Grace is Hard

hands-1Grace is the most counter-intuitive, mysterious thing in the world. It doesn’t make any sense at all.

Christians seem to be particularly confused and conflicted about grace. Yet, they sing about it, preach about it, and would fight other Christians who disagreed with them about it.

They say grace refers to God’s unmerited favor, Him giving us the opposite of what deserve. It’s “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” They make it very clear that our redemption and acceptance by God is based entirely on his grace, and not our attempts at good works. They say we cannot be good enough for him to accept us, because “all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

They champion grace as the basis for beginning our relationship with God, but go on to uphold a “Christian life” built upon works, practices, and adhering to a prescribed system and expectations, i, e., the antithesis of grace.

They say, “You’re saved by grace,” but you quickly learn certain behaviors and lifestyles will not be tolerated. There are certain things you must believe to be “well grounded,” and you must even use the correct terminology. You must be supportive of the church program with your finances and volunteering to be considered “mature.” Those who don’t agree with your church’s or denomination’s teachings are not only wrong, but possibly, lost and bound for hell. This mindset harbors a conditional acceptance that stands in complete contrast to God’s unconditional acceptance. In other words, “God accepts you as you are, but now you’re going to have to prove yourself to us. Here’s the pattern. This is what a good Christian believes and does.”

The church likes to drawn lines. You are in, or you’re out. You’re saved, or you’re lost, something determined by outward acts, like praying a prayer, saying the right words, or being baptized. If you meet the requirements, you can be a church member. Otherwise, you’re not part of the “in group.”

Their acceptance depends on which side of the line you are on. There is no room for mystery and individuality.

There are so many things I have heard preached against in my life, that it is laughable. Most are no longer Christian taboos, and seem silly now that the culture is at a much different place. Some are still are taboo in certain Christian circles.

  • Men with long hair
  • Women with short hair
  • Women wearing slacks
  • Women wearing short skirts
  • Women working outside of the home
  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • Gambling
  • Living together outside of marriage
  • Being gay

We truly were better known for what we were against, than for what we were for.

We can argue the rightness or wrongness of abortion and homosexuality. However, I understand my response to people is to be loving, not passing judgment on them, or trying to determine who is in and who is out. Unfortunately, Christians come off as hateful toward huge segments of humanity who didn’t have a Christian American postcard kind of life.

Grace has not penetrated the heart of the church.

I wish I could say I have not been guilty of any of the graceless ways of the church. It’s funny how we go along with the group and ignore that little voice from within when it tells us, “This just doesn’t seem right.”

Honestly, when it comes to grasping grace, I am an even bigger obstacle than the church. It is much easier for me to embrace the tenants of grace for other people than it is for myself.

I have a tendency to rehash the negative things about me over and over, again and again. I want to get those things fixed. I feel shame because of them. I accept others with their issues, but sometimes, I can’t stand myself. I am indeed my own worst enemy.

I remember reading how Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, and many other books written to help us grasp God’s grace, loathed himself because of his relapses into alcoholism.

Grace is easy to preach, hard to extend to others, and monumentally difficult to accept for ourselves.

That’s because we know the dirt on ourselves better than anyone. We know it all! We not only know our past, but we know we keep doing some of those things; things that disgust us.

If we don’t grasp grace in a very personal sort of way, we will never be free. There is something constantly hanging over us. It makes it hard to be fully present in moment. It makes it hard to fully engage another person. It makes it hard to live out the life God wants for us. There is always the dark cloud.

Grace is a simple, but difficult thing to grasp. It pesters us when we begin to judge others, or ourselves. It’s kind of a holy pain in the ass. It keeps us loving anyway, and in spite of. It keeps us giving second chances, over and over. It reminds us that God loves us anyway, in spite of our many re-occurring failures.

 

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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4 Comments

  1. Centurion Dan Camp

    It is inaccurate to state that Grace has not penetrated the church’s heart, which is New and loves Grace. You may want to edit that to pinpoint the modern mainstream performance-based church, not the Bride of brides.
    Doug Gresham uses profanity for effect, and, no doubt, others do also. But it is ill advised and polarizing.
    Helping you,
    Centurion Dan

    • Dan.

      I think it is pretty easy to understand that I meant “the mainstream performance-based church.” We could devote our lives to splitting hairs, arguing theology, and correcting language that offends us, or simply own up to our sin and unlovingness that has cast the church in such a bad light. I think the latter is little more like Jesus. At least, that’s my focus.

  2. “We can argue the rightness or wrongness of abortion and homosexuality. However, I understand my response to people is to be loving, not passing judgment on them, or trying to determine who is in and who is out.”

    YES! I call this the Christian’s “therefore.” It’s how we believe we are to respond to real, or perceived sin. “That is sin, therefore I should…” Unfortunately, most have been taught that their obligation to God is to “stand against it,” When Jesus said quite the opposite. If our response to sin is anything other than love, it’s not how Jesus asked us ton respond. God’s response to sin is restorative and redemptive, not retributive.

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