I know some of the youths at Lifehouse struggle with the concept of grace. I notice when they feel like they haven't been "good enough". I see the look on their faces when confessing something in small groups. I've heard a few talk about observing the Sabbath as if they were wizened Hasidic men arguing over different Rabbinical interpretations. "Nu, does it begin when three or four stars appear in the sky on Friday night?"
So our youth group began reading Terry Virgo's book Enjoying God's Grace, a summarized version of his book God's Lavish Grace. As we talked, the youths asked a lot of questions. We talked for so long parents and younger siblings poked their heads in to gauge how long they would have to wait.
I think our youths expressed widely shared concerns. Teenagers, adults, Christians, we all want to perform well. I'll bet even Stephen Malkmus practices that sweet adolescent crack in his voice. In Enjoying God's Grace, Virgo writes, "The Old Covenant focus was on performance, and Jesus's performance completely satisfied his Father. If God looks on his Son and through him accepts us, how can we gain God's extra approval by returning to a treadmill of dead works? We can't."
People often criticize Christianity as an endless set of rules, and some denominations aren't helping to set the record straight, but I don't think God cares how well we perform or how much we produce. I don't think we'll get a bigger and better golden mansion with hot chocolate fountains in Heaven just because we swore less or refused to drink (let alone enjoy) beer. I have no idea where the concept of Beverly Hills Heaven developed, but I don't buy it.
One of the youths asked if Christians went straight to Heaven after they died or if they would first be judged. As if striving to be good in life wasn't hard enough, he wanted to know if Heaven had a waiting room. I asked him if he remembered the two criminals who died next to Jesus. One of the criminals said they deserved their punishment but Jesus had done nothing wrong. Then the criminal said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom." I asked the youth if he could remember Jesus's reply. The youth couldn't remember. I told him, "Jesus said, 'Today you will be with me in paradise.'"
What did that criminal do to deserve paradise? Nothing. Why did he get to go there? Why does anyone get to go there? It seems unfair, doesn't it? Well, grace is unfair. No one gets what they deserve when it comes to grace because grace by definition is an undeserved gift.
In Jesus's parables, was it fair for the landowner to pay all the workers the same wage, even though some only worked an hour while others worked the entire day? No, it wasn't fair. The man doesn't even argue the point. He simply says, "Don't I have a right to do what I want with my own money?" I can see God saying the same about grace.
Do you struggle with performance? Do you constantly feel like you blew it or that God is disappointed in you?
Do you have a hard time understanding God's total disregard for fairness?
Or do you celebrate it?