What Does Grace Look Like in a Community
of Sinners (Like You and Me)? by Jules Grisham
As a community of faith we believe that everything we are and do together ought to flow out from the foundation of the gospel. In all we do, we hope to point people (ourselves and others) to Christ, and to the life he brings and sustains and constantly refreshes.
We desire, in other words, to lay hold of - to appropriate and enjoy - the blessings and benefits which our relationship with Christ brings to us, and we strongly affirm the bibilcal teaching that this "appropriation" of Christ is by means of faith.
We know, further, that to sustain this living faith we must grow in godliness; and that to grow in godliness we must grow deeper in the Word of God which feeds and sustains us. Still further, we know that if we hope to grow outwardly as a community-transforming fellowship of faith, we must continue to grow inwardly as individuals being progressively renewed, renovated, and transformed into greater conformity with God's purposes.
In short, we know that in order to grow upward, we must at the same time grow downward; and that in order to grow outwardly, we must also grow inwardly, and vice versa.
As a family of faith, we are committed to ...
Holding high God's glory in worship
Holding together in loving, joyful fellowship
Holding fast to the word of truth
Holding forth the gospel of Christ
loving the Lord our God
... with all our heart
... with all our soul
... with all our mind
... with all our strength
In line with all this, we are committed to remembering the foundational truth that, but for the grace of God in Jesus Christ, no one of us is any more or less deserving of God's love and favor than anyone else. We acknowledge that our new life and new hope is entirely the gift of God, which we receive by the instrumentality of faith. We affirm the truth revealed in Scripture that God's love doesn't come to rest upon us because we're so lovely and deserving (we are, let us acknowledge honestly, quite the opposite), but rather that God's love renders lovely those undeserving upon whom it comes to rest! But for his gracious gift of salvation and life and hope, we'd be just as lost as anyone else. And this is every bit as true today as it was "the hour I first believed."
We acknowledge that we are, each and every one of us, sinners. And what else does that possibly mean but that, sooner or later, every one of us drops the ball, falls short of the mark, disappoints others' expectations for us? We are a community that strives always for a higher, purer, better standard, and yet also endeavors to forgive one another's lapses, as we've been forgiven for our egregious ones.
What makes our community special, therefore, is not that we're composed of some "better sort" of people than you'll find in other fellowships (certainly we're not), but that we strive to put our faith into practice - to be doers and not just hearers of God's Word - by forgiving and forbearing with one another, and by forgoing the tendency to get even which is the essence of the world's pattern; by encouraging one another, and building one another up from strength to strength.
We believe this is the essence of Christian fellowship: flawed, fallible people in community with other flawed, fallible people, enjoying the blessings of God's grace which come through Christ, and daring to live boldly in pursuit of God's promised blessings in spite of our shortfalls.
What then does grace look like in such a fellowship? It looks like faith in action, like faith lived out in love. And the love with which we're called to love one another is not easy, nor is it necessarily the stuff of natural affection. As the life of Jesus shows us, real love costs; real love is a pouring out of oneself for another. And to do this, to pour oneself out for another, to love one another like this takes faith - faith that God will in fact refill us with new blessings once the blessing he'd filled us with has been poured out to the blessing and benefit of another.
It's not that Christian life requires one thing, faith, plus another thing, love. Rather, as faith is the root of our salvation life, so love is the fruit. The faith and the love are one interconnected reality, root and flower of the same life.
Love is what real faith does; and real love costs; and so it takes faith to do it. The life of faith, therefore, isn't merely about getting all the doctrines in order and understanding them in our heads. Rather, its about knowing these things so well that we put them to use in the course of our living. The doctrines of our faith are like the grammar of our life; without these rules of life we won't be able to live appropriately, wisely, according to God's purposes and premises. But they're not an end in themselves. Like the rules of grammar, they're to be understood so deeply as to become the stuff we breathe out without even thinking. We are to live according to the pattern of our faith; this is our goal - to be doers and not just hearers of God's word. So too, when learning a language, we learn the paradigms and such not so that we'll repeat them endlessly, but so that we will begin to speak the language, having internalized those paradigms deep into our very thought processes. This should be our goal with God's Word; that it should so fill and infuse us that we live and breathe in accord with it glorious wisdom in all we do and say and think.
Finally, what does this love, which is faith in action, look like? It looks like forgiveness - like when we forgo our right to payback, when we trust in God's sovereignty and goodness and justice, and believe that he knows our situation and will right it, when we have the moral courage to stop fixating on the infintessible fissure of our wounded integrity and to turn and cast our eyes over the immense expanses, the Grand Canyon, of God's grace and blessing which we've already received. Love is manifested in the courage to forbear with one another's weaknesses, and in finding the strength to encourage others with the blessing we ourselves have received.
This is what our Lord and Master did for us, even giving of his life for us that we might be forgiven and reconciled to God. So let us do likewise for our brothers and sisters and neighbors. And when we're tempted to hedge our bets and withdraw our love, let us remember that we are those who have been forgiven much (and so from whom much forgiveness will be expected). Let us be careful and quick to remember, every day, in the decisions we make and the actions we take, the glorious grace of God which is in Christ:
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived and died in our stead;
That through him we might die to sin, and live in him instead.