Not long ago, the highway in front of our house was closed at the railroad tracks for repair. Although there were very few trains and much less traffic, all kinds of vehicles drove past the Road Closed Ahead sign; some stopped to ask for directions.
I would be lying if I said Jay and I aren’t flummoxed by this behavior. However, when asked for directions by one of these drivers, and not all stop and ask for directions, we generally find out where they are headed and send all that do ask back the other direction to the Road Closed Ahead sign and tell them to take a right. We try not to make them feel stupid, or rub in the fact they drove right by the sign and detour. We do our best to extend grace and tell them the truth that they are headed in the wrong direction.
I can’t speak for Jay, but I respond in this manner for three reasons:
1) As a follower of Christ, I am called to extend grace to others. Especially if they are headed in the wrong direction, because God has extended me grace through His Son Jesus Christ when I was headed in the wrong direction.
I would be lying if I said that there weren’t moments I wanted to ask: a) why they weren’t paying attention or b) if they can read. I am human after all. However, my faith in Christ reminds me that in my past I got much, much better than I deserved while I was headed in the wrong direction at the speed of light. I certainly ought to extend that same attitude to others. As Paul teaches me I must: “ take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” 2 Corinthians 2:15 (NIV). Especially when I don’t want to.
To be the beneficiary of grace is to get better than we have coming to us; and grace is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion on earth. In all other faiths, to get “there”, to reach paradise, nirvana, enlightenment or get into some form of “heaven” depends on what you do, your work. Some religions may even require multiple lifetimes in order to achieve this desired state of bliss. Can you imagine going through Jr. High/Middle School again and again? Ugh. That would be sheer torture. Then, at death you find out if you earned your way in. Or not. Um… scary.
Not the case with Christianity. To become a Christian, one chooses to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Lord of the universe by surrendering to His Lordship over one’s life and by choosing to receive His grace and forgiveness. We also must believe He rose from the dead and accept what has already been done by Him on the cross which makes one right with God. We believe, accept, depend on the finished work of Christ and change. And then we have the desire to turn back to God in this lifetime. We change direction, and move back toward Him and His way, the right way. This change of direction is also known as repentance.
Recently I stumbled upon a powerful demonstration of grace and direction change I had never noticed in chapter 21 of the book of Acts. The author Luke is narrating his journey with the Apostle Paul from the mission field back to Jerusalem. As I read verse eight for the umpteenth time in my life, it struck me right between the eyes:
8 On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him.
Did you see it? “They stayed at Philip’s house, who was one of the Seven”. You may be asking yourself what’s the big deal about them staying at Philips house? And who are the Seven? Back in Acts chapter six we read Philip was part of a group of seven men carefully chosen by the early church to perform acts of service in the community. Philip was one of these men, and so was a man named Stephen. Stephen was the very first person to die for his faith in Christ. It is reasonable to assume Philip and Stephen were friends, likely good friends. At the end of Acts chapter seven while Stephen, Philip’s friend was falsely accused and eventually stoned to death, a young man named Saul is holding the cloaks of the men stoning him and was more than likely instrumental in setting up Stephen to be falsely accused and executed. Pay close attention here, this very same Saul, who not long after becomes one of the, if not the key figure in persecution of the early church, also caused Philip to flee for his life to Samaria, where he earned the name Philip the Evangelist because he kept right on sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ despite life threatening persecution. Just a few chapters later, Saul has his famous Damascus Road conversion with Christ, and – taa daa – he eventually becomes the Apostle Paul. Who, not only gives us most of the New Testament, and takes the Gospel to much of Asia and the non-Jews.
And is now staying at Philip’s house.
Philip who likely watched him kill his friend Stephen and who he ran for his life from.
I love the Bible; you just can’t make this stuff up! Talk about amazing grace!
Paul sure didn’t deserve the grace he got first from Jesus (neither did I) he was killing Jesus followers after all! But that is what he got. He didn’t deserve to be welcomed into Philip’s home, but he was. If and when our head and heart fully get wrapped around it, grace changes us. When Paul got grace, he didn’t keep killing Christians, he changed direction. Grace comes first and repentance follows from a changed heart..
“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. “
John 1:17 NKJV
2) And after gracefully treating someone the way I would wish to be treated, we tell others the truth.
When the drivers asked me for directions, they were asking for help. In order to give them the help they needed, I had to tell them the truth. To turn around, go back to the Road Closed sign (that they ignored, consciously or unconsciously) and take a different road. If I don’t tell them the truth, they can’t get on the right road and I am useless to help them. Some received that news resentfully and angrily, others with gratitude, some never bothered to ask. I have come to see that’s how it is with the gospel. Some chose to accept God’s grace, change direction and accept and act on the truth. Some don’t and some never ask for help. It’s not my job to make anybody see anything. It is my job to tell them the truth with grace in love. The Apostle Paul took the truth he didn’t want to hear and used it to change the world. And accepting the truth requires obedience. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 (ESV) Jesus heals people, loves them and tells them the truth, to stop sinning. “Go now and leave your life of sin,” John 8:11 (NIV), and “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” John 5:14 (NIV). What he is telling us is “You have been given a do over, change direction!”.
This is what God requires of me: a) to believe He is telling me the truth, all truth is God’s truth by the way, not Christine Davis’s truth or some political party’s truth. And b) to turn around and take a different road. The narrow road that leads to Him. In order to get into a relationship with Him, I must know the truth, and as Jesus promises, “The truth will make you free.”
3) Reason # Three : I have been one of those drivers!!
I have literally done this very same thing. Driven by a Road Closed Ahead sign because I: a) wasn’t paying attention. b) thought they must have it wrong or are just pulling my leg or c) somehow thought I am special and it just didn’t apply to me. In life, most, not all, but most of my trouble is of my own making because I willfully chose to drive on by or perhaps, I thought God was just kidding when he said “Thou shalt not”. I blindly drove right by the Road Closed Ahead signs God put up in His world in which I live. Although I wasn’t always punished for my sin, frequently I was punished by it. And sometimes others were punished by my sin too. By turning around, changing direction and returning to God ( going back to the Road Closed Ahead sign and taking a right) I got grace but I also got the truth to get back on the right road. You see, following Jesus is not a one or the other deal, it’s not just grace or just truth. It is both grace and truth.
Which gives me so many reasons to:
Be joy filled always,