What is grace?
Bestselling Christian writer Philip Yancey was the keynote speaker at the recent Eagles Leadership Conference (ELC). Yancey, author of numerous books, including What’s So Amazing About Grace? and Vanishing Grace, summed up grace thus: “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. And there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”
At a masterclass during the conference at Suntec Convention Centre from 25 to 27 July, Yancey reminded delegates that God has entrusted followers of Christ with the responsibility to dispense grace to a hostile world. He pointed to Apostle Paul’s “See to it that no one misses the grace of God” (Heb 12:15) and reiterated, “It’s our job.”
“Ungrace” in a hostile world
Yancey began by sharing about dispensing salt and light in a hostile world. “The world runs by what I call ‘ungrace’—you bomb my country, I bomb yours back… The rule of nature is that big animals eat smaller animals.”
But there are three kinds of people who, in Yancey’s opinion, are adept at dispensing grace, particularly in a hostile and secular environment—activists, artists and pilgrims.
With regard to activists, Yancey quoted Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf, who coined the phrase “hand to heart to head”. He explained: “You reach out with your hand, [do] works of compassion and mercy, and people will wonder why you did that.” And when you share that it is because you are God’s child, people will come to know God.
Such an activist is Willy Tan, who was co-speaker with Yancey for the masterclass. Despite being partially blind, Tan gave up a successful career in wealth management to co-found Habibi International, an organisation providing aid and medical and dental care to refugees in the Middle East such as the Yazidis, Kurdish Christians persecuted by the Islamic State (ISIS).
Artists can tell the “Good News-ness” of the gospel across language boundaries, to people who would normally never show up in church on Sunday. And we are all pilgrims who can help show one another the way. “Jesus often used the image of being lost: lost sheep, lost coin, lost son… Christians aren’t morally superior, they just have a map!” The Good News, Yancey said, is conveying the joy of being found to those who have not heard it.
Warnings to leaders
This ninth run of the biennial ELC was attended by 1,300 pastors and leaders from 20 countries, mostly from Asian countries where Christians are a minority.
Highlighting Paul’s warning that we struggle against “the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil” (Eph 6:12), Yancey cited Mark 9 as an example that the greater threat is from the subtle forces working from the inside, rather than obvious external forces, such as terrorism.
One such internal force is the spirit of faithlessness. Jesus could not perform miracles in His hometown because of “their lack of faith” (Mk 6:5–6, NIV). In contrast, Jesus marvelled at the Roman centurion’s faith, saying “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Mt 8:10, NIV).
Yancey cautioned leaders to be wary of the spirit of competition. He urged the delegates not to measure their successes by the world’s standards, such as their education, salaries or worldliness. “Who are you serving? If you serve God, that’s what counts.”
Yancey ended his talk by warning against the spirit of division. He shared about a survey which found that two-thirds of churchgoers between 18 and 22 years old had stopped attending church for at least a year mostly because of what they felt was Christians’ hypocritical and judgemental spirit. “Christianity has become divisive. We have a hard time just being grace dispensers to each other, much less to the hostile world.” He referred to the Roman legion’s testudo formation, where the soldiers held their shields in a coordinated arrangement that protected the men from the enemy’s arrows and spears, but only if they moved as a united group. “And that, too, is a lesson for the church—only if we stand together can we fight those spiritual forces.”
Sheri Goh is the Editor of Methodist Message
Photo courtesy of the Eagles Communications