A final foray into this month’s Christianity Today takes us to the moving story of Chris Rice, chronicling the low-point and turning-point of his famous partnership (and friendship) with Spencer Perkins.
Their efforts at leading an interracial Christian community had pushed them to the breaking point in their relationship with each other. Before chucking everything and parting ways, they called in some mediators to help hold them together. Spencer had an epiphany:
“Yeah, yeah, I know all about grace, I thought… Grace is God’s love demonstrated to us, even though we don’t deserve it. But in all my 43 years of evangelical teaching, I never understood until now that God intended grace to be a way of life for his followers… Sure, I knew that we were supposed to love one another as Christ loved us. But somehow it was much easier for me to swallow the lofty untested notion of dying for each other than simply giving grace to brothers and sisters on a daily basis, the way God gives us grace” (36).
I take two things away from this. First, all the talk about “dying” might not have the payoff that I might hope. Of course, if someone “gets it,” it will be a powerful motivator and metaphor, but someone can hold onto the idea that we’re supposed to die for each other and use that as an excuse not to live for one another. Spencer confesses to such a short-changing of the gospel here.
The other thing, though, is that we must keep coming back to the idea that means by which God forms us into a people when he calls us to himself in Christ determines our identity as God’s people, which in turn delineates what it means to live as God’s faithful people. We are a people saved by grace–and therefore we are to be grace to one another. We are a people saved by the self-giving love of Christ and therefore we are to give up our lives in love of one another. We are a people saved as God lavishes forgiveness upon us, and we are called in turn to be a forgiveness people, forgiving one another from the heart.
Any idea of “grace” or “forgiveness” or “self-giving” or “cruciformity” that does not immediately call us to be for others what we have received from Christ is a selling-short of the faithful life to which God calls us. If we have received grace from above, we are called to be grace on the ground here below.