Called to Worship – Issue #8
by Phil Mershon
Where are you more comfortable: in a 12-step group or at church? If your church is like most churches, you might find it very uncomfortable to say, “Hi, my name is Phil and I’m a ___________-aholic “(fill in your addiction).
Jesus preferred to hang out with the drunks, tax collectors and prostitutes instead of the Pharisees—partly because they understood their need for grace. In Matthew 9:9-13, we see a classic picture of the contrast between grace and legalism. Jesus brings grace to the broken and desperate while the Pharisees look down their noses, shocked that Jesus would spend time with “tax collectors and sinners.”
People find support groups valuable because they are accepted for who they are, no matter how they’ve done with their addictions. They find no shame in admitting their struggles.
I wonder why our churches aren’t like that?
I saw a church van recently that said “The Grace Place.” Not knowing anything about the church, it made me curious if I would really find grace there or would legalism have subtly replaced the grace the founders craved and relished. I also wonder if my church could be called a “Grace Place.”
If we learn that our admission to God’s family and our work are all a result of grace, we can stop pretending and start rejoicing. The subtle trick we play is that we somehow deserve to be part of God’s family and we want to hide the very sin that qualifies us to receive grace. I’m not suggesting we flaunt our sin, but our daily failings provide reminders of our deep need for God’s gracious forgiveness.
In Healing Grace, David Seamands tells the story of Stypolkowski, a WWII Polish freedom fighter who was made to stand trial for so-called “war crimes”. His accusers attacked his character and threatened to reveal his deepest secrets if he didn’t admit to some war crime. All of his compatriots withered under the stress of torture, admitting to crimes they hadn’t committed.
Stypolkowski refused to give in. Where did he find his strength? Not in his purity. He knew his sins were more heinous than his torturers could imagine, but he also knew he was deeply loved and accepted by God. Over the course of 70 days he clung to his innocence, fueled by daily reminders that Jesus stood as his advocate and redeemer.
Jesus proclaimed Stypolkowski innocent before the Father and that gave this freedom fighter the ability to confidently face his accusers. He did not deny his daily sins, but he would not admit to sins committed by others.
Too often the accuser of our souls tries to weaken our faith by causing us to focus on our failed attempts to measure up. We will wither under his attacks unless we hold tightly to God’s sufficient and immeasurable grace.
One song that reminds me of God’s deep grace is Tenth Avenue North’s Healing Begins:
Another is Matthew Smith’s revision of the hymn Free Grace.
Please tell us about your experience with grace in church.