I was reading an article recently detailing the fall of a megachurch pastor. In the midst of it, the author made the point not to ascribe one man’s sins to the group. In other words, big church doesn’t equal big ego. The author pointed out another megachurch pastored by a man of humility and grace. The author said, one of the reasons for the pastor’s success without egotism was that he worked to create a “culture of grace.” Then the article moved on.
The phrase struck me, though. After all, egos (inflated or wounded) are not found only in large churches, nor are they only found among pastors. Exalting ourselves above others and God is a deeply ingrained flaw in the human race post Genesis 3. Yet, a culture of grace is needed in all churches at all times.
So… How might we go about creating such a culture? For the answer, I turn to Paul’s letter to Titus:
11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~Titus 2:11-14
First, for a culture of grace we must offer unconditional acceptance. One constant theme in the Bible is: reliance on our own efforts will fail us. Paul spoke of the grace of God bringing salvation. He offered no prerequisite to this. There is only one condition ever given in the Bible to receive God’s grace through Christ: faith—we believe what God says and we believe that his solution is THE solution. I am a hopeless sinner but in turning to Jesus alone I will have salvation and life.
This is good news of great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10). There is no pre-scrubbing, no wiping off the dirt, no self-changing needed before we come to Jesus. In fact, we can only come empty handed and receive.
Practically, this means that we are to love and welcome all: young, old, male, female, black, white, gay, straight, American, Iranian, etc. The message is the same: the treasures of the world are passing, death is coming, but we can have the greatest treasure and true life by turning from self and sin and turning to Jesus in order to receive his love. Which leads us to…
Second, for a culture of grace we must keep pointing to Jesus for life and transformation. Grace accepts us where we are at, but grace does not affirm us where we are at. Grace assumes that no matter the specific issues of the heart, we are all born into this world with the same problem. Our sin. We have hearts that long to walk their own ways and not the ways of God. We will accept the parts of his word we like but rationalize away the rest. We wear the badge of rebellion and the stench of death.
Yet, if we receive the grace of Jesus, he will transform us. Grace trains us to turn our backs to what is slowly killing us, and walk in the better of the Life Giver. His grace frees us to do this.
The phrase has grown trite and is now almost a bit campy, but I still hear some variation of it on occasion: the church is a hospital for the sinners not a showcase for the saints. There is truth here in that with a culture of grace we find no room for self-righteousness. But let’s not stop at this phrase and glorify the fact that we’re a bunch of messed up people.
After all, we don’t go to the doctor or the hospital in order to remain sick. The same is true with coming to the Great Physician. And in Jesus we are saints, we are sinners made perfect and righteous meant to display God’s glory to the world. But there’s the balance—we’re made perfect and righteous; we’re meant to display his glory to the world.
The church, then, is a place for sinners to come and find the cure and to showcase the life transforming healer who is Jesus. Grace does not leave us trapped in the midst of our sin. Grace is when God plucks us from the mire and darkness, and sets us in the kingdom of his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). And yes, the light exposes our crevices of darkness to ourselves and before others, but the light is also what allows the dirt to be cleansed and the darkness to be driven out (John 3:16-21).
This means… Third, for a culture of grace we must constantly seek one another’s good. Our passage starts with the short little word for. It is the foundation of what Paul wrote in 2:1-10. Within that he told Titus to be an example of godliness (aka grace applied to the sin-stained life). He also told the older men and older women to model godliness and train younger men and women to live godliness as well.
In a culture of grace, people take responsibility for one another and receive guidance from one another. We help each other learn and apply the truths of God’s word and grace. We help each other see Jesus exalted. And when a person stumbles back into the darkness, we chase after them with the light and help them see afresh the realities of the Cure.
Paul also spoke about being a people zealous for good works. Grace is healing. We are to be people who seek to bring the healing of Jesus everywhere brokenness exist. We pray for the hurting. We feed the hungry. We clothe the naked. We befriend the lonely. We bring medicine to the sick. And we do this with eagerness and joy. We are to be zealous. Grace realizes our hopelessness without Jesus and the greatness of life and love in Jesus, so we work with zeal wanting others to share our joy.
Finally (fourth), for a culture of grace we must keep looking forward to the greater. Grace is predominately forward looking. We long with hope for the return of Jesus, because that is when the greater—indeed the best comes. That is when all wrongs and harms are forever healed. That is when brokenness is no more.
This isn’t hoping in theories of what might be. This is longing for what will be. If we belong to Jesus, we are agents of his kingdom. His kingdom is one of perfect peace, joy, health, and righteousness all bound up with satisfaction in God. Though enemies of Jesus and his word will remain until he returns, we are to go boldly with his grace, bringing a taste of his kingdom everywhere we set foot.