THE GOSPEL of RADICAL GRACE
BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
JULY 11, 2012
“For God consigned all men to disobedience that He may have mercy upon all.” (Rom. 11:32)
Paul’s declaration that GOD consigned all men to disobedience certainly takes some of the “heat” off us, but more than that, it shows clearly why I’ve called this kind of merciful God-action, RADICAL GRACE. This is the second part of a discussion about how the “Good News” of the Kingdom has lost not only its allure and attraction, but also the power to draw people to the Father who waits to put a robe, a ring, and a crown on the errant child who comes to himself and returns home. Perhaps the culprit is religion itself, which has put so many stipulations on behavior, doctrine, and lifestyle that anyone who has visible flaws, draws back and thinks, “I can’t qualify for this.” That conclusion is a failure to see that the Gospel is God’s GRACE, His UNMERITED Favor, not more rules to follow. The worse the sinner, the more radical grace is needed, prompting Paul to ask, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” His answer? “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2)
One of the old saints at Medicalodge told me that she was drawn to Christ because her church promised that the reward for choosing to serve Him was that He would take care of all her problems. She interpreted that to mean she wouldn’t have any more trouble in her life. The prosperity preachers are still at it out there, and they still draw huge crowds of hopeful souls who are convinced that if they “prime the pump” (make an offering of “seed money” to the ministry), they too will be blessed by God. The New Age adherents are wont to say, “The Universe wants you to have that new car and better job.” Both camps of “name it and claim it, blab it and grab it,” as Kenneth Greatorex put it, are off the mark. Even a short read through the Bible (especially Hebrews, chapter 11), shows that hardship, fiery trials, and deprivation are designed especially for us, to train us, to mold and shape us, ultimately conforming us to the image of Christ.
Paul’s famous conclusion is both encouraging and discouraging: “but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (II Cor. 12:9) It’s encouraging because we are assured that the game isn’t over when we realize how weak we really are; at the same time, it’s discouraging because we realize that no matter how much “seed money” we give or self effort we put in, we won’t avoid the problems which are divinely designed to mature us and reveal His glory to us and in us. No matter how righteous we think we are, we are all candidates for “Radical Grace!”
The Apostle Paul brought Christ to the world he lived in, and if the prosperity teachers and New Age gurus are correct, someone forgot to give Paul the memo on how to live a trouble free life: “Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (II Cor. 11:24-28)
Did Paul fail to make positive confessions? Was his theology flawed? Why didn’t God reward him? Here’s his answer: “Indeed I count everything as loss (dung) because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8)
Thankfully, most of us do not face such hardships today, yet life continues to bring us to the place where we must acknowledge our weaknesses, and our total dependency upon God to live our lives. I didn’t think about such things when I was young and vigorous because I coped with life fairly well. However, growing older is the great leveling field, the means by which God often brings us to our knees (pun intended as Lenny and I both suffer knee pain now). When we are young and full of pep, the idea of surrender is repugnant, or at least it was to me. My attitude about problems was, “Get out of my way and I’ll figure this out.”
In our real estate career, that attitude and mindset took me a long way down the road, but in 1997, as every attempt failed to get an escrow closed so we could fend off foreclosure, I realized that God was showing me something: a new path, an unattractive alternative to the way I had always operated. I knew He was in charge of it or it would have driven me off the cliff, but I couldn’t see the value in loss, in surrender, in defeat. Yet it was in the fiery furnace of self effort gone awry, that I learned the truth of Paul’s declaration that in my weakness, God’s strength comes through.
I always thought “Radical Grace” was for worse sinners than me, but it was in the midst of this trial that I saw it was what I desperately needed. Karl Barth’s take on it is, “All men are standing on the SAME step before the righteousness of God.” Of course, I had my own ideas about how His power and grace would manifest, thinking that at the last minute, He would come through with the money to stave off the inevitable and we would not lose the house. It took quite a while for me to understand that He was going to work His glory into our failure. Because I mention this event so often, you are correct to conclude that it was a turning point in my awareness of God’s sovereignty in all things.
Radical grace, blessed grace, was the wind beneath our wings. Somehow, there was money to pay the utilities and buy food, and his brother insisted we move into the little guest house on his property. Those of us who have thought we were capable to supply our own needs, and often met the financial needs of others, are loathe to accept handouts from anyone. It IS more blessed (and more comfortable), to give than to receive, but the Lord had told me several years before this happened that I was good at giving but now He was going to teach me how to receive. That was a battle hard fought.
For me, the exceedingly great reward has been that God has become my best friend, an ever present help in time of trouble and a confidant and counselor who never leads me in the wrong direction. People mean well; they want to help, but they often are trying to direct us through the maze of their own neurotic stuff and limited revelation. The payoff for me is knowing that He truly will never leave me nor forsake me. We can count on our Father to BE THERE for us all the time, in any situation. I only came to this blessed place through surrender. We used to sing a hymn with the title, “I surrender all,” but that was NEVER something I set out to do, wanted to do, or found easy to do. God designed all the “cactus patches,” “knotholes,” and “divine combines” He dragged us through to rub off the ego and pride in our own ability and accomplishments.
Now, my body is slower, less agile than ever, and my mind is sometimes forgetful, but that doesn’t matter a whit to God. He uses me in ways that often surprise me, and it’s OK that I’m weaker than I’ve ever been because He makes up the difference between what I can do and what He does through me. He gave me a graphic example a few days ago.
As I was getting out of the car, my iPhone which had been on the seat with me, fell out, hit its head, and cracked the glass at the top of it. The Lord has kept it from breaking the two other times I dropped it on its head and the time I spilled water out of my glass on it. It still works in spite of the cracks, but looks mighty sad with all that cracked glass under the plastic film that came with the case. As I looked at the phone again, it came to me that God wants me to see that even though something is cracked, no longer beautiful on the outside, He can still use it.
The essential difference between religion and Life in the Spirit is, whose will is sovereign? Christians give lip service to the sovereignty of God, as I always did, but it’s a destination only reached by surrender of self. Can’t do it? Don’t worry, He can take care of that easily.
Father, Your ways truly are past our understanding, and though we have never plumbed the depths of Your wisdom and knowledge, we marvel at Your unsearchable judgments and Your inscrutable ways. You lead us by still waters and bring us to green pastures. We will follow you, Father, wherever You lead us, and we will dwell in Your House, praising Your name forever. Amen.