Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed
Though many dangers toils and snares, I have already come
Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home
The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures
It is one of our favorite hymns. A song that probably everyone knows. It brings comfort and soothing. It calms our hearts, restores our soul. It is full of the mystery of God working in our lives to restore broken creatures to himself.
God actively extends grace to us. That is fundamental to Christian faith. All of the hope that Christianity offers (whatever our differences may be regarding what that hope actually is in) relies on God’s extension of grace to us. Apart from that, we are lost, unforgiven, dead, without hope whatsoever.
So in a faith that places so much reliance on grace, how do we go about practicing that grace ourselves? How do we extend God’s grace, forgiveness, and restoration to a lost and dying world around us? When is that grace extended? Is it in this life or only in the next?
Sanctification is an ongoing work, according to the theology that I have grown up in. So even the saved are not yet perfect in this life. We seek to perfection. We still lie, cheat, steal, lust, and murder – in our hearts if not in fact, something that our Lord equates with the actual act. So as imperfect strivers to perfection, ever in need of God’s grace, what does grace look like in our lives?
Jesus went to dinners with “sinners” and “rabble rousers” and “drunkards.” Why do some seek to require pastors to always remain above even the possible image of reproach? Can pastors not work with the least of our society?
Why are some sins considered unforgivable? For example, in my tradition, it has been common to forbid those who have been divorced from ever serving in a leadership position in the church? Why? Is there no hope of forgiveness and restoration in this life? Certainly there are consequences to sinful action, but is one of those consequences a loss of any kind of place in ministry?
Every culture has their untouchables. Those undesirables who are looked upon with utter disgust. Perhaps its the divorced. Or the homeless. Or the homosexual. Or the (former) convict. Or the drunkard. There are those people we would rather, like Jonah, see God never extend grace to. The Assyrians were a brutal people. They were ruthless in battle. They looked after their own and did not care who stood in their path – they were taking what they wanted. They did unspeakable acts in pursuit of their ends. Certainly they were not worthy of God’s grace, and Jonah knew this.
Who are the untouchables, the unforgivable in our reach? Who would we rather show the exit door than an empty seat in the sanctuary if they were to walk in? Is anyone beyond God’s grace? Is anyone beyond redemption and hope?
If anyone is, how dare any of us think that we are not?