God’s Amazing Grace


Here is an important post from my friends at CRN.Info and Analysis concerning the grace of God. The important part, however, is not necessarily in the post proper, but rather in the replies that it has generated so far. (26 as of this post.) I will explain in more detail below. First, let me set the stage by reviewing the post.

The post begins with the retelling of a story from Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace? It’s the story of a young woman who is deeply embroiled in prostitution who sells her 2 year old daughter because she makes good money doing so. Here’s what happens next:

At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naïve shock that crossed her face. “Church!” She cried. “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”

Philip Yancey then writes:

“What struck me about my friend’s story is that prostitutes much like this woman fled toward Jesus, not away from him. The worse a person felt about herself, the more likely she saw Jesus as a refuge. Has the church lost that gift? Evidently the down-and-out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on earth, no longer felt welcome among his followers. What has happened?

The author of the blog post, Joe Martino, rightly points out that this is exactly what has gone on in the church by noting what the church has become: Not a refuge for hurting people, but a miserable place where Christians thrive on destroying one another (as exemplified in the world of blogdom). The woman in Yancey’s story is right: Why would anyone want to go to a place where the people there only make them feel worse. Churches are good at making people feel worse. We are really good at helping people ‘comprehend their worse-ness.’ Ironically, most people need very little help understanding the depth of their depravity.

The problem is that we construct churches nowadays so that they ‘fit the neighborhood.’ The neighborhood, sadly, is often a place in the suburbs, or a place where people of like feathers can gather in way-too-expensive buildings where all the latest amenities are present (ATM’s, Coffee shops, McD’s, etc). We Christians plant churches in comfortable neighborhoods where comfortable people can go and worship a comfortable God in a comfortable atmosphere along with other comfortable people. We necessarily exclude people like the prostitute in the story because there is no room for her in our comfortable world.

In other words, the churches we plant and the churches we are, are notplaces constructed for the hurting, the broken, the fragile. They are places constructed for the comfortable. (A shabbily dressed prostitute is unlikely to believe for a minute that she is welcome, let alone wanted, in the typical suburban mega-churchopolis; or in most churches for that matter.) We hope will remain comfortable because if they are uncomfortable they might not want to be a part of our club any more. But what if churches were places where the hurting people of this world knew they were not just welcomed but wanted? How would we accomplish such a thing? How would they know? What sort of preaching would they hear on Sundays, Saturdays, or any days?

Well, one person who responded to the post at CRN.Info demonstrates exactly what would not happen in a church where people, hurting people, knew they were wanted. Here’s one one respondent wrote:

And the wonderful thing about this story is it is not about grace! Grace is not grace if we offer our broken approval and don’t tell the truth. [Where did the author offer broken approval?] Of course a sinner is going to feel lousy in the church if the law is preached and they come face to face with their sin. [Can’t people come face to face with their sin by preaching grace? Why does a person need to feel lousy at church when they feel lousy every minute, of every day? Shouldn’t ‘church’ be different?] Of course, we should do so seasoned with salt. But allowing an unrepentent [sic.] sinner to be locked in the chains of their sin without offering a way out is not love, nor is it grace. It is our broken attempt at empathy. [Uh, where did the author leave the sinner locked in chains?]

* * *

I fully understand what grace is. [No, you don’t; no one does.] But no one can understand the depth of the grace of God until they understand the awful depth of their sin. [Yes, they can. They live it every day! They see it in the mirror, their empty pockets, their broken relationships, etc.] I see this prostitute as one who has a sorrow for the pain of her addiction, a sorrow for what she has to do to feed it, but not a godly sorrow that leads to repentance and trust in Jesus. [How do you know what she was feeling, were you there?]

* * *

I agree that the church is broken. I agree we need to be much more like Jesus. [When Jesus preached to the prostitute in John 8 he did not demand repentance. He simply said, ‘go and sin no more.’ But there is nothing implicit in that sentence that demands she ‘repent’ of her past sins, only, rather, that she guard herself from future sin.]  I don’t think we do this through compromise with sin, however. [No one does. No one did. This is a straw-man.] I think the church can do much better at reflecting the love of Jesus to a hurting world, while still communicating the truth of Gods Word. [Then we should teach grace, because, as you say, law cannot save us; it is a poor mirror at best.] We as individuals are called ambassadors, communicating the will of the King to a world that He died for. [Emphasis all mine.]

