BY CHAD BIRD
Nothing is easier than making grace unamazing. Just do what comes naturally.
To start with, assume that grace is never hilarious. When a baby was born to ninety year old Sarah, she christened him Laughter—or, as we say, Isaac. She said, “God has made laughter for me! Everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And I’m sure they did. It was comical, these wrinkled parents cashing a Social Security check to buy Pampers. Isaac was their Easter baby. His birth heralded the time when God would bring forth life from a dead tomb, as he brought forth Laughter from Sarah’s dead womb. To make grace unamazing, pretend that God’s best punch line of all time, the resurrection, is nothing but serious spiritual business. True grace says otherwise. For grace knows how to throw a boot-stomping, laughter-filled party when dead people come back to life. Just ask the prodigal son. Blue-haired spinsters sipping tea and tsk-tsking in the corner would have felt quite out of place at his homecoming shindig.
Also, to make grace unamazing, treat repentance like a layaway plan. A sinner deposits dollars of shame, guilt, and tears into God’s account, until by and by, he can take forgiveness home. But until then, he’s stuck in a probationary period. Let him sit in the back pew, muse on his downfall, and work on convincing everyone that he’s not just faking it. He’s sincere. He’s earnest in his desire for amendment of life. He’ll never do it again. If his heart is in the right place, God will eventually forgive him.
Most importantly, to make grace unamazing, legalize it. Although grace literally means “gift,” speak of it as a contract. It has conditions, exemptions, and a hundred pages of fine print. There’s more to it than “it is finished.” In unamazing grace, it’s never finished. There’s always more you need to do to ensure God keeps smiling at you. Show him you’re worthy of his love. Agree never to do ______ or ______ again. In unamazing grace, forgiveness is always a possibility but never a fact. It is contingent upon pure hearts, zipped up zippers, denominational affiliation, Sunday School attendance, and generous tithing, just to name a few. When grace is legalized, the Good News becomes just More News of what you have to do.
In short, to make grace unamazing, unattach it from Jesus’s blood and righteousness. But when you do, realize that you no longer have grace. You have the lie of hell.
What makes grace truly amazing? There’s nothing natural, commonsensical, or legal about it. It first hits us as nonsense, a foolish message that God has already set things right between us and him. But it’s true. And, thank God, there’s not a damn thing we can do to mess it up. The last dirty act that the last man on earth will commit on the last day has already been wiped clean. Atheists are reconciled to the God they don’t even believe in. The lowest dirt bag on earth is a beloved child of the Father. All of this is as true as the sun is hot. It’s done. Nothing will alter it. Already from the foundation of the world, Christ is the Lamb slain. Our whole globe is awash in his saving, sacrificial blood.
Yes, we await the full revelation of this at the last day.
Yes, not everyone will believe it and receive the benefits of it.
But, yes, the justification of the whole world in Christ remains an unalterable fact of grace.
Amazing grace is a sweet sound not just because it saved a wretch like me, but because it saved a whole wretched world like me. God did not enter into a contract with us. He simply said, “You’re justified. You’re forgiven. I love you. All is complete.”
Jesus didn’t say, “Be repentant enough, long enough, sincerely enough, and I’ll absolve you.” He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus didn’t say, “Screw up again, boy, and I’ll have your brothers dig up your old stinking sin and slap you in the face with it.” He said, “I have removed your sins as far as the east is from the west. I will remember them no more.”
He said this to those who believe it and who don’t believe it. Faith does not make justification possible; it merely receives the justification already accomplished.
Hilarious, irrational grace: that’s where God is. He’s there in Jesus. He belly laughs at parties with public sinners. He crowns whores queens of faith. He restores apostles who stabbed him in the back. He shows us over and over that grace is amazing because Jesus is our friend, our brother, our lamb, our feast, our Lord and our God.
He is our amazing grace.
Chad is an author and speaker who's devoted to honest Christianity that addresses the raw realities of life with the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. Chad has served as a pastor and assistant professor of OT theology, contributed hymns to the Lutheran Service Book, and cohosts the podcast “Forty Minutes in the OT.” He holds Master's degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College. In addition to writing the books, Christ Alone and The Infant Priest, he has contributed articles to Modern Reformation, The Federalist, Concordia Pulpit Resources, and other journals. His new book with Eerdmans, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul, is now available for pre-order at Amazon. His writings and other resources can be found at his website, chadbird.com. Chad and his wife, Stacy, enjoy life together in the Texas Hill Country.