The injustice of grace

One of the coolest things about the gospel is that through the life and death and life of Jesus, God creates a way to be simultaneously just and gracious (Romans 3:23-26). I don’t think this concept staggers us nearly so much as surely one day it will.

On one level, we seem to prefer justice to grace. Look at your children. Joey and Jordan take turns clearing and loading the dishwasher; one day Jordan clears and then Joey loads, the next day Joey clears and Jordan loads. Today Jordan is loading. He opens the dishwasher door and finds a single fork in the tray, left behind by Joey; what is his reaction? Justice demands that Joey leave, immediately, whatever he is doing, and march in here and remove the offending fork! Grace isn’t even in the picture.

So we begin to think that justice is ingrained, and only grace needs to be learned with gospel attention.

But the problem is actually worse than that. In the above example, if we’re Joey, we’re not too happy with “justice” either. In fact, its application to us seems a tad unjust. The justice we love is only the justice that serves our love of ourselves. We’re quick to point out that we’ve faithfully cleared much bigger loads than Jordan has had to clear, and that since we had KFC tonight he has hardly anything to do, and that he’s being waaaay unfair. Note that we’re not asking for grace — no, grace, which requires us to be unworthy, is still not our friend. We’re asking for Joey Justice, as opposed to Jordan Justice. Justice my way.

It’s self, really, that is the god we will serve. Both grace and justice are welcome, but only on the condition that they worship with us in this same temple.

Take the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). At the end of the day, all the workers were paid the same amount, the amount that had been agreed to for an entire day’s work. Those that worked all day received exactly what they had contracted for — a just wage. Those that had worked only an hour received the same amount — a gracious gift. Guess who complained, and complained loudly? In this context, grace served the 1-hour workers, but not the 1-day workers — so that’s not, for them, good grace. It would appear, then, that they wanted only justice — but there was nothing unjust in the employer’s treatment of them. They got what they had contractually earned. Still they were unhappy and bitter! It was neither grace nor justice that interested them. What was it? They weren’t harmed by the windfall the 1-hour workers received…were they? But it seemed to them that others were being more highly valued than they were. This is the crime. If you value them more, you thereby undervalue me — and that’s an assault on my religion (my idolatry). When “value me” and “applaud me” are the hymns of worship in our temple, this behavior introduced blasphemous lyrics, sung out of tune. Neither justice or grace is keeping time.

This all comes to one of its worst representations in the life Jonah. God sent him to preach to Ninevah, a wicked city, and Jonah tried not to go — because he was afraid God would be to them, not just, but gracious. Jonah was all about justice if it came to fiery judgment on these wicked people, but could also become very angry with God if God decided to give them grace — which Jonah expected was the whole point of sending him there. Jonah considered such grace unjust.

This brings me, finally, to two strands I want to tease out. The first is one that takes us back to Job, his friends, and the lessons about justice and grace that are being worked out in that book. The second strand is directly gospel centered: how does this work out in our own responses to Christ and the gospel preached?

So we’ll tackle them next…

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Explore posts in the same categories: Christ-centered preaching, Grace, Suffering and weakness

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