Ask anybody. Forgiveness is a very popular concept. We all know we need it. The idea that whatever you did can be forgiven–well, who doesn’t want that? The gospel song “Amazing Grace” is one that is widely known and loved by Christians and non-Christians alike. Let’s face it, grace rocks.
We’re headed into a season of focusing on God’s grace in a concerted and intentional way at our church. Its going to be a wonderful journey into new truths and poignant reminders of just where we stand before a holy God.
In a staff meeting the other day, our senior pastor was talking to us about what God says about grace, forgiveness, and mercy. As he was speaking, my mind went back to my college Greek class and the word for “grace”. It’s the Greek word “charis”. Many Christians define grace as “unmerited favor”, and rightfully so. But charis is so much more than a wink from God we didn’t earn.
I also made the instant connection (as our pastor was speaking) to the term “charismatic”. Charismatic has become a descriptive term used to explain a style of worship in some churches; as in, “I really love that church! Their worship services are so energetic and charismatic.” Or “That church is too charismatic for my taste.” How has a description to a style of worship hi-jacked the word that I believe should describe every follower of Jesus?!? I mean, if “charis” means grace, then doesn’t “charismatic” describe a gracious person? And shouldn’t all those who name Jesus as Lord be examples of grace on a daily, hourly, minutely basis?
I grew up in a fairly traditional Baptist church. (That’s an actual picture of it to the right.) If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you probably already know that my Dad was the pastor of this small church in South Jersey. And as much as I loved my church as a boy and teenager, I can tell you without flinching that we were most certainly NOT a “charismatic” church. If you raised your hand, you probably had a question. If you clapped, it was only after the duet of the elderly couple whose name I can’t remember; he played violin and she sang; both rather squeakily as I recall. And if you found yourself on the floor, the only possible explanation is that you fell. Nope, charismatic we were not. We left the snake handling to the pros.
But when we can fully understand and appreciate that the word “charis” (grace) is translated as “that which affords joy” and “blessing, concession, gift, credit”, well…things change. That last word “credit” strikes me more than any. The concept of credit is taking/using what belongs to someone else with the intention of paying back in the future. We in America know it well. Very well. Most Americans are drowning (many secretly) in thousands upon thousands of dollars in credit card debt. But because of the true meaning of the word “charis”, we who love, receive, and follow Christ are in a position of first receiving what we most certainly have no claim to on our own, and then having no expectation on the part of our Creditor to pay that amount back. Indeed, if I understand the gospel correctly, the bill of my sin credit has been paid in full by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. A popular concept I’ve heard is that “Jesus dropped the charges” when in reality the truth is “Jesus paid the charges”! Grace is the removal of the weight of my own sin from my soul and placed upon the shoulders of Jesus. Instead of punishment, I get pardon. Instead of condemnation, I get celebration. Instead of hell, I get healed.
But the transaction of receiving grace from God is only fully complete when we become the conduit of His grace. Certainly God loves you and forgives you, but only for the purpose of making you the kind of lover and forgiver that He is; not so that you can look into the mirror each morning and smile at someone who is forgiven and yet doesn’t forgive. In fact, we’re warned in scripture that if you don’t forgive….wait for it….you can’t be forgiven. How’s THAT for a loving nudge toward being a “charis-matic” person?
So, let’s not just use the term “charismatic” for that church down the road (you know the one), but let’s instead find the word useful to describe every grace-filled, fully-credited, freely-loving follower of Jesus.
If you want to read a cool experience I had 4 years ago, click here. It’s all about grace, too.