Tough Stuff: Radical Grace

Radical Grace.  Unfettered, life-changing, paradigm-shifting, gift–love.

How do we even begin to define and describe this reality to our students?  I’ve found that people who have come to know the grace of God in and through Jesus have had their understanding of the Christian faith drastically altered. Often, what was once an intellectual understanding of Christianity or a works-based operation out of Christianity becomes a need- and gratitude-based relationship to a Living God which hinges on His provision. There is a shift that happens here, from a self-dependence (e.g. relying on the self’s capability to understand/obey) to a God-dependence (which is inextricably linked to and based upon the atoning death of Jesus which offers us utterly undeserved and full, real, life-giving love).

Most basically, we’ve got to realize that this is an offensive message, and it goes against everything the Western World tells us.  “You can’t do it” isn’t exactly what anyone wants to hear.  And really, apart from the intervention of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation that “But, He has done it- and for you!” we can’t expect anyone to readily accept God’s offer of grace. It should actually fall into the category of ‘too good to be true.’ We are used to earning our merit, working for success, and performing for points; there is very little that’s freely offered us. Therefore, the free offering of eternal life and of present, hope-offering, life-transforming relationship with Jesus doesn’t make sense. That just isn’t the way we’re used to relating to the world or others.  Granted, God’s gift of grace doesn’t come freely–it came with the greatest cost of all: the sacrifice of His own Son. But the point is: He paid that price, we didn’t. We couldn’t. We can’t.

But we are offered that gift. And although we’re not very inclined to open our hands and receive, it’s still always there for us. In ministering to students, one of the most important things we can do is share with them the ways we experience our need for Jesus, for His grace. We can offer them stories where people have been met where they are by love (which reflects the great Love, Himself) and have had an undeserved, unmerited, transformational experience. We can help kids to expose the hamster-in-a-wheel-based paradigms of the world and hold Scripture up to them, pointing to the redeemed grace-paradigm of Christianity.

“But what about the seeming free-license to sin that may offer?” you ask. “Won’t this understanding of unmerited and unconditional gift-love lead our kids to act recklessly and irresponsibly?

Chances are, if you’ve come to really believe in and understand the grace of God, it came through knowing His gifts of forgiveness, love, and redemption in the midst of your sin and/or failure (aka ‘reckless or irresponsible’ behaviors or thoughts).  This is not to say we want our kids to go out and sin, causing themselves (and those around them) pain and suffering. But it is to say that we are sometimes more interested in trying to protect our kids from the consequences of sin than sharing with them the God of Grace who meets them right in the middle of it and loves them, helps them, and forgives them. Those of us in leadership positions are especially prone to controlling or attempting to control things. We fall into a trap of believing (sometimes unconsciously) that we can protect these kids from Satan and sin, we can tell them just the advice which will prevent suffering, or we can have such tight relationships with them that they surely will not make bad decisions. I mean, really? Really? We live this way, and sometimes we minister this way. We need Jesus! We need His grace just as much as our kids do- and this pattern of thinking we can save them is just as sinful as the acts we are trying to save them from.

That shift from reliance on self to reliance on Jesus, the lavish Grace-Giver – for us and for the kids we minister to- is one of the most (if not the most) important things we can talk over/think about/ponder/share in/teach on in our positions as youth leaders.  We’ve got to highlight grace in our ministries; it separates Christianity from everything else. Instead of man reaching out to God (and reaching, reaching, reaching for everything else in life), God reaches out to man through Jesus.  Hallelujah!

Liz Edrington serves as the Fellowship Groups and Young Adults Director at North Shore Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN. She received her M.A. in Counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL, and she has worked with students in one form or another since 2002. She is an emeritus member of the Rooted steering committee, and she's the author of a 31-day devotional for teenagers called Anxiety: Finding the Better Story (P&R Publishing, 2023). Pickled things delight her, as does her snuggle beast, Bella the Dog.

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