esus is surprising. His coming fulfilled ancient prophecies, but not expectations. He shattered expectations.
Each of the four Gospel accounts in the Bible uniquely gives us a Jesus who turns upside down our intuitive anticipations of who He is and how following Him works. Like a bad back that needs to return to the chiropractor repeatedly for straightening out, our understanding of Jesus needs to be straightened out repeatedly as our poor spiritual posture throws our perception of Him out of whack—domesticating Him and conforming Him to our image rather than transforming us into His.
For the grace that comes to us in Jesus Christ is not measured. This grace refuses to allow itself to be tethered to our innate sense of fairness, reciprocity, and balancing of the scales. It is defiant.
The Reformation’s rediscovery of grace is a discovery that must take place afresh, in kind if not in degree, in each generation. Left in neutral, all of us tend to slide away from gospel wonder.
Easier said than done. However much we may laud grace with our lips, our hearts are so thoroughly law-marinated that the Christian life must be, at core, one of continually bathing our hearts and minds in gospel grace. We are addicted to law. Conforming our lives to a moral framework, playing by the rules, meeting a minimum standard—this feels normal. And it is how we naturally medicate that deep sense of inadequacy within. The real question is not how to avoid becoming a Pharisee; the question is how to recover from being the Pharisee we already, from the womb, are.
Law feels safe. Grace feels risky. Rule keeping breeds a sense of manageability; grace feels like moral vertigo. But the Jesus of the Gospels defies our domesticated, play-by-the-rules morality. It was the most extravagant sinners of Jesus’ day who received His most compassionate welcome; it was the most scrupulous law abiders who received His most searing denunciation. The point is not that we should therefore take up sin. The point is that we should lay down the silly insistence on leveraging our sense of self-worth with an ongoing moral scorecard.
It is time to enjoy grace anew. Not the decaffeinated grace that pats us on the hand, ignores our deepest rebellions, and doesn’t change us, but the high-octane grace that takes our conscience by the scruff of the neck and breathes new life into us with a pardon so scandalous that we cannot help but be changed. It’s time to blow aside the hazy cloud of condemnation that hangs over us throughout the day with the strong wind of gospel grace. “You are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).1 Jesus is real; grace is defiant; life is short; risk is good. For many of us, the time has come to abandon once and for all our play-it-safe, toe-dabbling Christianity and dive in. It is time, as Robert Farrar Capon (Episcopal Priest) put it, to get drunk on grace. Two-hundred proof, defiant grace.
Something of a gospel resurgence is taking place today across various swaths of the Christian church. We must, of course, avoid facile generalizations. Yet it is evident from today’s preaching and teaching, books and blogs, conferences and coalitions, that the gospel of grace is being wonderfully reasserted and cherished. Many have been walking with the Lord for years yet are only now discovering the new mental and emotional universe of grace.