But the wonderful and infuriating thing about grace and our God who gives it is that we don't have to be perfect.
Just like spouses learn to love each other through financial hardships and emotional trauma and annoying pet peeves, God is faithful to us, freely giving us a love we're not worthy of. Sticking by us despite our dysfunction.
And I've been thinking about what this kind of love and grace looks like not just on an individual scale in my own corrupt heart, but on a corporate level. Oh Church, dear bride of Christ. Are we not the height of dysfunction?
We get down on the Church all the time. Particularly in the west (though I don't doubt dysfunction is a global and even universal thing), where our culture is so markedly incompatible with the teachings of Jesus, it's like our favorite pastime to criticize the body. And granted, we've got lots of problems. We're diseased with consumerism and universalism and bigotry and a pathological lack of unity. There're volumes that could be (and have been) written about the Church's shortcomings. And there's absolutely a place for self-examination.
But I've been thinking lately about cutting the Church some slack. How can I expect from a body of believers what I have not mastered myself?
Charlie Peacock has a great song about this: the Church is so much worse off than we think. There is so much we've gotten wrong. So many mistakes we've made. So many utter failures. (Aren't you tired of hearing about the Crusades yet?!) But still, the more the understanding of our sin grows, the greater our appreciation of His grace swells. The Church is sick, because it is made up of people who need the Great Physician. And if you stop right there the story's pretty bleak, because just like no betrothed would blithely walk into a marriage to a violent alcoholic, why would someone sign up to join a leper colony of fellow corrupted sinners? If we have a concept of what holy is and a desire to get there, why do we get mixed up in church at all?
Because the story doesn't end with the Church's incomprehensible inadequacy.
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. [Romans 8:1-2]
This grace is real in my life. This is what's changing me and shaping me and it's within this context that self-examination is so sanctifying. I am flawed, yet He loves me. I am stubborn and lazy and fearful, yet He loves me. I am dysfunctional, yet He loves me. And oh dysfunctional Church. He loves His bride in the very same way. Is not that grace astonishing?
So when I hear church horror stories or watch videos like this one, when I sit in my own church and feel the judgment coil in my stomach, I hum it to myself, "Don't despair, grace is near. It's just like God to choose the loser, not the winner." Cheer up. The sins of the Church have been forgiven. There's no space for cynicism here. Let the full force of our need grow our gratitude for magnitude of His grace.