The Uncomfortable Side of Grace

I can’t help but find that the phrases ‘unconditional grace’ and ‘free gift of salvation’ miss something crucial about the grace of God. For sure, they’re helpful enough in that they do contain an element of truth about God’s grace, but for me they lack something key: the pain of the cross. We cannot be blameless before God unless everything that we have done wrong has been taken away, that’s simple logic. Think of sin as a debt that has to be paid before we can be perfect in God’s eyes. Unfortunately, as humans, we can never pay back that debt, perhaps because we keep adding to it. God knows that for justice to be done, the penalty has to be paid for all our crimes. He also knows that we are incapable of paying that penalty. The issue is, he wants us to be able to be with him for eternity (that’s what he made us for). So what’s the solution? He can’t ignore the penalty because then he is denying justice and contradicting his own character, but if the penalty is not paid, we have to spend eternity away from him, because we cannot exist in that way with his perfect Godhood – sin is anathema to him. The only thing he could do is pay the penalty himself. He steps out of the judge’s seat and stands by us, offering to pay the fine on our behalf. That penalty is paid in blood – ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins’. I don’t think that comes across when you limit the description of salvation to the phrase ‘free gift’.

I want people to be aware of the significance of the cross, something we should all remember with Good Friday coming up. On the cross, Jesus, God on Earth, paid the blood-penalty for our sins. He could do this because he was spotless – the innocent Lamb of God. He paid back all of our debt out of his own perfect account. He took the punishment that we deserved on himself. If only that punishment really was just a monetary thing! No, the punishment was physical – blood. His blood had to be shed. His blood was shed in a visible, painful way that has left its mark on humanity ever since. Did you know that the pain of having a nail driven through a certain nerve in your wrist is so painful that we get a word from it? That word is excruciating (literally: out of crucifixion) because that nerve is where the nails were put that secured Jesus to the cross. It’s chilling. Jesus died close to the peak of the Roman empire, when the news of his death would have been able to spread quickly to the surrounding nations, and he died in a way that ensured that we would never forget. Why did he go through that? So that we don’t have to. His blood paid the price for our sins. All of our sins. And I believe that God arranged his execution to happen in that way so that we can never forget it. Lose that pain and you lose a crucial element of grace. God’s grace can only operate alongside his justice because Jesus paid the price in blood for our sins.

In my next post I will show why this doesn’t show that God is a cruel and abusive deity, so don’t jump to those conclusions now. My intention in writing this was to make sure that people do not forget or ignore what really happened on the cross. Yes, the salvation offered to us is a free gift, but let’s remember what God paid in order to give us this. For anyone who believes this, devoting yourself to God is a natural reaction. How can we not be incredibly grateful? Even so, I think even Christians, myself included, need to sit down and remember the price every now and then. This grace is unprecedented; it’s astounding. As we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ this Easter, don’t forget to remember that which is uncomfortable to think about.

Have a read of this to help you think:

“How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders.
Ashamed I hear my mocing voice,
Call out among the scoffers.

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything:
No gifts, no power, no wisdom,
But I will boast in Jesus Christ:
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart:
His wounds have paid my ransom.”

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