Friday, June 10, 2016

Grace Pt. 4 - The Yoke of Grace

While driving down the chaotic streets of Houston last week, I noticed a bumper sticker taking an awkward pro-life stance. Though I have to sensor it, you won’t have any difficulty ascertaining its point.

“All lives matter except _______.  _______ those guys.”  

As much as I hate to say it, that bumper sticker sounds very much like Christianity from the middle of the 4th century onward. "Jesus loves all people, so we should love all people, except the people that we don’t like, or that don’t like us, or that don’t look like us, or that are at war with our earthly country, etc."

Can you imagine what the world would be like if Ananias of Damascus had a bumper sticker Christianity? You know, something like, “All lives matter except for that lunatic Pharisee Saul. #$*@ that guy.”

To be fair, if anyone in the history of humanity deserved the death penalty, it was Saul/Paul. He himself said that we are supposed to fully trust that he was the worst sinner who ever lived (see 1Timothy 1:12-16). However, aren’t you glad Ananias laid hands on Saul to heal his blindness rather than to slit his throat (see Acts 9:1-31)?

Aren’t you glad Ananias submitted to the leadership of his leader, Jesus, who came to save sinners? Aren’t you glad Ananias chose to believe in the empowerment of grace? Many people believe the Apostle Paul was one of the most influential men who has ever lived.

Personally, I believe Ananias had a strong impact on Paul’s writing of 2 Corinthians 5:13-16. Here, Paul says that if it seems like he is acting like he is out of his mind, it’s because of and for Christ. The love of Christ is compelling him to no longer live for himself, but for Jesus. The grace of Christ has transformed him, and is empowering him to no longer no longer regard anyone from human point of view. He wants every person alive to follow Jesus. 

Similarly to how Ananias saw the way grace could change the worst sinner who had ever lived into one of the most influential men who ever lived (for the kingdom of God), Paul urged the Corinthians to adopt the same grace goggles. Not to see everyone as already in Christ. Heavens no! But to have the mindset toward all people of, “What could they become if Jesus came into them?”

To the early Christians, this concept of being compelled and empowered by Christ was analogous to taking up His yoke.

For Christ is of those who are humble-minded, and not of those who exalt themselves. … “He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we were healed.” … You see, beloved, the example which has been given us; for if the Lord thus humbled Himself, what shall we do who have through Him come under the yoke of His grace? – Clement of Rome 95CE, Volume 1, p. 16-17.

What is a yoke? It is a wooden bar placed over the neck of a pair of animals so they can pull together; it unites them to move and work together as one. Clement of Rome said that yoke of grace unites Christians with Jesus Christ, and the yoke of grace empowers Christians to follow Jesus’ example as we come under it. 

Consider the concept of the yoke of grace as you read this second passage by the Apostle Paul:    

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. …

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:5-6, 14-16

Most of the time when I’ve heard this passage taught, it’s been with the idea that Christianity is not about keeping rules, it’s about a relationship of grace. Could it be that that kind of teaching is causing Christians to completely miss Paul’s point?

Being under grace means we (those united with Christ) have become divinely empowered TO follow the teaching and way of Jesus Christ.

Have you come under Jesus’ yoke of grace? If so, you have been united with Him in His death, which He died for all people. And you have been raised with Him to live by His power for His purpose of reclaiming the world for the glory of God. That is good news!

So today, may you believe in and act on the powerful words penned by Fanny Crosby on the yoke of grace and its power to transform Sauls into Pauls.

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness
Chords that are broken will vibrate once more

Rescue the perishing, duty demands it
Strength for your labor the Lord will provide
Back to the narrow way, patiently win them
Tell the poor wanderer that hope has arrived

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