I grew up in a church where we put on our Sunday best. Pristine shoes click-clacked up a concrete walkway lined with azalea bushes. Casseroles were carried, friendly glances exchanged and everyone had an assigned seat. My assigned seat was behind a structural column that was as wide as it was inconvenient. My Sunday best included curls and uncomfortable tights, usually worn with an unassuming countenance and silent angst.
The day I placed my faith in Jesus I was wearing blue jeans, Converse shoes and a ponytail. I nervously clenched the fabric of the chair in front of me while the worship pastor sang Glorious Ruins and hands around the congregation were lifted in surrender. It was the first time I’d worn jeans to church. It was also the first time I cried during a sermon. The pastor ended his message with an altar call. It didn’t matter that I was self-conscious, or that I was completely undeserving. I needed to be at that altar.
God’s optimistic grace pulled me out of ceremony into celebration that day. It was so powerful that I was drawn graciously out of my own glorious ruins.
II Corinthians 5:17-19 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
Optimistic grace means that God’s grace is available for any and all people, and it is powerful enough to completely rework our character. Because of this, our voices should be broadcasting the potential for his reformation in the lives of those around us. If God’s grace is working long before our hearts change, our evangelism should do the same. The truth about God’s optimistic grace is restorative, reassuring and results-driven. It goes hand-in-hand with our Great Commission.
In Acts 9:1-5, Jesus seeks out a man named Saul who is adamantly fighting against followers of Jesus. While on the road to Damascus, a light from heaven flashes around Saul and he falls to the ground, where he hears the voice of Jesus ask him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asks Jesus who he is. The weight of his reply spans over the course of three days, but starts with him saying, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” From there Jesus blinds Saul and gives him instructions not to eat or drink anything while he waits in the city.
Three days after Saul was blinded, Jesus then sends the weary disciple Ananias to restore his sight. Saul’s reputation preceded him, and Ananias needed some reassurance from Jesus. In Acts 9:15-16 Jesus said, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” We can glean a lot from the conversation between Jesus and Ananias. The nervous reaction is the same one that we have today when we ask Jesus, “Are you sure? That guy?” The answer is a resounding yes. That guy.
Saul became a different man and literally took on a new name for Jesus. He then made it his life’s work to fearlessly preach the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, the reformed Paul has blossomed out of his ruins and gives the glory to God. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” Not one of us is untouchable in our sin. As his restored people, we have a responsibility to sing a new song.
I do believe that where there are one or more gathered in his name, we have the incredible blessing of his presence. I am not by any measure discounting the importance of our holy gatherings where we should be wholeheartedly thirsting for God’s Word and using our gifts to serve. But after a shift in my relationship, I realized that our Sunday best is about clothing ourselves with compassion. It is about what we bring to the altar, not to the table.
You likely already know where your mission field is. It doesn’t have to be a faraway landscape or horses wildly delivering you to the hands of eager souls, though the whole world does need to hear. Our mission field can also include our work places and communities and should spread strategically to the margins. We must approach our mission fields with confidence in our steps, wonder in our eyes and barrier-breaking good news.
No, our good works don’t set us free. We are spared from death by the blood of a rogue rebel who challenged the darkness and went head to head against social issues. His mission field transcended culture and century and applies in the heart of literally every man. Our works don’t save us, but we also know that faith without works is as dead as we were before grace.
John Wesley is pegged with a quote that says it well. “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”