Philip Yancey, in two of his bestselling books, tells a story about a prostitute who came to a Christian social worker weeping about her desperate condition. She was horrified over all the wicked things she has done, which included renting out her two hear old daughter for sex with men, who apparently paid more for child sex than adult sex. She went on to confess that she did this to support her own drug habit.
The prostitute had hit rock bottom and she long for healing. When asked if she had tried going to church, she responded: “Church. Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”
The woman was seeking refuge, healing, and forgiveness. She was in desperate need of grace, and she knew it. But she felt that the Christian church was the last place she could find it. And while I think that her view of the Christian church as a graceless institution is not entirely correct, I do think that it contains more than just an ounce of truth.
In many ways, the word “grace” has lost its stunning beauty, and perhaps through overuse, it’s become just another Christianeze buzzword. Though it is the most fundamental truth of Christianity, it has become at the same time one of the most disbelieved and unpracticed doctrines in the Evangelical church.
So we use the word “grace” in very flat ways. My students will ask for “grace” when they turn in assignments late. In other words, they want me to extend leniency for falling short of a high standard. But divine grace is more than just leniency. It may include this, but divine grace is much richer than just allowing exceptions to a rule.
The grace of God is also more than just unconditional acceptance and forgiveness—the more common way we define biblical grace. In this view, God is seen as a cosmic mobster, who has a gun to your head for failing to deliver a package, but then grins and slaps you on the back and says, “we’re ok Vinnie…we’re ok.”
Again, there’s some truth here, but grace is so much thicker, so much more beautiful and scandalous, than just leniency and acceptance.
Divine grace is God’s aggressive and loving pursuit of his enemies, who are unthankful, unworthy, and unlovable. Grace is not just God’s ability to save sinners, but God’s stubborn delight in his enemies—especially the really creepy ones. Grace means that in spite of your mess, in spite of your sin, in spite of your addiction to food, drink, sex, porn, pride, self, money, comfort, and success—God desires to transform you into a showcase of divine delight.