I have been walking with God for 33 years now, and I am amazed more now than ever by how gracious my Lord is. I’m also amazed, at times, at how un-gracious we, as God’s people, can be.
A handful of years ago, I was driving through my neighborhood in Pennsylvania when I saw the cutest little lime green VW bug. Cute…until I saw a bumper sticker on it that read, “I like your Christ, I just don’t like your Christians.” Man, was I mad! All kinds of thoughts ran through my head in those moments. Ungracious thoughts. The very kind of thoughts that probably led to someone making that very kind of bumper sticker in the first place!!
On one hand, I was right to be bothered by the words I’d just read. God’s people are His cherished possession, His bride that He died to buy back from the slavery of sin and death. God is jealous for his people, and will one day himself take vengeance on those who have persecuted the Church without repenting. We can take comfort in these truths, always mindful that we ourselves would be lost without Christ intervening.
But on the other hand, the reality is…God’s people are still sinful, and we can sometimes wage our wars against the sin and evil in society with words of hate, judgement, and condemnation. Some who lash out in such ways may not actually be true followers of Christ, but still, the world identifies them with the Church at large. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior speaks much louder to the world than our many acts of love and kindness done in Jesus’ name that often go unnoticed.
The important thing to remember is that grace, not condemnation, is what designates us as Jesus’ disciples. He said the world would know us by the distinguishing attribute of love among us: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (ESV) John 13:35. Why does this distinguish us? It’s a mark of God because love takes a miracle of divine intervention to change human hearts from their innate selfish love. People aren’t used to seeing truly unselfish love in their lives. It will make them stop, look, and (Lord willing) listen. Real love…not the world’s brand of love, is the kind that lays its life down for an enemy.
“But God proves his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Berean Study Bible) Rom. 5:8.
One place we can put this love into action is within our own families and churches. If we cannot even show a “life laying down” kind of love to those nearest to us, we will certainly not reach far beyond them to the world at large. This can be hard, particularly in the church, at times. We struggle with being gracious to each other inside our churches sometimes more than to those outside. Why is this? We expect more from each other? Probably. We expect everyone to love on us, build us up, and spur us on to love and good deeds…just like the Word tells us to. But we can often fail at this. We may not greet the one person this week who was really feeling lonely when they came in the doors of the church. We may judge the woman who walked in wearing, what in our opinion, was way too short of a skirt. We may unknowingly (or knowingly) be seen as stuck up or “too spiritual” for other to relate to. All of these things carry a “two sides to the story” component. Basically, instead of assuming other peoples’ motives, we need to walk graciously…(there’s that word again), assuming the best of intentions for the other Christian, rather than assigning a heart attitude to them based on what we saw.
Only God knows the intentions of the heart, “for the LORD searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought” (ESV) I Chron. 28:9, and we can trust His goodness in working in different ways and at different times in others’ lives. This is soooo hard to put into practice, but absolutely necessary if we are to walk in grace and love with each other. Remember, the world is watching us. They will know we are Jesus’ people when they see an un-explainable love among us. Let’s give them something they’ve never seen before…The Gracious Love of God.