“In fifty years of being a pastor, my most difficult assignment continues to be the task of developing a sense among the people I serve of the soul-transforming implications of grace–a comprehensive, foundational reorientation from living anxiously by my wits and muscle to living effortlessly in the world of God’s active presence. The prevailing North American culture (not much different from the Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman cultures in which our biblical ancestors lived0 is, to all intents and purposes, a context of persistent denial of grace” (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection: 96).
A graceless church is no church at all. The church is a motley band of exiles, stained by the world and stung by death. What distinguishes the church from the world is not necessarily the volume of sin, but the vigor with which we apply Christ to our sin. The church is full of guilty-but-pardoned death row inmates while the world is full of those who don’t realize they’re condemned already.
We do not gather to enforce or encourage perfection. We gather to enforce Christ, given for sinners. Jesus will make us perfect one day, but until then ours to help each other keep repenting, believing and hoping in the sure and final work of our Savior. We keep eating the bread and drinking the cup precisely because we’re imperfect, trusting wholly and solely on another’s righteousness to pulsate through our veins.
In preaching the panorama of God’s grace Paul was not content until he forced the question: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (Rom 6.1). In so doing, Paul pushed God’s sovereign grace to its highest conceivable limit. Let us preach and invest grace so that we must at least consider the same question. Then we will be reigned in because the same grace that would invite such a question is the same grace that will reign through righteousness (Rom 5.21). The grace that is stronger, higher, deeper and wider than all our sin is the grace that woos and compels toward righteousness. But in order for grace to reign in righteousness it must be pressed to its desired end: “a comprehensive, foundational reorientation from living anxiously by my wits and muscle to living effortlessly in the world of God’s active presence.”