I was shown mercy… the grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly. – 1 Timothy 1:13-14
Space for Transformational Grace
by Scot McKnight, A Fellowship of Differents
The Man not only despised Christians, he sought to eliminate them. He began with threatening emails to some Christians he knew; then, under a bogus name, he opened a website where he pumped out vicious accusations and fierce warnings. Some in the community begged Christian family members to abandon their faith and the church.
The Man occasionally beat up a Christian or two when he knew no one was watching, but he also knew the authorities would not come to their aid if they noticed his abuse. His religiously informed and passionate pleadings with the police coaxed the powers to his side. The police began their surveillance, and some devout believers were brought in for questionings and threatened with danger to their families and life imprisonment or worse.
Some Christians were tortured, and rumors began to circulate that a young Christian leader had been killed to set an example. Fear struck the Christian communities, and their fear fed The Man’s fury into further abuse.
No, The Man is not a modern day Muslim.
No, The Man is not a terrorist.
No, The Man is not an Iron Curtain Lenin or Stalin.
No, The Man is not an Idi Amin, or a Robert Mugabe, or an apartheid supporter, or a secretive sleuth or drug lord.
That Man is the apostle Paul, and I simply updated him to illustrate how persecution occurs in our world today.
Paul was Enemy #1 to the first Jewish Christian community’s faith. They all agreed Paul was an enemy of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, of the Christians.
But God drew That Man away from persecuting zeal into the church. Paul’s zeal for the Torah became a zeal for the Messiah. That transformation is grace.
Maybe you’ve not read Paul’s story enough to know the details, but Paul once left Jerusalem under orders from Caiaphas, the high priest, to arrest Christians. He was successfully carrying out those orders when God stepped into his life and transformed him. Remarkably, Paul returned to Jerusalem three years later as a defector from his former rabbi’s ways and as a convert to Jesus’ ways. Ever wonder what Caiaphas or Paul’s famous majordomo rabbi, Gamaliel, thought of their former comrade and student who was now a follower of Jesus? How did those in Paul’s former circles describe what had happened to him? That didn’t matter to Paul, who was so overwhelmed by God’s grace; he no longer cared what they thought.
Paul knew he was in a place called grace.
Grace is the opening word that tumbles out of Paul’s mouth.
Grace is more than being lucky to be on God’s side.
Grace is God’s goodness showered on people who have failed.
Grace is God’s love on those who think they are unlovable.
Grace is God knowing what we are designed to be.
Grace is God believing in us when we have given up.
Grace is someone at the end of their rope finding new strength.
But there’s more to grace. Grace is both a place and a power.
Grace is God unleashing His transforming power.
Grace realigns and reroutes a life and a community.
Grace is when you turn your worst enemy into your best friend.
Grace takes people as they are and makes them what they can be.
Grace ennobles; grace empowers.
Grace forgives; grace frees.
Grace transcends, and grace transforms.
Grace is God’s love on those who think they are unlovable
Grace turns a Christian-baiting, Torah-loving Pharisee such as the apostle Paul into a Christian-loving, Christ-following apostle.
One of my favorite lines in the whole Bible is found at the end of the first chapter of Galatians:
The man [Paul] who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy. – Galatians 1:23
Grace turns persecutors into preachers.
Thank you for your life-transforming grace. I would be lost without you. Help me to offer this grace to others and watch you transform them through me. I am your vessel. Cleanse me and make me whole as I grow up in you.
In Jesus Name,