These quotes are from three different responses, all by the same author, but they faithfully convey the point this particular author is trying to make. He wrote, “But no one can understand the depth of the grace of God until they understand the awful depth of their sin.” I’m curious about this comment because I think the author of it has inferred it, incorrectly, from Scripture but has not read it explicitly. But, and here’s the point, how much more did this particular prostitute need to ‘understand the awful depth of her sin’? She was living the awful depth of her sin! She understood it every minute she was awake. What she needed was the grace of God, what she needed was relief, what she needed was a balm, what she needed was a church–not in the sickening sense of a building with multi-purpose rooms and stackable chairs, but a people who shared in her hurt, suffered with her, carried her burden. 

No one would condone sin by offering her a way out of her sin. Sinners need to know not that they are so pathetically bad that all they can do is feel worse or understand they are worse than they already know. Sinners need to know there is a way out of their current situation; a different way; a better way; a Jesus Way. When Jesus healed the man named Legion, he didn’t first sit down and explain to Legion the depths of his depravity or discourse on the Law and demonstrate how a holy God demands perfection. Jesus simply set the man free, then the man wanted to follow him. The woman at the well in John 4, again, no demand for repentance; just an offer of Grace. The apostle Paul: No demands; just grace. Now this is not to say that they did not repent. It is to say that grace has its own funny way about itself. In Luke 15, the Father demanded nothing of the prodigal son; only the older brother did. And we can see quite clearly in the parable whom Jesus takes the most offense at. The Father offered unconditional grace; the older brother did not. (Before I’m accused of not paying attention to the younger son’s ‘repentance’, please carefully note in verse 20-24 the Father ignores the prepared speech the younger son gives in verse 21.)

The point of the original post is not that repentance isn’t important or that preaching ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ should be neglected. Rather I think the point is that the church never gets to that point because ‘sinners’ do not want to be a part of, or visit with, or be involved with Christians in a place where they see people ripping each other to shreds, people who are supposed to love one another deeply. In other words, how can the sinner trust the church when it says ‘God’s grace saves you’ when it is clear to any thinking person that the church refuses to practice grace towards one another? Jesus said, “Love another. By this all men will know you are my disciples.” Love one another he said. But we don’t. We devour one another for sport. We destroy one another for pleasure. We devastate one another for utter delight and joy. This, I contend, is why people don’t want to be a part of the church and why they believe the church makes them feel worse and further why they won’t listen when we talk about sin.  Jesus may well have preached such things when he was at the dinner parties of ‘sinners, tax-collectors,’ and the like. But Jesus first had to find himself in the company of ‘such people’ before he did so.

Why did Jesus have to command us to love one another? Why did he have to command the one thing that should be the most natural to those saved by grace?

The replies I quoted above were written in response to Joe’s post. The irony is this: Joe’s post was confessional. He wrote:

And the whole time people who’s lives are being blown apart just keep on dying. They just keep on living the wrong way because Darn It, I AM RIGHT!!!   One camp  picks apart a person in the other camp because he doesn’t go far enough down the Theological trail with them. They may agree that one goes to Heaven by believing on the work on Christ but down the path they disagree so it’s Ok to tear each other apart. I wonder, does this make you as sick as it does me?

The second response in the thread is this:

Point the finger at this site, because you all are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

If you disbanded, it would be one less place that was spewing hate on the blogosphere towards brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is from the same person who wrote those three responses above. Implication: He is unwilling to admit that he, too, is part of the problem. Joe did this; Pastorboy did not. Do you see how Joe’s point is proved in the very responses made by Pastorboy? What a sickening display, which is why I’m still awake at 1 AM writing this lengthy post exposing the ignorance of one who claims to understand grace: He doesn’t. Grace does not point the finger at other people; it points the finger at the self. Grace does not admit the faults of others, but the faults of the self. Grace does not help other people realize their sins, it rejoices that it’s own sins have been forgiven and delights to share the same with others. Grace needs no help tearing people apart that they may be set free. Grace makes no demands of us.

