Sunday, August 30, 2009

Grace is not transactional, it's participatory

How do we swim in grace? How do we live into our hope in such a way that we're actually bringing forth fruit? This is very difficult to talk about, very difficult to teach. What we tend to do, then, is thin grace out a bit. We try to make grace a bit more manageable. We talk the language of grace, we talk about being loved unconditionally, but when it comes to the Christian life, we reduce grace to being something transactional, rather than something participatory.

This quote, and the ones that follow, are paraphrases from a talk that I found to be very meaningful to me. It's the keynote address at an event called: Christian Connections- "Living Into Our Hope", by Dr. Cynthia Rigby, in October 2006.

You can find the audio at: this location for now. (The website has been redone and they have taken away such old links, but the file remains.)

I know the talk is long (about an hour), but I invite you to listen, firmly believing that the cost in time is worth it. Perhaps the snippets below will draw you better than I:

Good theology is often very impractical. This grace thing is extremely impractical. It's easy to identify with the elder son in Luke chapter fifteen. In his view, forget grace, we're doing things right if we do our job, and expect others to respond accordingly. That's what he says to his father, "I've always done everything, and you've never given me the calf, never given me the party." ... transactional. And the father, totally impractical, answers his son, "My son I am always with you, and you are always with me, don't you know that everything I have is yours." ... participatory.

When we turn grace into a transaction, we see it as God giving us something really really wonderful, really really great, really really big. God treating us much better than we deserve, God being wonderfully kind. Now that's something that make's sense. God was wonderfully kind to us, the least you can do is be a little kind to other people. God has given us so much, the least you could do is give a little bit back in return. And we turn the Christian life, living into hope, which is participatory, into a response to hope that is transactional. Our response to God's wonderful kindness gets reduced to lobbying little thank-you gifts back to God.

So the Christian life, rather than being about sacrifice, becomes about stretching a little. Stretching a lot even ... "Do your best, and God will take care of the rest". But that is not what grace is about. What grace is about is us being able to do nothing, but doing all things in Him who strengthens us. Not about giving a little back, but about us surrendering all that we are.

Our calling, when it comes to a Christo-centric understanding of grace, is to give, not in response to something in an obligatory fashion, but because of who we are. I give as an out-pouring of who I was created to be. That's what it is to be a living sacrifice, to abide in Christ, to live into my identity as one who is Christ's workmanship, created in Him for good works that God prepared for me in advance as by way of life.

When I know my baptismal identity, when I know that I'm a child of God, then that surplus grace, that hope, flows over into works, and I act on your behalf and serve you, not because I'm obligated to, but because I AM with and for you. When I know that God isn't just doing things for me...

(... God gave me grace.)
(... God will reward my efforts.)

... But rather God *IS* with me and for me ... When I know that, it flows over into my relationship to you, so my acts of service aren't simply thank-you cards back to God. This is real freedom. Freedom is when there's no longer any conflict between what we do and who we are. But who we are spills over into what we do.

To take seriously our baptism in Him, dying to self, and being raised up, is an incredible risk because it means we really buy that God has entered fully into existence with us, and knows us, and loves us. And the more you contemplate it, the more that you realize what's going on here is not a transaction at all, but something that demands everything.

To jump into the water of grace is not to stand at the periphery of the garden when Jesus says come and pray with me, but it's to participate with Him. To jump into that water is not to stand at the periphery where one is safe, where one can say to our Lord, "Oh Lord, can you take care of that for me?, I promise to send you lots of thank-you cards", but it is to be awakened, and to actually walk over with Him and to kneel with Him, and to participate in His suffering, to participate in His mission.

This risk of grace is knowing there is no escape from God. If there is no escape from God, it means that I'm constantly being undone by the message of the gospel. It means that resurrection isn't only a future reality, but it's also an every day experience. In Christ we are new creations, not tweaked creations. New creations, the old has fallen away, the new has come. Living sacrifices. We're constantly being undone. Undone by the transforming power of the living word. Living into hope is about constantly submitting. Submitting.... offering ourselves as sacrifices. Submitting to that Word that isn't just up there doing some things for us, and we can do some things in return.

You can go through the examples in scripture of people who are trying to work it all out in transactional ways. And Jesus is always pulling the rug out from under them. (I've kept every one of the commandments since the day I was born, and now what do I need to do.) Jesus is always pulling the rug out because what Jesus cares about is relationship with them, not them managing it all. Was Jesus giving the rich young ruler an eleventh commandment? No. Jesus was saying that in relationship to Him, as a disciple, everything has to go. You're going to be undone. You're going to be remade. Not tweaking ... remade.

The reason we don't jump into that water, and live in the pool of grace, is because we risk something else. And it has to do with what grace reveals about us. To jump into that pool is to risk believing that we are valuable. That we are precious. That we are loved by the one who loves us unconditionally. And that is just too much for us to bear. You see, if I stay at the edge of the garden, I can keep doing things to try and show gratitude. I don't have to realize that I'm loved for who I am and not for what I do.

The cost to us as those who live into hope: The cost to us is first our pride ... (I'm going to hold on to enough of myself and let God "tweak" me.) Remember the song that goes: "melt me, mold me, cleanse me, fill me, use me". We're all okay with being filled and being used, right. But are we okay with being melted and molded? No, not really.

The cost of jumping into the water of grace, in knowing that we are Christ's workmanship ... is the letting go of our own self judgment. We say that we trust Jesus as Lord ...(he's taken care of the big stuff, I'm going to heaven), but in my relation to my day to day life, I will judge myself. I will wallow in my sins. When we let go of self judgment, the fact of Christ's Lordship frees me from being the Lord of my own life.

-- Direct link to mp3 source is: Here

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