Salvation in Jesus Christ is “by grace through faith, not of works” (Eph 2:8). Left to myself, I would still be in rebellion against my Creator, deserving his holy wrath. However, due to no merit of mine, Christ bore my judgment and I now stand under God’s eternal favor. Even the good that I do is not mine but stems from Christ in me, a gift of grace.
This is clear from Scripture, basic to any faithful articulation of the Christian faith. But is it clear from my life?
The theme “Unlikely” is really just my way to emphasize grace. I am an Unlikely Christian because, left to myself, I would not be one. Any reasonable person who truly knew me would not have predicted my conversion. I was never a prime candidate for faithfulness. I am one of those who needed an “extra miracle,” whatever that is. The same is true of my other roles — husband, father, pastor, missionary. Who in his right mind would have chosen me for these weighty tasks? Only a fool.
But what if God is that fool?
1Cor. 1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1Cor. 1:26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
Paul tells us that God purposely chooses the unlikeliest of people to carry His name and gospel forward because in doing so His grace and power is emphasized (over-against our weakness and inability). In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul writes about the gospel and ministry, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
This truth then shapes how Paul carries out gospel ministry. Paul refuses to come to the Corinthians with “lofty speech or wisdom” but “in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:1-4). We know from his letters that Paul can cut a mean argument, so why didn’t he match the false “super-apostles” with superior rhetoric? Why does he cringe when asked for a letter of recommendation?
Paul takes tremendous care to align his practice with his proclamation, which means he goes out of his way to emphasize his weakness. This is lost on much contemporary church ministry. We want to be relevant, culturally-savvy, marked by operational excellence. We read business books about quality control and marketing. We take Myers-Briggs tests ad nauseum.
These emphases then trickle down to the pews, whose families are always put together nicely on Sunday morning and are always, no matter when you ask them, “doing well, thanks.” We become afraid to confess specific sins, even though our gospel presentation includes Romans 3:23. I don’t rest as well as my unbelieving neighbor, though I, not he, have entered Christ my rest.
These are only a few examples. There are many more, because this is what us sinners do. The gospel of grace is offensive to us; we want to imagine that we’ve earned our place. Because of this, we must always be on guard.
Is God’s graciousness and power emphasized or clouded by your ministry practice? Is the gospel proclaimed more clearly through our actions or does it become something else?