Redemptive Grace in the Image of Christ (Mar-Apr 2004)

By Matt Dabbs

by Vicky Thompson
March – April, 2004

During a stormy night at a winter sleepover, my friend told me that if I was scared, I could lift up my hand and ask God to hold it. A shy eight-year-old, I clasped my hands tightly, fearing that I was beyond redemption in my young life and God would shun me. But the strong Midwestern wind kept blowing, filling the house with strange creaking noises.

I held up my hand.

For one small moment, I felt a warmth encircle my outstretched hand. I felt a flicker of hope that perhaps God might reach out to me. But once I brought my hand down, the hope vanished and I resumed my familiar dance with my childhood partners of doubt and guilt.

Accepting God’s redemptive grace has been a long road for me. My faith tank has had a slow leak since childhood. I was raised by a lapsed Catholic mother, but I attended church with my devout extended family on the weekends. I felt my family was disappointed in my spotty religious guidance. The guilt I felt over being a less than model Catholic girl made me fearful that God would shun me too, branding me a hopeless sinner.

During adulthood, I turned away from the church, judging myself as unfit for religion. But the issue of faith continued to haunt me, and I finally came face-to-face with God’s grace after two unsuccessful years of trying to conceive a child. In a moment of desperation after an infertility treatment, for the first time in years I prayed to God to help me. As I was leaving the hospital, I was about to unlock my car door when I heard a voice say very clearly, “God wants you to have a child.”

I turned toward the voice, but no one was there. I felt a warmth around me, just as when I had reached out to hold God’s hand years earlier. God’s grace enfolded me, showing me that my faith was within me all along. I just needed a reminder.

That reminder is what redemptive grace is all about. Grace works on three levels—in healing, in following and in action—to align our wills with God’s will. First, grace heals us, allowing us to accept God’s love to release shackles of pain and become a worthy vessel for the Holy Spirit to work through. Second, grace enables us to follow the path and teachings of Jesus. And third, grace guides our actions in the world. Grace is like a master carpenter fixing a broken wagon wheel. We learn how to maintain the vessel by accepting and following his instructions. We are then ready to roll, taking action in the world.

Paul tells us that the redemptive grace of God can be used as a mirror, reminding us to see ourselves in the image of Jesus (1 Cor. 13:12). Redemption is a gift of grace bestowed freely upon humankind based on God’s love and compassion, not our worthiness. Jesus accepted this grace and shared it with others by healing ailments, mending broken faith and accepting the downtrodden into his fold. That day in the hospital parking lot, I realized that I had overlooked the gift of God’s grace, forgetting that the healing image of Christ is my own.

Paul provides a very human path for accepting the gift of grace to live in the image of Jesus. Paul experienced the risen presence of Jesus through prayer focused on the redemptive power of God to elevate his faults, transforming his pain to joy by knowing that the Christ mind dwells within each of us. When we accept God’s grace, we become living disciples of Jesus, inwardly focused on his words and outwardly motivated to do God’s work. We become imagers of Christ.

Grace in Healing

Paul reminds me that we disciples mirror Jesus’ divine healing work by first accepting compassionate grace for ourselves, letting it wash away pain over life’s trials and tribulations. As a human creation made in the image of God, we become mirrors, reflections of Jesus to others when we choose his path of compassion, love and acceptance. Redemption occurs when we follow Paul’s teachings that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus’ presence lives today through your choice to rise above petty actions and thoughtless behaviors that distort the reflection of Christ’s image.

Paul reminds us that we see clearly an image that was once obscured when we come face-to-face with the power and presence of Jesus’ redemptive love. Who we have been and the difficulties we have faced are healed by this grace. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).

Prayer invites us to empty our vessel of unworthiness in order to accept the healing grace of God. I have used the following reflective prayer to focus on letting go and letting God heal me, and with the Apostle Paul I invite you to use it, too.

Father, I let go of all bitterness and anger. Through your grace, kindness guides my tender heart in forgiving myself and others, just as God in Christ forgives me. Amen. (Inspired by Ephesians 4:31-32).

