[forthright] Sheep, Grace & the Cross

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From: Forthright Magazine <forthrightmag@...>
Date: Fri, 05 Oct 2007 18:38:41 -0500
Forthright Magazine
Straight to the Cross

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COLUMN: Hands-on Faith

Sheep, Grace & the Cross
by Barry Newton

As pastures go, the one hundred or so sheep who
grazed peacefully on the lush green slopes above
the loch had thrived under Radock's leadership
until that eventful autumn. Since it was not
uncommon for a few sheep to occasionally wander
off to discover whatever might lie beyond the
horizon or to seemingly suddenly appear from
nowhere, old ram Radock had not thought too much
about the late summer stragglers merging into his

One fateful chilly morning changed everything.
 From within the flock an argument erupted shortly
after sunrise. Some of the new young sheep were
claiming grace means that there would be no
condemnation for any sheep belonging to the One
Flock. They explained this meant that none of the
Great Shepherd's sheep would be condemned for how
they might choose to follow their Shepherd. A
message of freedom resonated deep within many
sheep hearts. Invisible fences and what had been
assumed to be the invisible proddings from the
Shepherd's will suddenly melted away as having
been ignorance run amuck. Empowered to seek what
they understood to be deeper and more meaningful
expressions according to their own needs and
creative spirit, these sheep rejoiced at the
wonderful message of grace.

Meanwhile some of the other new young sheep were
just as joyful and confident about grace, but
possessed a completely different message. Bleating
with all their might, they were proclaiming that
grace involved the undeserved gift of being a part
of the One Flock. They insisted that where the
Great Shepherd had revealed specifics regarding
his will, grace had not liberated the sheep to
shape the Shepherd's will into expressions of
their own choosing.

The flock was torn right down the middle.
Confusion reigned. Some were reasoning that the
old way must be right. Others countered what they
perceived to be a stuck-in-the-mud attitude with,
"but if there is no condemnation for those in the
One Flock, how can you argue that the Shepherd
does not want us to use meaningful expressions
which will be more compatible to more sheep?"

What about us humans? Are we faring any better
than these divided and entrenched sheep. I propose
three lines of questioning can be helpful to
unlock the subject of grace.

1) While Romans 8:1 accurately proclaims that
there is no condemnation for those in Christ
Jesus, does the surrounding context suggest this
has reference to the latitude Christians possess
on how they can express themselves to God or is
this a statement equivalent to saying their guilt
has been absolved?

2) When Titus 2:11-13 teaches us about the nature
of grace and what the Christian should learn from
grace, does grace transform what had been
previously unacceptable to God into now becoming

3) Although salvation is not based upon our
performance, how does the cross impact those who
are following Jesus? To put this in different
words, while grace does increase where there is
more sin, how does being crucified with Christ in
order to live for God and for righteousness relate
to how Christians should seek to follow their

Whereas the expression, "If it looks like a sheep
and smells like a sheep then it must be a sheep"
is helpful around the farm, Jesus would suggest
that such a barnyard analogy is lame when
discussing spiritual ideas. To paraphrase Jesus in
the form of a question, would a wolf in sheep's
clothing look like a sheep and smell like a sheep?
Yep. Should we assume that every wolf in sheep's
clothing knows it is a wolf?

One reason why the common sense guide of "looking
and smelling like a sheep" breaks down is that,
although the fundamental essence of a sheep might
not change, words can be morphed into entirely new
critters. It might be the same word, but convey a
completely different message. Accordingly, it
would seem that Jesus would encourage us to
possess a greater sophistication than to naively
embrace a message as being scriptural simply
because it is riddled with biblical language.
Words like grace can become watersheds for
opposing sides of significant theological divides.

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