Grace Judges Us
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
While Jesus speaks volumes about God’s grace, we cannot ignore the fact that he will also judge. It seems paradoxical for a message of grace to also include a future warning of judgement, but it all makes perfect sense if we truly understand what grace is.
First we must understand that grace is God’s intervention in our world. Our world is defined by sin, suffering, and death. God promises that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, these three painful realities will be banished from reality. This is God’s grace. Christians often focus on the aspect of grace that means they will go to heaven, but we sometimes forget the fact grace alleviates all suffering. Put simply: God will remove the bad.
Second, we must understand our call. When asked what is most important for people to do, Jesus responded that the sum of God’s teaching is to love Him and love your fellow humans. Jesus often spoke of what such love meant, and how to differentiate it from normal human religion. He told stories to the masses to illustrate what such love looked like, and he always reminded people that the greatest example of such love was what God is doing on the earth through him. Above all else, people are called to live as if they believe evil will be wiped away from earth, and to model (even in our feebleness) the reality of grace that God is bringing. Put simply: We must act like God’s grace.
Finally, we must consider our present reality. By and large we humans do not practice such grace. Although we produce enough food to feed the world, a billion do not have enough to eat. Despite our ability to live in peace, millions die from war every decade. Despite the vast wealth of the world, over 2/3 of the world’s population live in poverty. Although it easy to point out the macro forms in which grace is not present within humanity, we cannot dismiss the individual responsibility we all share. Very few of us actually have the opportunity to oppress millions, like the great monsters of history we often invoke to ease our own conscious. We do have the opportunity to ignore injustice and even profit from it when our leaders call for it. We also have the opportunity to act in the same selfishness when we encounter or even cause the suffering of others. We are all guilty of gracelessness. Put simply: We often reject God’s grace.
This is not a world of grace. The sad truth of it is, many of us like it that way.
For God’s grace to be real on this earth, justice must be served on behalf of all those who suffer. Orthodox Christian theology believes that because Jesus died without sin, he was able to take on our collective sin and pay the price to satisfy justice. In other words, Jesus’ willful undeserved suffering paid the price owed for every bad thing that has occurred, is occurring, will occur in the future, as well as that which would have occurred had we had the chance to carry it out. This is the gospel and this is the working of God’s grace.
That last proposition though is subject of some controversy. Many people simply don’t believe it. Many people object to the necessity of righting the wrong or the insinuation of their own guilt. Even when Jesus spoke to people in his own time, people who saw Jesus in the flesh, many rejected it. Still many more reject it today.
The good news is that, as the apostle Paul put it, “where sin abounds, grace abounds.”
Grace most definitely judges, and it has already condemned. Jesus offered himself to stand in our place and all he asked in return is that we accept his grace. To accept grace is to live grace. It is to accept a reality where needs are met and suffering is banished. When Jesus told his followers that he would return and separate the peoples of the earth, he was telling them that those who accept grace show it radiating from within and those who will not accept his grace show it by the lack of grace in their own lives.
The judgement of grace is therefore a judgement of acceptance. There is no persuasion other than what has already been seen and what many have an earnest hope for. Regardless of man-made religious distinctions we have all witnessed grace, even if it was never defined in those terms, and we all have an opportunity to accept or reject it. But there is coming a day when there will only be grace, those who wish their own gain through the suffering of others will not accept such a place, and God will respect their decision.