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I think God's greatest masterpiece is salvation through grace. In this gospel of grace, Jesus undergoes the punishment of death in place of the remorseful offending party. The offending party inherits righteousness, victory over Satan, freedom from sin, and God as a father. In this gospel, the Holy Spirit is the one that produces the transformation in a person.
Sometimes this gospel of grace is replaced by the law of “Christian society.” Instead of being motivated by the Holy Spirit from within, people are guided by “Christian” rules. Are we, as Christians, advocating for the transformational life that comes from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, or are we simply promoting acceptable Christian behavior in society through Christian training?
A good illustration of this can be found in the 2000 film Chocolat, in which several characters live out this scenario of transformation vs. training. The book and the film set the battle between paganism and religion, but I saw the concept of being saved by Grace wrestling with the idea of being Saved by Works.
Vianne (Juliette Binoche) comes to town and starts to sell chocolate. She and the chocolate are the catalysts for much-needed changes for the townspeople. The chocolate sparks a change within people, and Vianne's presence stimulates conversation and conflict. She befriends a woman in town, Josephine (Lena Olin), who is being abused by her husband, Serge (Peter Stormare), and offers her a place to stay. Vianne teaches Josephine how to make chocolate to make a living for herself. She helps her to find freedom and strength and to recover from the abuse. This friendship reflects a picture of Christ and the transformative power of redemption through forgiveness and freedom from sin.
In contrast to Vianne, the Comte de Reynaud, played by Alfred Molina, portrays a picture of working to earn salvation. Reynaud makes it his duty to help the townspeople continue the fast during Lent and prevent them from eating the chocolate Vianne sells. However, though Reynaud has the authority to enforce the rules, he does not have the power to create change in people.
This is shown when Reynaud takes Serge under his wing to teach him to be a better husband so that Serge can reunite with his wife. In contrast to Vianne and Josephine, Reynaud and Serge do not develop a friendship. Serge merely follows Reynaud’s orders. Reynaud forces Serge to stop drinking, gives him nicer clothes, and gives him the correct words to say to his wife. Serge follows the rules, but his wife does not come back to him. This causes anger and frustration to build within him. When he sees his wife dancing with another man at a party on a boat, he sees fit to punish her and the others on the boat by setting it on fire. He resorted to abusive tactics to control his wife, proving that his character had not changed despite his and Raynaud's efforts. Reynaud banishes Serge for his actions.
This is a picture of how Christians use laws to make people imitate Christian behavior for the purpose of redemption and forgiveness of sins. This is done in vain because Christian behavior will not earn redemption or salvation. This “Christianity” does not come from the power of God living in them but by the rules that they must live by. Instead of breaking chains, it adds more. It hides the sinful nature under good behavior rather than eliminating the sinful nature through the transformation that comes through Christ.
In this film, I saw my journey from the mindset of being saved by works and self-righteousness to realizing that I am saved by grace. I identified with Reynaud as he laid down the law to keep the citizens in pursuit of righteousness. I understood as he clung to his faith but still felt empty. I identified with him as he cried to the Lord as a failure. Reynaud could not change people with his rules the way Vianne could with chocolate, and he did not know why. He did not understand the gospel and illustrated Galatians 5:4; trying to be justified by the law and therefore disqualified from grace. Neither Reynaud nor Serge could understand the need for grace as long as they relied on the rules.
Salvation and the nature of Christ cannot be imposed on people. Salvation is immediate, but transformation takes time. You may have rapid transformation in some areas of life and slow change in others. Therefore, we must foster true transformation and freedom in Christ.
Every Christian should ask, “Am I being changed and led by the spirit, or am I following the Christian rules?” Could you be Christlike if there were no guidelines to advise what Christians should and shouldn't do? God works the transformation in those who choose to follow Him much like the chocolate changed the lives of those who ate it. God completes what you cannot do on your own through His spirit. The transformation is not your responsibility but His masterpiece of grace.
Hallstrom, L (Director). (2000). Chocolat [Film]. Miramax Films
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