I recently commented on a post by Jeremy Myers on his Till He Comes blog. In response to my comment Jeremy asked the question, how can a grace-based church be identified? This post is an attempt at answering that question.
I came up with five things that mark a church as grace based:
- A grace based community points to Jesus
- A grace based community values every person’s story
- A grace based community speaks the truth in love
- A grace based community helps people become what God designed them to be
- A grace based community is not content to play church when the world around them is dying without a saving relationship with Jesus Christ
Points to Jesus
It seems like a tautology to say that every church should point to Jesus, but sadly this is not the case. While the legalistic churches I’ve attended would claim to point to Jesus, instead they point to men and they point to rules. In a legalistic system some person or group will be the final arbiter of what is right and whether someone is accepted.
In a grace based community, people are directed to Jesus who welcomes all no matter their current belief or practice.
Values every person’s story
The Apostle James warns us against judging people by external traits. Specifically he warns against giving rich people preferential treatment. While we may comply with the letter of this command, often the church violates its spirit.
How do we treat homeless people? Are we aware of the undercurrents in the society around us? How would we react if a drug addict or prostitute showed up on Sunday morning? How do we react to the gay and lesbian community?
The danger is that we can look down on people who practice a life-style with which we do not agree. We can condemn them before we even listen to their stories to find out how they ended up that way.
I think of how Jesus interacted with the woman at the well in John 4. He knew her story but valued her enough to draw her story out. She came to understand that despite Jesus knowing her story, he still valued and accepted her. The church should do the same.
Speak the truth in love
My experience is that churches tend to gravitate toward one or the other of these. Either truth is compromised for the sake of being loving or love is compromised for the sake of truth.
A grace based church does not withhold the truth, it does not compromise on the standards of holiness as outlined in Scripture. Neither does a grace based church use the truth to brow beat people into submission.
We need to speak the truth and be loving as people examine and consider the truth. This is why it is important to value a person’s story. Because of their background, some will have trouble trusting what we say. We need to give them time to process and patently answer questions and help them work through doubt and misunderstanding.
Helps people become what God designed them to be
When I interact with Scripture and other believers, I become painfully aware of areas of my life that are not what God would want them to be. This interaction also give me glimpses of what I can become as I surrender my life to Jesus. This is the process of discipleship.
The church should not condemn people for where they are, but neither should we allow them to stay as they are. We should always be spurring one another on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).
It is not loving or gracious to ignore problems.
Not content to play church
If we do indeed have the Good News, then it would be the opposite of gracious to keep that good news to ourselves. We are not to play church and function as a spiritual club using doctrine and conformity to determine who is in and who is out.
If we are striving to live in grace, we will be like Jesus in the way we reach out to the community. Jesus lovingly challenged the people around them. For example, when the rich young man came to Jesus and called him “good teacher,” Jesus asked him “why do you call me good?” (Mark 10:18). Jesus challenged the young man’s assumptions to make him think about his world view.
If the culture around us is indeed lost and subject to eternal consequences for that lostness, should we not feel a sense of urgency in bringing them to safety? Is it not gracious to reach out to them?
Now it’s your turn
Can you think of any other marks of a grace based church? Please add them in the comment section below.