Paul starts his letter to the Philippians with the words “grace to you”. It’s a simple phrase and we could mistake it for a casual greeting but for Paul, and the churches that he had established, it was packed with meaning. If the rest of his letters to churches are anything to go by Paul would have laid Gods grace in Jesus Christ as a foundational truth in the life of each local church he started.
He taught that through we were enemies of God, deserving eternal punishment for our sin, to be cut off from God he sent his son, Jesus to die for us. That because of his work, his death his life we are accepted. That we can know God as Father as Jesus knew him as Father and he can write to them about “God our Father”.
Paul gave many illustrations of grace and how it works so let me adapt one that occluded to me. Imagine you have been tried for a crime and found guilty and the judge is about to pass sentence. At the moment his hammer goes up ready to pass sentence you drop dead in the dock. What happens in the court room at that moment? Nothing. Silence. The hammer never falls. You can’t sentence a dead man. It makes no sense to give a corpse 20 years hard labour or life in prison. So it is with us. As far as the law is concerned we were crucified with Christ and have died in the dock with him. We will never get a sentence.
What is particularly exciting about grace is that it actually enables us to obey God. I love this verse
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, (ESV) Titus 2:11-12
Many of us now take the concept of grace for granted. We may not outwork it fully but its there as a foundation in our thinking and has been laid as a foundation in our family of churches. There has been a monumental shift in the understanding of thousands of Christians all over the world. The atmosphere has been changed to such an extent that we find it relatively easy to explain God’s grace to someone. We live and breath it. That was not always the case in church life in this and many other countries.
It took people like Terry Virgo to set in place a foundation of “grace” in our family of churches. It takes an apostolic gift to move into a particular place or culture and lay something under the top soil (this is just as true for unbiblical Christian religious cultures and traditions as it is for secular cultures). To not just shape aspects of thinking to be more in line with the truth but to lay a new foundation. The Apostolic gift can take the truth of the grace of God and lay it as a foundation to be built upon so that it affects everything. That having been done others of us can continue to build.
I think I read somewhere that Terry Virgo used to illustrate the foundational aspect of grace as producing a water colour painting. First you lay a a blue wash over all your canvas. Only when that is in place can you begin to paint on the details. Grace is the blue sky behind any healthy local church.
I may look at other foundations that need to be laid in future posts.