By Mariah Secrest
When we talk about grace on Sunday morning, we often couch it in sacrosanct sentiment. We gloss over our (or others’) bevy of shortcomings with a wand of detachment, daring only to acquaint ourselves with some vague and perhaps grandiose notion of grace. When we depart into Sunday afternoon traffic, however, the thin vapor of grace as something lofty and intangible tends to evaporate.
Does grace really show up in the crevices of our lives? Grace looks pretty on paper, but is it just like the inflated legal tender of our collapsing economy – a currency that promises much but is backed with little value? Grace seems like something we should talk about only once we don’t need it. Do our inadequacies punch holes in the righteousness that Christ champions?
Grace seems like something we talk about in the sanctuary, not the bars. We speak of it as though it is lightweight, floating around in the clouds as some ephemeral nicety. But grace is meant to go hand-in-hand with experience. It’s meant to be the flower pushing up through mud and grit. Grace is the cupful of water running over the dusty lips of those who are facedown in the desert. Grace is for sinners.
Serena Woods’ autobiographical account of her experience with grace minces no words. The opening chapter of Grace is for Sinners picks up her story with her on the bathroom floor, shutting her kids out from her so they won’t see her crying about the affair she was having with her friend’s husband.
She writes, “I was a Christian for nine years and never did anything like this before. I didn’t think I ever would. I had strong feelings and biting words for people who do what I did and there I sat, being who I hate and still being me, whom I loved. Two separate identities in one small body… I wondered that night, if hell was just separation from God.”
We have a difficult time extending grace to fellow believers. All manner of tangled questions arise as to how much God really forgives and what that means to those who sin and their community around them. Of course, we know in our heads that we are all sinners saved by grace – we can quote the verse – but sadly that often does little to prevent us from stratifying our degrees of righteousness for a handy reference point.
This was very much Serena’s encounter with the church, and catching a glimpse of her heartbreaking experience of rejection shines a glaring Mag light on the high price of judgmental predispositions. Certainly, our failures bring enough devastation on themselves. But self-righteous judgment and moral stratification within the church can extenuate the damage beyond recovery.
Grace is for Sinners is the story of a woman who found grace where it was most needed and from the purest source-God Himself. But it came through the most painful of voyages across the wilderness of guilt, misguidance, and isolation. Christians who didn’t know how to handle grace on an industrial level burned the bridge that Christ meant to bring Serena back into restoration. Serena freely admits her guilt, but so convictingly reminds us, “Jesus didn’t hang on the cross in case you need him, he hung on the cross because you desperately need him.”
This is, and has always been, the essence of the Gospel. Death to life. Brokenness to restoration. The very experience of the Resurrection represents the transformation that each of us who claim Christ has undergone. We don’t get to hang on to just a little bit of our own moral status. He asks us to completely swap our attempts at holiness with his own.
If we are still sitting in judgment of one remorseful believer’s failures over and against our own with no posture of restoration, it can only be because we ourselves have not found the profusion of healing that God aches for us to take from His scarred – over hands. Perhaps we are still cowering from our own guilt, covering it up by pointing at the decoy of others’ guilt. Grace levels the playing field. Redemption is meant for all.
Grace, in short, is for sinners.
You can find out more about Serena Woods and Grace is for Sinners at http://www.graceisforsinners.com.
Mariah has currently landed herself in Tucson, Arizona, where she just finished a philosophy degree from the University of Arizona. She thought life was supposed to get easier after college, but she’s keeping way too busy working as a musician, editor for this magazine, and occupying other sundry roles. She enjoys writing almost as much as she enjoys making music. Almost. You can hear her music on Myspace.