The wonder of scandalous grace

November 6, 2013 | Viewpoints
Phil Wagler |

On Thanksgiving Sunday our church celebrated the joy of baptism. It was a wonderful and diverse community event as we heard transforming stories of the young and middle-aged who had travelled unique pathways to surrendering their lives to the lordship of Jesus. As I listened to their heartfelt confessions, I was reminded that it really is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). One story, in particular, revealed this in the most unsuspecting way.

A young mother in her early 20s has been part of our fellowship for a couple years. Her story has been ravaged by abandonment, disappointment with those who should have loved her, and the challenges of living with addiction. She was alone in the world, literally, with no family to call her own.

The last of our eight new believers to share, she, frankly, appeared the most unprepared. Clad in oversized hip-hop shorts, she stood awkwardly before the gathered throng without notes and proceeded to bring down the house in tears and elevate the scandalous kindness of the Lord.

She showered her church with gratitude, declaring us the family she never had. She had discovered that love really did exist on the earth and very articulately described what faith in Christ meant. She was the paradox of the gospel in living colour, not looking the part while being it in its most beautiful form.

And then we came to the climax. What was it that had awakened her to the Christ-like love of her neighbour who reached out to her? What was it that had restored a pulse and the faint beat of hope? The unlikely answer: premarital sex and pregnancy.

There was a cloak of holy irony, holy surprise and, I’m sure, the odd “holy smoke” among the gathered throng when our sister in Christ unashamedly declared the grace in this: “God made me pregnant.” I wondered if this is what it was like for Mary to out herself in Nazareth. Was she this sure of the gift? Our sister was decidedly sure. God had used her pregnancy to shine hope in the darkness of her despair and loneliness. Her life had purpose. Perhaps there was a larger one? Perhaps she was seen after all?

So on Baptism Sunday, our church learned that God can use sin to eradicate it. I’m not sure if that’s a statement or a question. Whatever it is, it is a scandal. And, isn’t that just like God? Isn’t that the meaning of grace? Does God despise sin? Yes, relentlessly. So relentlessly, in fact, that he will even outwit sin to bring about its end. Is that not, ultimately, the truth of the cross and resurrection. Sin believes it wins, only to discover it has been knocked out.

God will go to great lengths to woo his beloved.

Here are a few thoughts for you to consider:

  • Have you written off people God hasn’t?
  • Have you rushed to conclusions God has not rushed to?
  • Have you underestimated the nature and power of grace?
  • Have you lost the wonder at the relentless wooing of God for his beloved?

Baptism should always be such a eucharist—a thanksgiving—for the multiple kindnesses that have led us to repentance. We are a scandalous community. Isn’t it beautiful?

Phil Wagler ( re-sides with his family in Surrey, B.C., where grace keeps on being amazing.

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This article really hit home with me. In the face of the current political scandal that is rocking Toronto over the mayor's involvement with drugs and gangs, I have been thinking more and more of Philippians 4:8, where Paul instructs believers to focus their thoughts on the things that are lovely, pure, true, worthy of praise and of good report. How said is it to see ugly situations such as this generate distasteful gossip. While I agree that it is true our mayor needs help and God desires to help him if he would but turn to him, this writing from Paul is a continual reminder that this word was created beautiful. A little verse I learned as a child comes to mind: "Come and see the works of God, for He has made everything beautiful!"

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