Still, the bottom line to the story is that woman’s criticism of the church is dead on. Churches are so concerned about protecting their purity that they can do very little to involve themselves in the lives of broken people. All we do is rant and rave against all the big stuff while offering very little in the way of imparting God’s healing grace in Christ to hurting and broken and shattered people.

There is a big difference between these two ideas, a difference, I suspect, that would make more sinners give their attention to God than there mere pointing out of how depraved they are. Instead of putting all the focus on humans and their depravity, why don’t we instead put all the focus on Christ Jesus and His truly remarkable, amazing, incomprehensible grace. It seems to me that to do the former is to make church far more about ‘me’ than it should be; to do the latter is to keep the focus exactly where it should be: On Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria!


12 thoughts on “God’s Amazing Grace

  1. correction….the law word is a perfect mirror…..but it does not save….God saves and it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin …. not the church lady or man. Our job is only to hold up Jesus as savior….introduce them, pray with them (not over them)and meet their physical needs the best we can. All the while trusting Almighty God to meet them where they are and bring them where they need to be. We are not to be judge and jury as to their level of repentance or sorrow. I guess in the end we should realize we are being judged by the poor soul in front of us(as to whether we are sincere, receiving them without judgement ), by the law word and by the Lord. because we know better! so you are right …Grace looks at the self….and more importantly to God.
    abiding by His grace,

  2. Jill,

    Thanks for stopping by. The most important thing is that when we are talking with people, we often think that it is our job to judge them. It’s not. What we don’t realize, what you have correctly surmised, is that it is actually they who are judging us. They are judging the manner of our ministry, our conduct, the depth of our sympathy/empathy (I believe this does matter!), the copiousness of our grace. I think they are far less concerned about our doctrinal positions at the start; that comes later. When we first meet people, I think it is necessary to conduct ourselves in such a way that THEY will ask us questions. “Be prepared to give an answer…” at minimum means they will initiate conversation.

    I don’t think we will ever get to the point where they ask the questions if we have not sufficiently demonstrated to them that we genuinely care about them first as human beings–regardless of their situation in life; that is, we love without an agenda. After they know we love them simply for who they are, then I think we have earned the right to be heard. But that is what grace does: It looks first at the self and realizes that the cross is grace and that aside from the cross we don’t even have a right to be talking to other ‘sinners’ about anything. Grace reminds us of the importance of humility.

    And it all begins with grace. Grace from first to last. Thanks for stopping by.


  3. I hesitate to say this because it isn’t 100% and it takes one back to judging another’s depth of repentance /or salvation…but when I met people who professed reformed theology it was the first time i heard such extreme gratitude for salvation ….when one knows they are saved by the grace of God and not of their own works , your salvation means so much more…. it takes on a different dimension…..it was like night and day from the works rightiousness culture I left… but reformed theology in some church cultures hide behind their ” theolgy works”. I called them the old dry gray men…..they had a dry intellectual approach that never got to the heart of God or the heart of the one standing in front of them. but they could discuss theology all day. But ones who knew they were chosen had a a fuller view of grace and even the evangelism I witnessed was seasoned (?)with grace
    and of a deeper sharing of the heart of God…. the difficulty in finding words to describe the difference shows we really don’t know the manifold grace of our Father. Or at least know what it is supposed to look like in our modern world… if we can go to the throne for grace in time of need and every other character or attribute of God is available in abundance(wisdom, love, faith,hope..power) then we should LIVE in the abundance of grace He gives. and there should be no reason ever to not give grace to others…. I guess it’s the parable of the one who is forgiven much , forgives much….. is it when one sees his own depravity he realizes God’s grace.?…most people think they are “good” at heart. like the rich young ruler. Maybe we do need some Holy Spirit preaching…..
    hearing thunder in the background…..jill

  4. Jill,

    Well, Jill, you know that I am going to smile when you compare Reformed theologians with ‘works righteousness’ crowd. 🙂

    It’s like I said a week or two ago: We can spend our entire lives exploring the depths of the riches of the love of God. We can make it our life’s ambition to seek and understand and enjoy the grace of God. I never cease to be amazed by it.

