As we continue in the second half of Martin Thielen’s book What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?, we are looking at the question Am I accepted? Thielen points out in this chapter that the unique feature of the Christian religion is . . . grace! He defines grace as “God’s unconditional love and acceptance of us just as we are.”
He refers to Anne Lamott’s story of feeling that God couldn’t love her with all her shortcomings and sins. An Episcopal priest said to her, “God has to love you. That’s God’s job.” Thielen then tells the well-known Tony Campolo story about Campolo throwing a birthday party for a prostitute in a diner. When asked what kind of church he attended, Campolo said, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”
Jesus loved sinners, Thielen says, and “refused to judge and condemn them. Instead, Jesus saw them as beloved children of God, created in the image of God, with great value and worth. Obviously Jesus hoped they would change for the better” (87) In short, Jesus offered grace. Thielen quotes John 3:16-17 and says that grace does not mean that we can accept God’s grace and then live any way we please (“cheap grace,” according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer). “As we say in the United Methodist Church, we must move from ‘justifying grace’ (grace that makes us right with God) to ‘sanctifying grace’ (grace that leads to spiritual maturity).” (89). The bottom line, Thielen says, is Even with our flaws, Jesus loves and accepts us as beloved children of God. (90).
MY RESPONSE: I am not really looking to find errors in Thielen’s chapters. And it is hard to disagree with this chapter on grace. My only concern is that we can confuse creation and redemption. What I mean is that creation (being made in God’s image) does not equal redemption (being “saved” or forgiven by God). The expression “children of God” can refer to people being created by God or to those who have repented of their sins and have trusted Christ (John 1:12). I wish Thielen were clearer about this distinction.
I would also point out that Jesus said that He would judge those who rejected Him. While His primary desire is to save, Jesus says the Father has given all judgment into the Son’s hands (John 5:22) and He will be the One who will separate the sheep (those who are saved) from the goats (the lost) at the end of time (Matthew 25). And that’s not grace — that’s holy wrath!