During a radio interview last week, the interviewer told me a story that gets to the heart of how grace transforms.
He was a camp counselor one summer and one of his responsibilities was to go around with another counselor and check the cabins every morning while the students were at breakfast. In order to motivate them to keep their cabins clean, awards were given at the morning assembly to the students who had the cleanest cabin. One morning the counselors walked into one of the cabins only to discover that it had been intentionally trashed. The students thought it would be funny to “break the law” and do the exact opposite of what they had been asked to do. Clothes everywhere. Food all over the floor. Words written on the bathroom mirrors with soap. Wet towels balled up in every corner. The place was a complete disaster.
The two counselors were speechless. The one looked at the other and asked, “What should we do?” After pausing for a moment, the guy who was interviewing me finally answered, “Let’s clean it up.” His buddy looked at him like he was crazy: “Clean it up? Are you kidding? These punks need to be punished! I’m not cleaning up their mess.” The other one said, “Well, I’m going to clean it up. And by the time I’m done with it, these kids will win the award today for the cleanest cabin.” After some moaning and groaning, his buddy decided to help him. They cleaned the whole cabin while the students were at breakfast. Picked up and folded all the clothes, scrubbed all the soap off the bathroom mirrors, vacuumed up all the food, made all the beds, and hung all the wet towels up to dry on the clothes line right outside the cabin. Then they left without saying a word to anyone.
When the students came back from breakfast, thinking they had pulled off a great prank, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They were the ones who were now speechless. They initially thought they were now going to be in double trouble. They sheepishly made their way to the morning assembly. When the award for the cleanest cabin was announced and they won, they couldn’t believe it. Instead of being punished, they were rewarded. They all found the two counselors who had cleaned up their wrecked room and begged for forgiveness. And, according to the guy who was interviewing me, those boys kept the cleanest cabin for the rest of the week.
What those boys experienced was what theologians call “double-imputation.” Not only did someone else bear their punishment (having to clean up the miserable mess they made) but they were rewarded for someone else’s “righteousness.” As my friend Scotty Smith recently said, “The gospel isn’t merely the absence of all condemnation; it’s also the fullness of God’s delight lavished on us in Christ.”
And notice…the result of this irrational act of grace toward these boys was NOT worse behavior. It was sorrow and transformation. These punks were punk’d by grace…and they would never forget it.
I close my book Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels with a story (not sure if this really happened or is simply parabolic) from Civil War days before America’s slaves were freed, about a northerner who went to a slave auction and purchased a young slave girl. As they walked away from the auction, the man turned to the girl and told her, “You’re free.”
With amazement she responded, “You mean, I’m free to do whatever I want?”
“Yes,” he said.
“And to say whatever I want to say?”
“And to be whatever I want to be?”
“And even go wherever I want to go?”
“Yes,” he answered with a smile. “You’re free to go wherever you’d like.”
She looked at him intently and replied, “Then I will go with you.”
Many fear that grace-delivered, blood-bought, radical freedom (to do, say, and be whatever we want) will result in loveless license. But as the two stories above illustrate, redeeming unconditional love alone (not law, not fear, not punishment, not guilt, not shame) carries the power to compel heart-felt loyalty to the One who gave us (and continues to give us) what we don’t deserve (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Tullian Tchividjian is a South Florida native, Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, a visiting professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, and grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. He is the founder of LIBERATE (liberatenet.org), a bestselling author, a contributing editor to Leadership Journal, and a popular conference speaker. Tullian and his family reside in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Follow Tullian on twitter at: @pastortullian.