    I’m thinking about that preaching on the Holy Spirit. I think it might happen soon. Thanks for stopping by this week and commenting. I always enjoy the conversation.


  5. We are talking about a women who is selling her daughter for profit- if the church didn’t judge her, they would be an accesory to a crime.

    Seriously, slavery is BAD.

  6. Samuel,

    Not the sort of judgment being dealt with here at all. Of course there is a legal responsibility. That is still not at all the point of the story, the book, or the post.


  7. Hi Dangoldfinch, I think I saw some of your writings on Blue Rats site.
    I thought I left a message on your site. The message was about the meaning of First is Last and Last is First. The message is this:
    In the morning I go to Heaven. In the afternoon I live my life. In the evening I die, death.
    To understand this, know that First = Birth. The message then reads, Birth is Last and Last is Birth.
    I am going to check on the dirty dumb Blue Rat now. Bye,

  8. Melanie,

    With all due respect, I still have no idea what you are talking about, what it has to do with this post, what it has to do with Scripture, my blog, life, or anything.


  9. Hi Jerry,
    What I wrote above would come under Scripture, I think. If Scripture is the Word of God, what I wrote above is Scripture. God wanted to clear up some misunderstanding. Parts of the Bible are the word of man and not the word of God.

  10. Melanie,

    It’s at this point that you and me part ways. I hope everything works out for you, but you seem not a little strange to me with some of your points of view. Good luck! And thanks for stopping by.


  11. I think what you deleted should have been left up. Especialy what Aposlotes wrote about blasphemy. I think it was a good representation of how crazy some Christians have become. Or I should say how divided Christians have grown apart. It is all split up, it’s the great Schism.

    Now since this is your site, I will be polite. I do like you, and I have read some of your posts on blue rats site. I am on your side. Like you I also believe in God. Well that is not right. I know God better than anyone on Earth right now.

    Now I didn’t get on the internet to convert anyone. You can all believe what you want. Even if you think Richard Dawkins is right like blue Rat does, God does not hold that against you. I am just here to tell you what God told me. And if that does not match up with what the Romans put in the bible, so be it.

    God told me the meaning of First is Last and Last is First, and that is mostly what I have been writting on the Internet. I don’t think what God had to say about Birth being Last and Birth being First, as being blasphemy like Aposlate wrote. In fact I don’t think she understood what it meant at all. Then Jesus said it is not for everyone to understand. That is why he talked in symbols, or parpabols.

    Then you write, you and me part ways. When I leave, God goes with me. If you don’t want to know what God had to say recently. You can stay in the dark, that’s your choice. On Judgment DAy, when you ask your Father to do something for you. Well, who knows! but this is what my Father would say to me. “What have you ever done for me”. God is going to say to you, “My messenger came to you with a message and you sent her away.”

    This is Gods big issue, It is about the meaning of First and Last and Last is First. It means Birth is Last and Birth is First.

    Now you have other issues, your issues are not Gods issues. I like to be nice to people but if you wish to part from God. Do not preach in his name. You have NO have a right to say anything in his name. God did not talk to you. God is talking to me and me alone. I am his messenger, NOT YOU. God is not talking to you and he does not agree with what you think is his word. Do not speak in Gods name ever, never ever. God is very serious about what he told me. Your all wrong, not just you. All of you think your right. God is hurt. Not until God comes and talks to you personaly, can you speak in his name.

    I am Gods messenger. I am the only one that can speak in his name. You have been told not to speak in his name. God is serious about this. I am not kidding around and I am not joking around about this either.

    If you don’t want to hear Gods message. Don’t say a word in his name. I mean it. Now I am not trying to be mean to you, but you are just repeating the lies the Romans put in the Bible. God does not want to hear any more lies in is name.

    The only thing that you can preach in Gods name is the meaning of First is Last and Last is First.
    If you can’t do that then just shut up. I mean it. Just shut up. Zip it. That is the word of God. So help me God, I will shove the lies of the Romans down your . . . . if you continue to repeat them. God is not talking to you, do not preach in his name.

    Please forgive me for my anger this night Lord.

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