The motion picture Dunkirk recaptures the story of how grace transformed a colossal military blunder during World War II into a historic rescue of epic proportions. It appeared to be a moment that would cost Britain the war. More than 300,000 British and French soldiers and sailors found themselves trapped on a beach at Dunkirk, encircled by a tightening noose of Nazi troops and tank brigades intent on slaughtering them all.
An opening caption from the movie explains they were waiting for deliverance; hoping for a miracle. Their answered prayer would arrive in the form of some 700 small, privately owned boats shuttling warriors away from imminent disaster over a few days and nights. It was a costly miracle; unarmed fishermen, merchants, and school teachers risking everything- and some losing it all– for the warriors who had marched off to war to save them in the first place.
That dimension of grace- the ominous, terrifying part– explains why we who call ourselves Evangelicals can seem so false, so inauthentic, to a skeptical world. With a wink and a smile, we sometimes reduce the extravagant gift of God to a free toy in a box of cereal. We are quick to argue that our salvation is better than recreational drugs, more thrilling than immoral sex, more satisfying than a meal at a five-star restaurant. And God has tossed it into the box for free if you’ll say a prayer and come to church. Open up the box, find your free gift inside, and you’ll be hap-hap-happy forevermore.
If that doesn’t sound very convincing to thoughtful people, it’s no wonder. It’s not even persuasive to religious types who sometimes prefer not to think.
I once participated in a popular ministry that trained believers for evangelism. It was organized around a simple outline that explained the wonder of grace, the sacrifice of Christ, and the urgency of repentance and faith. In case a listener should confess Christ, there was a simple prayer of faith. That was followed immediately by a brief recap of the Gospel along with directives to read the Bible and watch out for Satan.
I once heard a trainee ask a leader, “Why are the attacks by Satan not mentioned until after the personal commitment?” The leader replied, “Well, we don’t want to discourage people.” Maybe that’s why they become disillusioned and drop out later. Where is all that uninterrupted peace and joy, anyhow?
I suspect skeptical Millennials and Generation Z will demand full disclosure. The gospel delivers followers of Jesus Christ to a higher quality of life, but not a perpetual Happy Hour. Faith is not a Safe Zone; it’s never far from danger. Christians live as though something is at stake because it is. Something very important is on the line. Worship is a celebration, but godly living happens on a spiritual battlefield. It’s messy. We are compelled by love to get our hands dirty. Ask any parent: real love really hurts.
If the saga of Dunkirk remains deeply fascinating today, it’s not because the boats were so small or so numerous. Most of those vessels had traveled the Channel before. Dunkirk captures the imagination and inspires us today because a profound catastrophe on a massive scale was about to explode on that beach in France; and because so many who could have looked away were willing, instead, to choose love over safety. Amazing grace is always about someone who has chosen love over safety.
The battlefield where Jesus Christ won the day for us was splattered with his blood. It followed years of rejection, inconvenience, and sacrifice. Christ even warned his disciples that very soon they, too, would be arrested, hounded, threatened, and put to death (Matthew 24:9.) It hardly sounds like a Carribean cruise, does it?
The Lord practiced transparency: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
The grace of God is deep and awesome. It reaches us in our darkest moments of despair. It transports us to a life of purpose, satisfaction, celebration, friendship, and adoration. But the moments in the mountains are particularly delightful because the months in the valleys test our faith to the limits. Ultimately our saving faith is like gold, which can only be refined by fire, but which becomes more precious after it is purified. And one day we arrive in Heaven!
So give ’em the whole gospel! Let them see that those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. And lift up the Cross!