From: The Grace Awakening
Dr. Karl Menninger, in a book entitled, The Vital Balance, at one point discusses the negativistic personality. That’s the type of person who says, “no,” to just about everything. Calling these sad folks “troubled patients,” Menninger (no doubt with tongue in cheek) mentions several of the things that characterize their lives. They have never made an unsound loan, voted for a liberal cause, or sponsored any extravagances. Why? He suggests it is because they cannot permit themselves the pleasure of giving. He describes them in vivid terms: “rigid, chronically unhappy individuals, bitter, insecure, and often suicidal.”
I would add one further description – they have never given themselves permission to be free. Still imprisoned behind the bars of petty concerns and critical suspicions, they have learned to exist in a bondage that has hindered their ability to see beyond life’s demands. Lacking grace, they have reduced life to the rules and regulations essential for survival. Their God is too small, their world is too rigid, and therefore their faces shout, “No!”
Candidly, I know of nothing that has the power to change us from within like the freedom that comes through grace. It’s so amazing it will change not only our hearts but also our faces. And goodness knows, some of us are overdue for a face change! Were you reared by parents whose faces said, “No”? Or are you married to someone with a, “No,” face? If that is true, you envy those who had, “Yes”-faced parents or are married to “Yes”-faced mates. All of us are drawn to those whose faces invite us in and urge us on.
During his days as president, Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback. They came to the river that had left its banks because of a recent downpour. The swollen river had washed the bridge away. Each rider was forced to ford the river on horseback, fighting for his life against the rapid currents. Each rider was threatened with the very real possibility of death, which caused a traveler who was not part of their group to step aside and watch. After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would carry him across the river. The president agreed without hesitation. The man climbed on, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side. As the stranger slid off the back of the horse onto dry ground, one in the group asked him, “Tell me, why did you select the president to ask this favor of?” The man was shocked, admitting he had no idea it was the president who had helped him. “All I know,” he said, “is that on some of your faces was written the answer, “No,” and on some of them was the answer, “Yes.” His was a, “Yes,” face.
Freedom gives people a, “Yes,” face. I am confident Jesus had a, “Yes,” face. I have never seen him, but I’ve determined from what I’ve read about him that this was true. What a contrast he must have been! He was surrounded by lettered men, religious, robed, righteous, law-quoting, professional men whose very demeanor announced, “NO!” Pious without, killers within – yet none of their poison seeped into his life. On the contrary, he revolutionized the entire direction of religion because he announced, “Yes,” while all his professional peers were frowning, “No.” That has intrigued me for years. How could it be? What was it that kept him from getting caught in their grip? In one word, it was grace. He was so full of truth and grace, he left no inner space for their legalistic poison.
While thinking back on his days with Jesus, John (one of the Twelve) remembers there was something about him that was like no one else, during which time his disciples “beheld his glory.” His uniqueness was that incredible “glory,” a glory that represented the very presence of God. In addition, this glorious one was “full of grace and truth.” Pause and let that sink in. It was his glory mixed with grace and truth that made him different. In a world of darkness and demands, rules and regulations, requirements and expectations demanded by the hypocritical religious leaders, Jesus came and ministered in a new and different way – he alone, full of grace and full of truth, introduced a revolutionary, different way of life.
Remembering that uniqueness, John adds, “For of his fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace,” (John 1:16).
Don’t miss the tie-in with John 1:14. Initially, John wrote, “We beheld his glory,” and then he added, in effect, “We received his fullness.” John and the other disciples became marked men as a result. Grace heaped upon grace rubbed off, leaving them different. His style became theirs. His tolerance, theirs. His acceptance, love warmth, and compassion were absorbed by those men, so much so it ultimately transformed their lives. By the end of the first century, the ministry of those same men had sent shock waves throughout the Roman world.
John puts the capstone on his introductory remarks by summing up the difference between contrastive styles of ministry: “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ,” (John 1:17).
With the Mosaic Law came requirements, rules, regulations. With those exacting demands came galling expectations, which fueled the Pharisees’ fire. By adding to the laws, the Pharisees not only lengthened the list, they intensified everyone’s guild and shame. Obsessed with duty, external conduct, and a constant focusing only on right and wrong (especially in others’ lives), they promoted a system so demanding there was no room left for joy. This led to harsh, judgmental, even prejudicial pronouncements as the religious system they promoted degenerated into external performance rather than internal authenticity. Obedience became a matter of grim compulsion instead of a joyous overflow prompted by love.
But when “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ,” a long-awaited revolution of the heart began to set religious captives free. Fearful bondage motivated by guilt was replaced with a fresh motivation to follow him in truth simply out of deep devotion and delight. Rather than focusing on the accomplishments of the flesh, he spoke of the heart. Instead of demanding that the sinner fulfill a long list of requirements, he emphasized faith, if only the size of a mustard seed.
The change spelled freedom, as the Lord himself taught: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” (John 8:32). Rigid, barren religion was, at last, replaced by a grace-oriented relationship – liberating grace. His followers loved it. His enemies hated it – and him. Without a doubt, the earliest grace killers were the Pharisees.