Corner of Mercy and Grace
Many of us American Christians, in my opinion, under appreciate mercy and grace. It is far too easy to make our faith about our faithfulness - about the good lives we live for God. Sort of along the lines of "I don't smoke and I don't chew and I don't go with girls that do."
Don't get me wrong. Leading a good, decent, loving, sacrificial, God-honoring life is a good thing. Taking off sin and putting on Christ means our faith in Jesus is intended to result in transformation in our lives. Problem is, we can't and we don't lead good, decent, loving, sacrificial, God-honoring lives - at least not in our own strength. We fall. We fail. We sin. In spite of our best efforts, our sin nature drags us down, again and again, into disobedience.
Sometimes because of our best efforts, our sin nature leads us to trust in our good works instead of the great work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. It is an anti-Gospel to trust in ourselves and our own good works instead of trusting in the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. Seeing ourselves as good people who do not need the mercy and grace of Jesus is itself a form of idolatry that desperately needs the mercy and grace of Jesus!
The mercy of God means we do not get what we deserve. The grace of God means we get what we don't deserve. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23 NIV) We deserve death, but in His mercy, God does not give us what we deserve. Instead He gives us life, which we don't deserve, by His grace!
If sin were a matter of our cleaning up our lives and living by the great moral commandments of God, then Jesus would not have needed to die on the Cross for us. If we could save ourselves by our own good works, Jesus would not have had to come to save us. The Cross is God's estimation of the seriousness and depth of our sin problem.
Here's the rub. On my best days, I don't feel like a sinner. I believe I live my life largely as a good, decent person. The moral framework of my personal "truth" makes it easy for me to see myself as a good person who is on God's team (Yay, God!), instead of a sinner, saved by grace. There are really bad sinners in the world who lie, kill, steal and destroy. And then there's me. I don't do those bad things, so I must be good, right?
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 NIV)
There is one sobering Biblical claim we cannot overlook when we consider mercy and grace: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23 NIV) The Bible's daring claim is that sin is not just a problem for the murderers and molesters. All have sinned. All fall short of the glory of God. All need mercy and grace - including me.
Our sins may have radically different consequences in terms of damage to other people. Telling a lie to get out of trouble is not equal to going into a rage and committing murder. Obviously one is more grievous than the other in terms of the difference of the outcome here on earth. But all sin leads to death. All sin has equal consequences in terms of its effect on our relationship with God. And all sin needs mercy and grace, or we are hopelessly, helplessly lost.
I am so thankful I met Jesus at the corner of mercy and grace. It is breathtaking to realize I don't get what I deserve by His mercy, and I get what I don't deserve by His grace. And my most soulful response is gratitude. Thank you, thank you, Jesus for granting amazing grace to a wretch like me!