Grace Upsidedown

I will not sign that.

That came as a bit of a shock to me. There I was: sitting in my classroom at Moody Bible Institute, nodding off as we were talking about conservative America's latest attempt to wrestle the country away from the dreaded liberals. Otherwise known as the Manhattan Declaration. And out comes that statement from my conservative professor's mouth--the words like a lasso around my chair leg.

After I picked myself up off the floor, I continued to listen in amazement as he said things like "historically skewed" and an "inability to tell the full story." Here was a man who admittedly was in, "full agreement with the positions presented on the three issues covered by the Manhattan Declaration" (his full discourse here). Yet he felt duty-bound by his conscience to withhold his signature. I suppose, as some Christians would say, he's not willing to stand up for his beliefs. But this isn't about belief or courage. This is about grace.

photo credit: wallyg via photopin cc
Most Christians today chuckle when they hear about or study America's historic Manifest Destiny. And while there still exists a minority who take it quite seriously in the political shaping of this country, it is regarded widely today as an old, silly notion not unlike the earth being flat. Nonetheless, it still permeates our culture, if only at the subconscious level.

How do I know this? Because I constantly hear Christians talking about the moral decline of this country and how we are inevitably losing God's favor. I won't speak to the former as it appears to be as "historically skewed" as the preamble of the Manhattan Declaration. But I am just as compelled as my professor was to speak out against this equally silly notion that we are losing God's favor.

That's not to say that I would deny the reality of a growing intolerance toward Christianity. In fact, I think the American church is rapidly moving towards a place of increased marginalization and persecution. But I do question the theological underpinnings of such a phrase. Because when people speak of it, it's always in association with that other phrase, "moral decline." As in, a "loss of God's favor" is due to "moral decline."

Well, let's speak reasonably for a moment. If the preceding is true, then it follows that a "gain of God's favor" is due to "moral ascent." Now that presents us with a dilemma, doesn't it? Because if that statement is true, then the following cannot be true:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
This is the flaw with the idea that we're losing God's favor. Or even with thinking that God loves this country and has a special place for it beyond those of its time. It is antithetical to the foundational principle of Christianity: grace. If we're losing God's favor through moral decline, that means at some point, we earned God's favor. And this is an upsidedown view of biblical grace.

Because grace cannot be earned. Likewise, his favor cannot be earned. You see, God cannot be bought. He bestows his favor and grace upon whom he will. And they don't always mean what you might think.

An article in RELEVANT Magazine addressed this a few years ago regarding the oft misquoted verse: "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11). The problem with this, as the author points out, is that the plans God had in mind for his people were for their destruction. Hence, the perplexity of the grace of God. We can't expect his favor and grace to always prosper our physical well-being. Sometimes his grace means our end. And sometimes his favor means to suffer well:
But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in his steps... (1 Peter 2:20-21)
American Christianity found favor with God for many years. And the irony of it is that I think he will still find favor with us as we begin to suffer for our belief in him. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking that either was a result of something we had done. Because if we entreat the Lord's favor with declarations of moral allegiance, we do violence to the grace that saved us. And like my professor, I will not so easily dispose of my own conscience.

I will not sign that.