This fall, we launched a new program for college students. It is called the Leadership Development Program (LDP). We hired six students to work as part time staff for the entire school year. While they lead different areas of ministry at Athens Church, we try to develop them as leaders. Part of this is done “on the job” as we oversee them and help them lead their areas, and part of it is done through more formal training times. Each of the full time staff members has been assigned a couple of Monday afternoons where we are leading them through some content that will hopefully help them be better leaders.
Today is my day to lead them, and I am going to be talking to them about a “culture of grace.” I am a big believer that churches in the past several decades (and maybe even throughout the majority of Christian history) have not been places characterized by grace. More often, we are characterized as judgmental, narrow-minded people who are not very understanding of people who don’t measure up to what we consider acceptable Christian living. However, when I read the New Testament, and specifically when I read about the life of Christ, I see a man who consistently worked to create a culture of grace among his followers.
One of the most poignant examples if this is found in John 8. The Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman who was caught in the very act of having sex with someone who was not her husband. Clearly the woman was wrong and by Jewish Law deserved to be stoned. As I’m sure you know, Jesus responded in a very different way and the woman was a recipient of Jesus’ culture of grace. I’m going to be talking to our LDP staff today about four things we can learn from this story about creating a culture of grace.
1. A culture of grace is often misunderstood. I can guarantee that Jesus took some flack for how he dealt with this woman’s sin. If not for this specific event, he was maligned regularly for being a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” and for being a “drunkard.” But Jesus didn’t care about what the religious community or anyone thought about how he was dealing with sinners. Jesus knew he would be misunderstood for the places he went and for the people he had relationships with. When you create a culture of grace, people will always misinterpret what you are doing, but you can’t let that stop you. People need grace.
2. A culture of grace always accepts. In this passage and throughout his life, Jesus always accepted the unacceptable. The people who were most ostracized from society and the religious community were the ones who felt the most comfortable around Jesus. You didn’t have to fit into a specific mold to be accepted by Jesus. You could come like you were. We have to work hard at this one. “Unacceptable” people are hard to accept. But, they need grace.
3. A culture of grace always forgives. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” may be one of Jesus’ best known statements. It characterizes what Jesus defaulted to- forgiveness. When there is a choice between forgiveness and judgment, Jesus always chose forgiveness. We must be a people who extend forgiveness to people no matter where they have been or what they have done. They must be welcomed into Christian community with open arms.
4. A culture of grace always offers a better way. A culture that only accepts and forgives is not a culture of grace at all. It is not gracious to allow people to continue in the pattern of sin that is ruining their life. We need to model the way of Jesus and tell people “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” In other words, you are accepted and forgiven of your past, but I can show you the way to happiness and fulfillment for the future- a way of true freedom.
May our churches be characterized as displaying a culture of grace.