Grace Incarnate

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I do not want to make that phone call.

As part of a local recovery support group, I have committed to be accountable to its members. We agree to make at least one phone call to one member every day. These phone conversations, for me at least, always start uncomfortably. Usually I end up having some serious conversations about life, kids, marriage, addiction. Who wants to give up an hour of binge-watching Netflix for the inevitable downer that these conversations become? So when the time comes to make those phone calls, I always find reasons to avoid them.

On this day I sit in my chair, looking at the phone number of one of my group members. All I have to do is tap it to place the call. Staring at the phone, I feel that seductive pull to check my Facebook status, but I tap the number instead. Thankfully, I get away with leaving a standard voice message.

Whew! I did my duty, with almost no work, no discomfort, no time off my hands.

Then I look down and see another name on my screen — another member I have not called yet. OK, I figure. Maybe another voice mail. If not, I’ll just say “hi,” then be on my way. I hit the name. One ring, two, three. Voice mail time. . . .

“Hello?”

Man! He answered! Now I need to talk to this guy. So we talk. I share the gist of my story. He shares his story.

He then tells me, “You know, right before you called, I was wanting to act out. I don’t think I want to anymore. I’m gonna head out to a meeting right now instead.”

I encourage him to stay the course. I pray over him. He prays over me. We hang up. I stare at the black screen awhile, continuing to pray.

Then, my phone rings — it’s that first guy I called.

I did not want to make that phone call. But the experience did teach me a lot about grace.

 

Grace defined

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth. . . . And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace (John 1:14, 16).

We have all received the fullness of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, but what do we mean when we use that term?

Grace is rightfully thought of as the free love from God, given to an undeserving people. Some definitions follow:

“Grace is . . . love to the ill-deserving.” — B. B. Warfield

“Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.” — John Stott

“Grace is one-way love” that reaches out to the undeserving person. — Paul Zahl

Many times, when we think about this topic, we think about the grace God shows to us: forgiveness of sins, help when we’re distressed, rescue when we were dying.

While these are good, thinking only this way is not a right way to think about what it means to be graceful.

 

Jesus: grace incarnate

For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him . . . (Colossians 2:9, 10a).

Jesus is the fullness of the Godhead. All the grace God could lavish on His creation is filled with and fulfilled by the person of Jesus. He is the incarnate expression of the fullness of God’s grace.

In Jesus we see a human who reunites families, stoops down to bring up those who are beaten down, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, talks to outcasts, speaks in love.

That is a picture of being graceful. “And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16).

This world severely lacks grace. Neighbors speak ill of and to each other. Children go to bed without parents. Kids are bullied, women are brutalized, people go hungry. An Internet search reveals that

  • Well over 13 million children are orphaned (lost both parents) worldwide.1
  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.2
  • 795 million people in the world lack food to be healthy.3
  • One in five (about 21.5 percent) children are bullied.4

Our world needs graceful people. We need Jesus, the fullness of the Godhead, to fill it.

 

The body: grace incarnate

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:22, 23, NIV).

Maybe one of the best ways to turn people away from the picture of a grace-less world is to show them what a graceful world looks like. We — the body of Christ, the community of believers, the communion of saints — are “the fullness of him [Jesus] who fills everything in every way.” So this community — with all our actions, thoughts, and love for each other — becomes the incarnate expression of the fullness of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

I did not want to make that phone call because I did not want to stoop down to rescue my neighbor. I was choosing to be grace-less despite my commitment to be a graceful Christ follower who is part of a community of believers.

Paul writes, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20a, NIV). This grace-less world is supposed to look to Christ’s body on earth. They are supposed to turn to this vibrant, eclectic, hodgepodge fellowship of Jesus followers.

We should therefore be the incarnate expression of grace that turns eyes, hearts, and lives around toward the beauty of a life with God through Jesus Christ. We are the medium God chooses to appeal to this world. So maybe we should make sure our life together actually looks appealing.

 

Gracefully present

When we in the church pray for each other, feed each other, eat with each other, laugh with each other, cry in each other’s arms, teach each other, understand each other, look forward to seeing each other, defend each other, correct each other, worry about each other, sing to each other, make time for each other, love each other, we let the fullness of Christ fill us and overflow to others, even grace for grace. That is when we are graceful.

I pray we stay the course. Make the phone calls. Make the time. Feed the hungry. Care for the widows. Foster the orphans. Love each other. Give our last ounce of energy, pouring our lives out. We can be that picture.

 

  1. “Orphans,” Unicef, last updated June 15, 2015, www.unicef.org/media/media_45279.html. Web accessed 7-15-16.
  2. Statistics, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, www.ncadv.org/learn/statistics. Web accessed 7-15-16.
  3. Hunger Statistics, World Food Programme, www.wfp.org/hunger/stats. Web accessed 7-15-16.
  4. Deborah Lessne and Melissa Cidade, “Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying: Results From the 2013 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, Web Tables: US Department of Education (April 2015), http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2015/2015056.pdf. Web accessed 7-15-16.
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Michael R. Flores, his wife, Victoria, and three children - Kennedy, Ezra, and Maria - live in San Antonio, TX, and love to spend time in nature. As for work, Michael is passionate about ensuring that educational systems are equitable for all students, and that these systems function to empower individuals and communities to effect positive change. He loves conversation, so if you ever want to dialogue, he encourages you to find ways to get in contact. The Flores family fellowships with the Church of God (Seventh Day) community at Willard Street.

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