January 15, 2021

What God Has Joined Together: A Study of Grace and Discipleship In The Teaching of Jesus

320px-unmercifulGalatians 5:5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (ESV)

Galatians 5:5 But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. 6 For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. (NLT)

My head is rattling around with about a hundred ideas related to Jesus shaped spirituality, and one of them has occupied me in various ways the past two days.

In short order, Jesus shaped spirituality is a spirituality Jesus would recognize as what he gave us; what he taught, lived and began in the experience of his followers.

Jesus shaped spirituality is about a “Big Picture” of truth (God, the world, creation, etc,) but it is especially about what Jesus means for relationships (God and others) and human life (yours and others.) If you are a follower of Jesus, your life, your relationships and your participation in this world are deeply affected by him.

The reason Jesus used phrases like “you must be born again” and “you must become like a little child” is that his way of life deeply affects and changes the way we live and relate. It is like starting life over again. Paul translated Jesus shaped spirituality as “if anyone is in Christ: New Creation!” Everything begins again in Jesus, and Jesus’ followers know this and live it out as individuals and communities.

One of the frustrating characteristics of Jesus shaped spirituality is Jesus’ choice to not resolve some very difficult either/or dilemmas, but to leave us with both/ands.

For example, whenever Jesus speaks about our relationship with God he almost always speaks in terms of God’s grace extended to us. In fact, Jesus usually goes out of his way to tell a story about someone who had absolutely nothing to contribute to a situation but their pathetic condition, lack of resources or complete failure, and they are made right completely by the grace of someone else.

Example: The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee has a great Powerpoint of his many religious and personal accomplishments, while the tax collector is mumbling between sobs about being sorry and “God have mercy.”

Jesus says that the tax collector goes home right with God, while the religious guy is still on Powerpoint #45 about his last mission trip.

This isn’t unusual and I could recall many examples.

At the same time, Jesus makes it just as clear that we are called to live as his disciples and to imitate his love, sacrifice, community, servanthood and obedience. A simple parable like the Good Samaritan would do here, but things are more obvious in the parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18.

21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
22“ No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
23“ Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

I have to confess I love this story because Jesus really knows how to get under our skin. Christians are famous for their exaggerated sense of right and wrong as it applies to other people. Jesus had seen this sort of thing up close with the religious people of his time (nothing really changes) and created the perfect story to illustrate the absurdity of the entire business.

Here’s a fellow who has run up his accounts into the millions, and when it’s called due, he puts on the show. Weeping and begging, pleading that his family be spared and he be given that most frequent of beggars demands, “more time.” His creditor has pity and released him, but because he’s God in this story, doesn’t give him more time to come up with a religion so he can repay, he wipes out the entire debt.

This life-changing experience doesn’t change the life of our man, however, as he immediately goes and finds someone who owes him money, demands repayment, refuses to have mercy and throws the other debtor into prison.

If you recognize this person, I hope it’s not because it’s you. OK. It’s you…and me too.

Episode three is where the other servants pass on this appalling act of religious hypocrisy to the boss, causing the boss- who stops acting like God the God of the Gospel and starts acting like that God everyone always wants to be “fair,” the God of the Law- to call in this hypocrite for a real accounting. You can see how that turns out.

In this instance, the connection between grace received in a completely helpless situation and grace lived out in relationships with others is starkly put on display. It ought to make you uncomfortable, because that sudden jump from Gospel to Law will remind all of us that none of us are very good at being nearly as forgiving as we should be consider the hilarious wipe-out of debt the Gospel has provided. If Jesus doesn’t take the beating and go to prison in my place, this story is certainly going to be me.

But my point is that Jesus simply won’t separate grace received and grace lived, no matter how much we want him to do so. There’s a Protestant view of how these things relate (Faith, THEN love/works) and a Catholic way of seeing it (Faith, love AND works, together.) It doesn’t matter much to me what denomination the good guys and bad guys are in these stories, what matters is how does this story shape me as a Jesus follower?

The simple answer: Jesus keeps these things together, and makes the life of a disciple very difficult at times. In fact, the better you understand the grace of God and the command to love and live as one who belongs to God, the more difficult it will be.

Enter my adult Bible class’s lesson on Galatians this morning.

Galatians 5:5 But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. 6 For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. (NLT)

Here’s your free sermon preachers. Hit the Paypall button or give me credit 🙂

Faith waits.
Faith works.

Faith waits on God to do what God alone can do. “Righteousness” here is very much Luther’s idea of God making all things right. We wait on God to finally and completely bring the Kingdom, finish redemption, resurrect and remake a dead and broken world.

We do nothing but “eagerly” wait. “Eagerly.” I am waiting on a phone call from my agent telling me where we are on my book proposal. I am “eagerly” waiting. I can do nothing but wait.

In those words “eagerly wait” is the entirety of a grace-filled, Jesus bought, God-gifted spirituality.

But faith does something while it waits. (Isn’t this amazing.)

Faith works- “expresses itself (NLT)”- through love. All the different nuances of love in the Bible come into play here, but that’s another post. We are loved by an incredible God who has given us new life in the Gospel. As our faith waits on God in hope, our faith expresses itself in love.

That’s what you aren’t reading in the parable of the unmerciful servant.

It’s what you aren’t seeing in the lives of many Jesus believers.

It’s what you should see in the community that follows Jesus and lives out his way in the world.

Jesus shaped spirituality waits on God in hope and expresses love while it waits. God is love, has loved and goes on loving. We are reconciled and made new in grace. The law can’t produce love, but the Gospel, by the work of the Spirit, always expresses itself in love.

