I believe in grace. Grace is an idea that is unique to Christianity, and it’s the major idea that sets Christianity apart from other world religions. And yet, it seems that most of us Christians don’t live lives that manifest grace to the world around us. If we truly grasped the radical nature of this idea – that is, the idea of getting wonderful things that are completely undeserved – all of Christianity would look entirely different. We wouldn’t be dour-faced and full of rules and regulations….we couldn’t be. We would have to work to contain ourselves, to keep ourselves from running through the streets with hysterical grins on our faces – joy so infectious that everyone would want some.
I don’t know the face of Christianity that you have experienced. I have experienced some moments – flickers – of grace from the Christians in my life. But I have experienced hours – burning bonfires – of rules, regulations, and boundaries. And yet I know that most of the faces of Christianity with which I have interacted over the years are a far cry from The Face of Christianity – that is, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was so focused on grace that the religious rule-makers couldn’t stand Him. Whenever He was asked a question about rules, He refused to reinforce them. His answer always took things from the realm of behavior to the realm of the heart. He was so much more concerned with what was happening inside the heart of a person than with what they were doing on the outside…..this because He understood that “from the heart flow the springs of life.” He reiterated to His followers the age-old Jewish commands to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” He even went so far as to say “There is no commandment greater than these.” Why, then, do we as Christians make so many commandments greater than these?
I lived many years as a Christian who had a long list of great commandments…and, ironically, the two that Jesus said were the greatest somehow didn’t make my list, that is, if you judged by looking at my life. Then I came to a time in my life through which my list of great commandments couldn’t carry me. And I almost gave up. I wondered, if my list of great commandments wasn’t true, was any of Christianity true? And then I found grace. I found something that I would never have come up with on my own….something so crazy and radical that it seemed impossible. I found that God offered me what I couldn’t possibly deserve no matter how hard I worked at it. And I found that my life took on a meaning that it couldn’t have had before, when I was so busy following the rules and living out My Greatest Commandments. And now I can say, with W.H. Auden, “I know nothing, except what everyone knows – if there when Grace dances, I should dance.”
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