforgiving sentence is passed on homosexuals; when a divorcee is denied communion; when the child of a prostitute is refused baptism. Jesus comes to the ungodly, even on Sunday morning. His coming ends ungodliness and makes us worthy. Otherwise, we are establishing at the heart of Christianity an utterly ungodly and unworthy preoccupation with works.

The Kingdom belongs to people who aren’t trying to look good or impress anybody, even themselves. They are not plotting how they can call attention to themselves, worrying about how their actions will be interpreted or wondering if they will get gold stars for their behavior. The contagious joy of Jesus (only carriers can pass it on) infected and freed his followers. If Jesus appeared at your dining room table tonight with knowledge of everything you are and are not, total comprehension of your life story and every skeleton hidden in your closet; if he laid out the real state of your present discipleship with the hidden agenda, the mixed motives, and the dark desires buried in your psyche, you would still feel his acceptance and forgiveness.” (emphasis mine)

This is the joyous possibility of the grace-life. Embrace it, become it, then give it away.

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