We are naturally afraid of grace. I mean, if in Christ God loves us despite our sin, won’t that make us go crazy? Will that not that turn our ordered life into one of chaos and sin? Our fears of grace can be, or always are, built on the assumption that we are pretty wicked people. We will cut corners and take advantage of the system when we can. “God loves me in the midst of my sin and failures? Well, I’m just getting started with sin then!”
I remember when I was in Re:Train (a ministry training program through The Resurgence; I highly recommend it!) and we were lecturing a lot about the grace of God one day. We always had time for Q&A each day and one guy stood up to ask a question, and/or externally process what was going on in his mind as he listened. As he processed the reality of grace, you could hear fear in his voice. You could tell he was really shaken up.
What did he fear? He feared what might happen if the leaders of his church began to preach grace in all of its scandalousness. I am not trying to exaggerate when I say this, but I think he said something like, “I am afraid of what will happen at our church if we preach this grace” (my paraphrase). To the best of what I was understanding, he was terrified of the chaos that might ensue if they preached grace more heavily–more biblically.
I’m sure he might have thought, “Our people may go crazy in sin! They may stop doing their spiritual disciplines. They may stop serving the church and each other. They may stop serving the city. They may start…”, well, you get the idea. He was afraid of the affect grace might have. If his people are told God loves them, whether they succeed or fail, stay on top of their spiritual disciplines, etc., then their church may become chaotic.
What this guy, who became a class favorite because he always had great questions, was expressing, for all of us really, was that God’s Law, or the laws we make in church, keep us all in order. It seemed he began thinking that the reason his church “obeyed” (generalizing, of course) was not in response to the grace of the gospel, but the Law of God. The Law of God scares us into orderly, safe, good-looking living. God’s Law says, “Do this and you will live. Don’t do this and you will die.” As Tullian Tchividjian says, the law has serious “teeth” that scare us into obedience; and we don’t think grace has the same teeth to straighten our lives up. So we naturally choose to scare ourselves and our churches into obedience through preaching the Law. After all, we want churches, families, and personal lives that look good, even though inside we may be ugly.
I think that our friend in Re:Train, like probably most of the room, was realizing that while the Law was making his church look good, grace is what is to govern our lives as Christians. But the idea of introducing his church to the full scandal of grace scared him. He was afraid of what may happen. If the Law’s threats were keeping the church in line, what happens when you tell them that in the grace of Christ, the Law’s threats are silenced?
Will we not all run wild and free if we find out God’s love for us isn’t dependent whatsoever on our performance or works? Maybe. But when people run wild and free, maybe even turning away from Jesus entirely in response to hearing about grace, it is not because grace gave them a license to sin. It may be because they never understood grace from the start. And the good news is now that they are running wild and free, they may see for the first time their need for grace, and finally run into the arms of Jesus.
But does grace make us run wild and free in sin? Of course not! Grace compels us to rest in Christ fully justified; grace compels us to work hard, from a place of acceptance and love, not for it. Grace produces change that fear-based motivation from the Law could never produce.
You see, I’d rather have a messy church and a messy life that understands gospel-grace than a church and life that looks clean and orderly, but knows very little of God’s grace. I choose the chaos of grace. The latter glorifies my “ability” to obey and cares nothing about the nature of my heart. It is all about me and cannot produce lasting change. The former, God’s grace, glorifies God’s ability. It is all about Jesus and His power to change the nature of my heart, which produces lasting, lifelong change. I choose what God chose: grace.