If grace is not for everyone, then who is it for?
I spoke at a church conference a few years back and had an interaction I had with the pastor that has been replaying itself in my head since. For reasons beyond me, I always seem to end up speaking at churches that are ripping themselves apart over the meaning and application of grace. They have people who are barely clinging to the implied hope of an explicit Gospel on one side and people who are trying to maintain some form of orderly structure that resembles a religious institution in their communities on the other side. Then, here comes me: this incredibly small person with a giant message of grace and a free spirit with no real respect for structure or status.
My message was always the same. When I needed a Savior to forgive my sins, standards and structure weren’t the answer. They can alter behavior, but not the heart. They can make you pass human inspection, but not the Holy Spirit’s. You need Jesus, even at the expense of getting nothing else in the religious realm right. As a matter of fact, all the religiosity, structure, and status are used to crush the one who needs Jesus, not lift him up. So, yeah, I have no workable respect for religious status or man-made structure.
The church was located in gorgeous Massachusetts. I used to live on the Cape and left a bit of my soul there, so any chance I can get back there, I jump on it. The visit was timely for me because it wasn’t long after the Boston Marathon bombing and I wanted to be close to others who had the same hurting New England heart that I had.
We were sitting in a Mexican restaurant having lunch when the topic of the bombing came up. In preparation for speaking, the potency of grace was paramount in my own mind. The two subjects rolled around together in my mind in the days and weeks leading up to my speaking engagement. The one surviving bomber was only eighteen, the same age as my oldest daughter. I could be his mother. He ran over his big brother trying to get away. He hid and bled out while, undoubtedly, trying to reaffirm his mission as the events and his fate played over and over in his mind. I have been the villain and I know the hell it can be. My heart, as a mother, broke for him. My heart as a grace recipient had hope for him.
I said as much in response to a comment the pastor made about the young man. My burrito was steaming up at me from my plate and I could feel the screeching halt of conversation as I took a bite. I looked up to see the pastor and his wife exchange raised eyebrows. They turned the subject quickly and I ate in silence wondering where the limits of grace were supposed to be, even for a grace preaching pastor. He was losing half his congregation because of his message about God’s love, but I found his faith limit within the first ten minutes of meeting him. All I thought, for the rest of my time with them, is about how they could possibly embrace anything I have to say if I’m preaching an unconditional love to a conditioned congregation.
My question then and my question still is this: If grace is not for everyone, then who is it for?