by Austin Maxheimer
The words we use sometimes do us a disservice in capturing the biblical message. A classic example is when you read “heart” in the Old Testament. In our culture, heart usually stands in for emotion and against reason. In Hebrew culture, heart referred more to the whole of a person—their thoughts, emotions, will, and spirit.
In Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath says the word “justification” is another example. In our culture, justification is a technical term usually relating to a law or courtroom. Or on a popular level, it’s synonymous with “reason,” as in, “The reason I don’t have my homework is my dog ate it.” The reason justifies the action.
However, the biblical presentation of justification is much richer, more powerful. It is a description of our relationship with God. That one little word brings into view the whole Big Story of Scripture: God is holy creator, we are rebellious people who rightly have justice due, but we stand before this judgment clean and innocent due to the blood of Christ. Justification.
Part of understanding justification is understanding grace. As I read McGrath’s discussion, I began to wonder if how we use the word grace might not muddy up the waters. Think about how we use the term…we can be graceful, say grace, treat someone with grace. In other words, grace is something we can and do give. But this is not what the authors of the New Testament had in mind when they talk about grace.
Grace is received freely by people, from God, through Jesus Christ and is sustained through the Holy Spirit. It is not something we can do and give. Its only source is God.
Yet the struggle is always, “Yeah, but can’t we do something? Don’t we have to?” The answer of course is yes, but what we do only points to grace. Just as the beauty and splendor of the Universe points to its creator, our actions as grace-filled Christ followers points to the grace of God.
If we feel we can impart grace, our actions ultimately point back to us; but if we surrender our actions, knowing that they point to Jesus Christ, we can multiply grace.
So how can we practically multiply grace? Jesus gave us several hints through parables, which are nice because they take profound things like justification and grace and connect them to life experiences. Here are two that relate to Kingdom Growth, Jesus’ favorite term for grace multiplication:
1. Radical Forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35)
We can’t forgive people’s sins. Sin is an act of rebellion against God. Forgiving people’s sins can only be an act of God. That’s why the teachers of Jesus’ time were so up in arms, “Who is he to forgive sins?”
We can forgive people when they wrong us, however. Not just in ways people expect, but ways that throw open all rational explanation. Do you know that 100 denarii is .00001% of 10,000 talents!!?? The world begrudgingly holds on to a few wages, while the Kingdom of God forgives millions and billions of times the same amount.
When we invest in radical forgiveness, it breaks our paradigms for understanding why we forgive in the first place. When we forgive in this way, it points people to the radical nature of the cross and God’s grace.
2. Incomparable Value (Luke 15)
The pragmatic viewpoints would be: Don’t risk the remaining 99 sheep for 1, it’s one coin for crying out loud, and that boy will just continue to drain the family resources.
That is decidedly not the response of the Kingdom of God. Last year my pastor said something I will never forget: “The value of the object is directly proportionate to the intensity of the search. The story we need to communicate at all costs is one of incomparable value. The God of the Universe loves us so much that he came into this world to give us life. That even though we are lost, the intensity of His search is incomparable.”
We can point to the incomparable value God has for people by serving others and raising the quality of life of everyone around us, and especially those in need.
Christ-centered communities place incomparable value on people and show others radical forgiveness to multiply God’s grace.
What are some tangible ways your group can add value to people’s lives? Model radical forgiveness?