John completed his M.Div about fifteen years ago. He did not attempt to enter the ministry at that point. Instead, he went into Toronto and was involved with urban missions there for a time. He worked entirely with Sikhs and Hindus, trying to form relationships with them and share the gospel.
We have many interesting memories from those months. John became fairly close to an older Sikh man, turbaned, very dignified, and one of the leaders of his community in the city. One day we went as a family to his home and….he insisted on showing my daughters how to dance the macarena! That is a ‘forever’ mental image for all of us!
One evening, John and I were invited to an Indian newspaper editor’s celebration for key people in his community. It was fascinating to watch people dance – the men by themselves, with hands in the air, looking up to the ceiling, the women on their own…
John and I were seated with a Hindu couple that we talked with for the entire evening. He was a meditative man, and very open in expressing his disillusionment with life. What is it all about? We asked them to our home and spent the evening with them several weeks later.
Do you understand the notion of ‘karma’? It is that you ‘gain’ or ‘lose’ in this life depending on your performance in previous lives. There is a very strict, retributive ‘justice’. How do you share the idea of grace with someone whose deepest thoughts reflect that worldview?
John and I tried and tried to tell the husband – I can’t even remember his name now – about grace….God’s free mercy and forgiveness to sinners. It did not resonate. It made absolutely no sense to him. Divine acceptance absolutely had to be based on performance.
And that is when I became convinced of the necessity of putting Christ in his Jewish context. We know Christ had to be born a Jew because they were the people to whom God had revealed himself. Specifically, they had been given his law. And Christ had to know and obey the law to win his righteous standing before God. He indeed did have to perform.
And that is what we eventually shared with this man. Of course there has to be law-keeping righteousness to stand before a holy God! There has to be performance. There has to be desert. But, in the Christian’s case, it is the righteousness, performance, desert, of another freely given to you. And that is how God’s favor is justly awarded to sinners. We focused on the active, imputed obedience of Christ. (While – of course – also setting him forth as the lamb slain for sinners.)
He did not agree but he at least ‘got it’. He understood the underpinnings of grace. Law-keeping. Absolutely.
It showed me the importance of, when possible, as we speak with people, beginning at the beginning of God’s revelation. Grace without the context of well-defined law – violated by us, obeyed perfectly by Christ – doesn’t have content or meaning.
I think that is where the plague of ‘cheap grace’, comes from. It is the lack of acknowledgement that what Christ did for us is full of active, defined, law-keeping, content. This in the only ‘righteousness’ that is meaningful to God. Indeed, nothing else is righteousness. And it is this very contentful righteousness that is planted in our hearts as Christians. It can only grow to be more and more what it is – law-keeping – by nature.
Regeneration and righteousness simply can’t be separated!