Grace that Requires Repentance

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As her face mask soaked up the tears that ran down her cheek, she presented her flower, took a bow, and gave a speech regarding how he had touched her life. My friend recently lost a family member and I was asked to attend the funeral. In traditional Taiwanese funerals, there’s a lot of sacrificing to and worshiping the deceased. It’s an attempt to help them pass effectively into the afterlife and get through to the best scenario possible.

But my friend didn’t do that. She has been following Jesus for a few years now. At this funeral, she had a big choice to make. In the Bible Jesus says we follow Him and leave everything else behind. But the culture outside, even her own flesh and blood family, were, in some ways, pressuring  her to do otherwise. They wanted her to bend her knee, to burn incense, and express that her family member was, in a sense, her god.

How did she handle this situation? I know this would be something incredibly difficult for me. In my heart I know that God wants me to worship him only. But my mind would be racing with the ramifications of what people might think of me or what it might mean for my future. It sounds like something many people in Scripture and throughout history have had to face. In every person’s life, and often more than once, we are asked to make a decision. Jesus said, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19). Then, he said, “Pick up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24-26). Then, he said, “Be first: be a slave” (Matthew 20:26-27). The further Jesus goes in his ministry, the more aggressively he calls us to self-less character. In other places, the Bible even says bending your knee is a big deal (1 Kings 19:18, Romans 11:4, Philippians 2:10). When we bend our knee, we are showing our honor, respect and worship. We are saying whatever we bend to has authority over us. When my friend chose not to bend her knee, she spoke volumes to me, and to Jesus. In some ways, it may have been ok if she went through the motions of this as a way to honor her family. We often think that grace means we can get away with more. In contrast, it seems to me Jesus is saying, “Grace calls you to more than the law would have.” I was more deeply touched by her willingness to be different even when it wasn’t accepted. She operated in a transforming grace that transcended the situation she was in. When she chose not to raise the incense to her family member, she became the Aroma of Christ to God (2 Corinthians 2:15). Her entire life became a beautiful sacrifice that was both holy and pleasing to her creator and sustainer.

I sometimes think “following” means I need to do a little extra work on the weekend, or being nice to someone who bothers me a bit. I’ve never experienced anything like this. But as I watched my friend stand strong in the face of this impossible difficulty, my heart grew stronger. Her time in that funeral procession became an act of worship for her and a call to repentance and action for me. Have I truly given everything over to God? Am I willing to follow Jesus even at the expense of my personal dignity? Am I willing to speak the truth in love even when it’s not popular? Am I able to hold fast to Scripture’s truth? Will I be great? Will I be first? It means, then, that I’m to be a servant and a slave. It means nothing else matters.

To my friend: your honor on this day has multiplied. You might not feel all of the results of it until the end of time, but you have given honor and glory to God and He is well-pleased with your sacrifice. You are The Aroma of Christ. I hope all of us can have the strength you had as we face the adversities life brings us.

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