Could the rumors be true? The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to investigate what was happening in Antioch. Only a few brave disciples obeyed Jesus’ command (Acts 1:8) to go beyond Jerusalem, beyond the Jews, beyond their prejudice and comfort. These courageous men from Cyprus and Cyrene shared the good news with the Greeks and it spread like wildfire. Joy washed over Barnabas, for he knew why this had happened: “When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad” (11:23). God’s grace had done this.
Earlier in Acts, Luke wrote, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all” (4:33). How was it at work? They were caring for people, sacrificing, and giving. God’s grace wasn’t stuck in them; it flowed through them.
You may know about God’s goodness, Christ’s sacrifice, and how his amazing grace has washed over your sins. But God’s grace, fully embraced, does more than convince you of his cheerful offer to forgive you. It also convinces you of his cheerful offer to forgive all people. If God offers grace to all people, you and I must root for all people to find it.
Aided by the cover of darkness, the Australian Fiftieth Infantry Battalion pushed toward the Nazi trenches in the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux on April 24, 1918. Despite heavy gunfire, they pressed on. As they neared the trenches, someone gave the order to bomb the trenches.
Grenades flew through the air. Crawls turned into runs. And soon, the soldiers were killing and were being killed by the enemy in the trench.
Except . . . they weren’t fighting the enemy. There were no Nazi soldiers in the trench—only British soldiers, unaware help was coming. The Australians assumed Nazis were attacking. The allies killed one another.
Around 75,000 French soldiers died during World War I as a result of friendly fire. That’s why the first rule of battle is to know your enemy. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “If you know yourself but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”
I have gut-wrenching news: If you are not embracing and modeling the grace of Jesus for all people, you are firing your weapons at your own people.
The Real Enemy
No person is your enemy. Not your ex-spouse, backstabbing coworker, slanderous classmate, greedy boss, crooked politician, deadbeat dad, or the driver who just cut you off in traffic. We need to be clear-sighted about who really wants to pit us against each other, whether we follow Christ or not. Ephesians 6:12 depicts the spiritual battle we face: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Oh, if we would believe this verse! Our true enemy is not clothed in skin. He delights when we try to destroy each other, because it makes his job so much easier: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
When a married couple, two employees, government officials, or a group of believers view one another as enemies, everyone loses except Satan. If you view any human as your enemy, you’re playing right into the devil’s hands. When you label another person as your foe, you communicate that “God’s grace is not sufficient for you,” and “You are not justified freely by his grace” (see 2 Corinthians 12:9 and Romans 3:24). Such labeling warrants a rebuke from Jesus.
Fire or Grace
One day when he was traveling through Samaria, Jesus sent a few of his disciples ahead to find a place where they could eat and rest. Culturally, only one thing was unusual about this request: Jesus and his disciples were Jews, and they were asking Samaritans for help. Jesus had taught and modeled love for the Samaritans, but the people in this town rejected the request. The disciples were irate. Not only had they been rejected, they’d been rejected by Samaritans, “less-thans.” Two of Jesus’ closest disciples, James and John, had an idea about how to respond:
“‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ But [Jesus] turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9:54, 55).
I doubt James and John had much experience calling down fire, but they knew Jesus could make it happen. They’d love to see those Samaritans burn, but Jesus slammed the door on their idea. I wish Luke would’ve included the details of Jesus’ rebuke. Maybe he subjected them to an hour-long diatribe about the difference between the Old Testament prophets’ need to occasionally discipline people and the timeless command to love your enemy. Maybe he spoke one loud word. Maybe he gave them a look they’d never forget. Regardless of how he rebuked them, his message stung: “I’m not joining your bunker, your hate. I love the Samaritans too. My grace is for them too.” Little did the disciples know that Jesus would soon be forgiving attacks far worse than a dinner snub.
Can I give a modern-day translation of what James and John felt about the Samaritans? “You can die and spend eternity in Hell, for all we care!” You don’t have to speak it out loud to say it in your heart. You say it when you wish harm on another person. You say it when you dismiss a group of people you dislike. You say it when you quit caring about another person’s soul. If you are “calling down fire” on another person, you’ve missed God’s grace. I’m not sure how he’d do it, but Jesus would rebuke you.
Granting Grace to the Soul
The Bible defines the soul as “the whole person,” which carries enormous application for the grace we extend to others. The soul is more than your DNA. It’s more than your spirit. It’s all that makes you, you. I’ve adapted a helpful picture sketched by John Ortberg in his book, Soul Keeping.
The spirit (heart or will) is the command center of the self and our likeness to God, being “in his image.” Your will powers your motivations, and God’s Spirit takes residence here.
The mind is where thoughts and feelings originate.
A body is assigned to each soul in order that we may carry out God’s purposes on earth.
The social dimension acknowledges that we require and are shaped by our interactions with others. If your best friend betrayed you, you would not be OK. The social dimension is part of who you are.
The soul encompasses and organizes the whole person. When any two components of your soul are at odds with each other, your soul isn’t healthy.
So, if we are to show grace to another soul, it means we take an attitude of grace to their spirit, thinking, emotions, friendships, and body. This expands grace exponentially. Suddenly, we realize we must demonstrate grace with someone’s roller coaster emotions, weird choice of friends, and incomprehensible political leanings. It doesn’t mean we can’t be concerned about someone’s life, but it absolutely means that we must exhibit grace. To all people. In all ways. At all times. Otherwise, we’ve missed grace altogether and we’ve placed a barrier between a beloved creation of God and their beloved Creator. Have you chosen the path of grace?
Brian Jennings is the author of Dancing in No Man’s Land and the Lead Minister at Highland Park Christian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He serves on the boards of Blackbox International and Ozark Christian College. Visit his blog at brianjenningsblog.com.
Portions of this article were taken from Dancing in No Man’s Land: Moving with Peace and Truth in a Hostile World by Brian Jennings. Copyright © 2018. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.