This is what Jesus gives us: grace and love. Faith and works. The Gospel and discipleship. Believing and living. We can talk about these things separately, but we must live them together.

Jesus did that perfectly. Jesus teaches us to do so, even if imperfectly. What matters is if we embrace all that God has for us and all that God calls us to be in Jesus.


  1. I like to say that Jesus gives us a whole new way of seeing. For me, conversion is about beginning to see with the eyes of Jesus–a very different way than you and I see. It surely would be easier if it were either/or rather than both/and, but it wouldn’t be as exciting and even fun as we go on loving as you put it.

  2. sue kephart says

    The realization of the story, of course, is that I am the evil servant. I know better because the preachers been preaching at me all morning but I just can’t seem to save myself.

    And forgiving over and over, I mean get real. Do we actually do that? And how many times do I stand there thinking I sure am better than that poor smuch?

    “Born from above”. Well in order for me to do any better I’ve got to accept God’s help. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Oh, we can do plenty but none of it is good. Even when we think it is good. It is usually because it is good for us. We know this deep down inside even while lying about it on the outside. “They all see me as a good Christian.” “I’d better do this and that to be a good Christian.”

    But inside we are a mess. We know better. After all we were raised in the Church. Let go and let God. I am a slave to sin and can not free myself. No mater how many books I study, blogs I read, or worship services I attend. It is not about finding the ‘right theology’. It’s about finding the One to whom all theology points.

    Happy and Joyful Pentecost, by the way. Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of the faithful and You shall renew the face of the earth.

  3. ….i am truly humbled here….i dont ever remember having my salvation explained to me in such a way……..absolutely Flawless…..

  4. This kinda helps make sense to me of Jesus’s words on forgiveness. It used to scare me to ask in the Lord’s prayer for him to forgive my trespasses as I forgave those who trespass against me. Personally, I was and still am counting on Jesus being much more forgiving than I am capable. But I have found the the work of forgiveness is only made possible to me as I wait on the Lord. I am not naturally capable of forgiveness, but Christ in me enables me to forgive those I don’t even desire to. Still an uncomfortable paradox, but I know I can rest in His atonement for my forgiveness apart from my ability to forgive others.

  5. With me, no matter what religions we are into as long as we believes that there are someone who guided us above, someone who is Supreme. No matter what “names” we call HIM, as long as we have faith in HIM.

    Just Pray, this is a perfect way to communicate with HIM.

  6. Sherwood MacRae says

    The greater problem with truth is our unwillingness to walk in it. We are much too willing to walk in the light – or darkness, offered by the flesh and blood of our day.

    Jesus made it very clear – you (not the other person) must be born again and once the process has begun, the truth become more obvious and once revealed, holds us in place.

  7. Memphis Aggie says

    “ No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

    And I’m going to need every one of them. Great post I love that ungrateful servant story to , very clear and true to life.

  8. I think the thrust of your argument is a major motivating force within the emerging church. They don’t care if it’s the Protestant version or the Catholic of ‘how’. They care if Christians who supposedly received the biggest mercy ever are going to live like it. Neither view of how (Catholic or Protestant) is in the story anyway, and the letters, like the one you referenced, don’t tidy things up any, they just keep them all intertwined. First John gets quoted for 1:9, but the book as a whole is as scary as this parable and for the same reasons: We know we belong to him because we . . .

    It seems we want to know how we can be shown mercy without getting on the mercy bus. Jesus says don’t bet on it. Either get on it, receiving mercy and giving it, or get off.

  9. sue kephart says

    Boy, T, That’s not a very loving and merciful God you believe in. And the parable is scary? Why?

    I find I John 1:9 comforting. Of course I have to confess I am a sinner. OK, OK, I am one. So He forgives me. I like that. God who is just has justified me. What is my response? That’s the question.

    So far Jesus hasn’t kicked me off the bus and I am far from perfect. So maybe I shouldn’t kick some else off either. Just maybe I should pray for them. Treat them with the Love of Christ. How’s that for an idea?

  10. Sue,

    I try to trust whatever Jesus tells me about God, and he does tell me that he is more loving than anyone. I don’t think that means I have to deny that the line spoken to Peter after that parable is scary–and obviously intended to be so. The whole parable is a warning; it’s sobering. It’s not even a subtle threat; it’s just in plain terms: this is exactly how your Father will treat you unless . . .

    Jesus doesn’t often spell out the point of his parables at the end, but he does in this one–and how. I think the only way anyone could honestly read what Jesus says and not swallow hard (or breath deep, or something to calm down) is if they’ve been given some pretty powerful theological lenses to (selectively) read with.

    It’s okay to be scared sometimes–of the one who has the power to throw the soul into hell, however reluctantly he may do it. I’ve taught my daughter to be scared of cars in the road. She should be as a 4 year old. They can kill her and she can’t afford to learn that by experience. Jesus seems, in the plainest of terms, to be giving the grown up version about ultimate death and lack of mercy to others.

  11. sue kephart says

    I no longer fear God , I love Him.

  12. And Sue,

    I wasn’t (nor am I) advocating that we start throwing people off the bus of God’s mercy. I thank God for I John 1:9 and the rest of it, even if the rest of the book is less comforting. I am saying that Jesus is warning Peter specifically and everyone generally that [our] Father will throw people out who act like the servant in this passage. If that doesn’t put a little fear of God into you, okay. It does me.

    Thankfully, this is not all Jesus said or demonstrated to be true about God; he is also much more than what Jesus reveals in this warning, but he is not less.

  13. This discussion reminds me of the passage in Acts that describes the church as in “the fear of God and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” God’s mercy is great comfort and also a command to do likewise. It is an overly funded mandate.

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