Grace in Following

“And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Matthew 4:19). Grace allows us to follow Jesus’ code of embracing all people he met despite their standing in the community. We mirror Jesus’ acceptance of people from all walks of life by extending grace instead of exacting judgment upon others. God’s compassion and grace are gifts, and we act as a disciple of Jesus when we share these gifts with others.

A recent tragedy in the Northwest illustrates how to follow the will of God’s grace. The Oregonian reported on a county sheriff who was shot in the face by a teenager. Though the sergeant survived, he struggles with limited mobility and a long recovery. During the teenager’s trial, the sergeant’s wife asked the boy to study his own hands. God can use those same hands for good, she told him. Redemptive grace allowed this wife and mother to see beyond her own family’s pain and still identify with the humanity of the young man. She is a living example of following the grace of God, allowing this greater power to transform her into an imager of Christ.

Jesus demonstrated acceptance of others society shunned—tax collectors, the poor and the diseased all held equal ground in Jesus’ ministry. What gave Jesus such strength in bucking the conventions of his time? He accepted that God’s grace empowered him in leading people back to their primary connection—the life-giving breath of God from which all things are possible. Jesus showed grace in following the hand of God, listening to that still, small voice within that says, Upon God’s will, not my own.

Paul told the early disciples of the church “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. … God … saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus…” (2 Timothy 1:7-9). Use this reflective prayer to focus on following the grace of God in all things:

Father, through your grace, I too have the mind of Christ. With your strength, I possess wisdom to accept others as Jesus does. I follow the spiritual truths of Christ. Amen. (Inspired by 1 Cor. 2:6-16).

Grace in Action

“Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life …and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Paul’s letters lay out a grace action plan for living in the image of Christ:

  • Speak the truth plainly and respectfully.
  • Interact with calm generosity.
  • See the potential for grace in action in others.

The plain truth. Acting upon Paul’s guidelines, put away falsehood and speak the truth with your neighbor. “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Jesus demonstrated this straight forward style in his parables and interactions with others. He called behavior as he saw it, but he chose his words with care, always helping others to recognize their choice in allowing God to guide their actions. In Luke, Jesus spoke plainly about grace in action when a fallen woman acted upon her faith. “’I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little’” (Luke 7:44-47).

Calm interactions. In Galatians 5:25-26, Paul reminds early disciples that “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.” Jesus’ authority came not through bullying others but through his calm generosity of sharing his wisdom and time with others. He laid hands upon people from all walks of life, sharing the power of his faith with all he met. He only asked that people look honestly at their lives and strive to live in the light of God’s truth.

When Jesus met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, he offered her a drink from the spring of eternal life. Jesus then asked her to bring her husband. “The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly’” (John 4:17-18). The woman went back to her people and told them of the man who knew about her life. Jesus stayed with the Samaritans for two days. At first they believed that he was the Christ based on his words, but by the end of his visit, the Samaritans believed he was the Savior based on his actions. Creeds are powerful, but deeds speak volumes.

See the potential. Paul reminds us that when we accept the grace and power of Jesus as our own, we live from a greater potential. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

See and put this potential to work by living Jesus’ commandments. Jesus tells the scribes that the greatest commandments are “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:29-31). In every person he met, Jesus saw the light of God’s potential burning within.

With Jesus, God’s grace came first, guiding his actions. Use the following reflective prayer to let grace guide your actions.

Father, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Through your grace, my actions reflect the image of Christ. Amen. (Inspired by 1 Cor. 13: 7-13).

When we accept the gift of God’s grace as our own, we become image bearers of Christ from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor. 3:18).New Wineskins

Vicky Thompson is an author and workshop leader who has created an on-line resource of do-it-yourself spiritual tools to practice grace in action. Vicky believes that do-it-yourself spirituality means just that: do it, explore it, and live it by putting your spiritual passions and religious teachings to work. Her book, The Jesus Path: 7 Steps to a Cosmic Awakening, offers simple tools for changing times.

[www.journeywithspirit.com]

 

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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