Sunday, September 25, 2011
A Pair of Candlesticks: The Convicting Power of Grace
We were bumping along another potholed road, squished together like raisins in a tiny box. We'd been in Uganda three weeks tromping from place to place with Bibles clenched under our arms. We unfurled the Gospel like a red carpet in huts, bars, shops and bus stops, asking all who wanted saving to walk down it.
That day as we thudded along I was sitting uncomfortably close to our youngest teammate, an enthusiastic guy who was still in high school. He had recently recommitted his life to Christ and was bursting with a passion for souls. It was pure and endearing and occasionally outrageous.
He liked talking about evangelism, the method of it. So that's what we talked about.
He explained to me his approach, one he had borrowed from Spurgeon, which suggested to spend 90% of your time talking sin and 10% of your time talking grace in Jesus. People HAD to be fully convicted of their sin in order to appreciate grace at all. So hammer the law down HARD.
I am definitely unfit to touch Charles Spurgeon's sandals, but that formula didn't sit right with me. That hadn't been my experience at all. I didn't run to Jesus because I looked at the law and then saw my need of Him. I ran to Jesus because I saw Him and in seeing Him I saw the state of my soul for the very first time.
Last week the touring company of Les Miserables passed through our town and I had the privilege to be sitting in the audience. Those of you who know me even moderately well know of my past life in theatre and my obsessive love of musicals so I am sure you can imagine my enthusiasm. (And yes, I started crying at that moment I told you about earlier and kept crying for the next 45 minutes.)
What prompts the words of that transforming moment is an unexpected gift bestowed on an undeserving man. After dining with a bishop, the former convict, Jean Valjean, steals the silver from the rectory. He is caught, accused and exposed before the people he stole from. But rather than confirm Valjean's crime, the Bishop supports his story that the silver had been given to him as a gift. Not only does the bishop allow Valjean to keep the silver he took, he gives him an additional present, a pair of silver candlesticks. Undeserved mercy. Undeserved grace.
This radical act cuts Jean Valjean to the core. He sees the wreck of a man he is and reaches out for salvation. His life is changed. The bishop never mentions a word about Valjean's sin, but the grace exposed it.
I am not trying to minimize the place of God's law in our repentance. Paul tells us that he would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said "Do not covet." (Romans 7:8) God does reveal who we are (and who we are NOT) through His law. And he tells us that the law is also written on our hearts (Romans 2).
"Godly grief leads to repentance." (7 Corinthians 7:10) But where does that grief spring from? Is it purely from looking at our own failure to keep the ten commandments?
Without spoiling the ending of my own story, I did not ultimately come to faith because I became convinced of my own inability to keep God's law. I wasn't even sure I thought God's law supreme. I wasn't even sure the God of the Bible was totally real.
What won me was Jesus. Jesus revealing Himself to me. Jesus was showing grace to me, still inviting me in, even though I was not looking for an invitation. And in looking at the loving sacrifice of Jesus I saw myself for the first time. I saw my nothingness.
You can tell a person in a dark room that they are in the dark. You can repeat and repeat, Do you know what darkness you are in? Yet it is only when the light shines that they are finally able to see. They see the darkness surrounding them because they experienced light for the very first time.
What I am trying to say is that there is no one size fits all formula for winning souls to Christ. No magic percentage. No principle that dictates just what opens the eyes of the blind and causes them to see. What we know is that it is done by God. And what I know from my story, and the story of Jean Valjean, is that at times all it takes is pure grace to expose our shame.
Sometimes Christians get so caught up in telling the world how screwed up they are that we neglect being the light. Let us not underestimate the convicting power of being people of radical grace.