And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 (ESV)
Grace is one of those subjects we tend to twist around and misconstrue and misapply and just generally mess up. Why? It is antithetical to our way of thinking. For humans, most everything is based in what we deserve. If we haven’t earned forgiveness, we don’t receive it. The legalism we humans tend to apply to all things God saps the love right out, and turns us into legalistic, hypocritical Pharisees.
And, yes, I said us. Me included. So put down your torches and pitch forks. We are all guilty of it – me too.
Which makes God’s grace all the more necessary and amazing.
In his classic book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer approaches the subject in terms of both “cheap grace” and “costly grace”. And while I agree that grace without repentance is nothing more than an attempt to claim a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, I fear that – in some Christian circles – “cheap grace” is used as a club against other believers who do not worship in quite the same manner as they. So I believe it is better to simply approach grace for what it is: a gift of favor from a loving Father God through His Son Jesus Christ.
Grace – charis in Greek – is a reflection on the Giver, and should cause a response of deep gratitude from the heart of the recipient of said grace. Grace is a gift. You cannot earn it. There are no strings attached. It is freely given to all who will accept the gift.
God’s grace is the great enabler of our ability to approach Him. It is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV). In other words, I am not saved because I am more holy or more deserving or more loved than anyone else. It is by the loving grace of God that Jesus died for my sins.
Not only that… God’s grace is all I need to see me through life. It is the unmerited favor of God working for me, in line with God’s will. But grace requires humility on our part. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, ESV). We cannot let our faith go to our heads, thinking we are more special than anyone else, or any of us has all the answers. Let me assure you, I do not. But don’t get smug. You don’t either.
Grace is the strength that buffets our weakness. When Paul was in danger of becoming proud as a result of his amazing encounter with Christ, Jesus – in an act of grace – gave Paul…
…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)
Confession time. Most of us have a pet peeve or two. Or twenty. For me, my particular rub is rudeness. And, with Christmas shopping season upon us and all the folks cramming into department stores and discount stores and shopping malls and shops of styles and sizes, pushing and shoveling, jostling for position in line, fighting for parking spots, mindlessly zoned in on their smartphones and electronic devices like all the world around them doesn’t exist… Argh!!! I get so worked up over it that I barely notice that I have been sitting in my car, parked in a plum spot with the engine running while I check my e-mails and FB pages (“I sure hope somebody “liked” my spectacular post today!”), totally oblivious to the line of cars that has formed and now reaches halfway to South Dakota, waiting for my parking spot. My distraction is broken and my awareness raised when some guy waives at me with one finger (and, no, he wasn’t telling me I’m number one) and shouts some vulgarities that make me glad my mother lives three states away from here. I am tempted to return his gestures in kind, denying him the number one position as well. However, I won’t drag his mom into this as I am sure she is a perfectly nice lady and an innocent party to boot. (Although, judging from the mouth on this guy – and one I hope he doesn’t kiss mom with – I gauge that she could have done a better job raising this punk.)
So, by God’s grace I can now feel superior to this profane individual who expressed himself so rudely, and feel good that, since I am a Christian, I now possess the self control to not be rude toward this obvious heathen. I will simply give him the disapproving long stare and move on.
Well… not exactly. God’s grace may well give me the strength not to respond to rudeness with rudeness. But, moreover, the grace of God is what convicts me of my own rudeness. You see, by God’s grace, He gives me repeated opportunities to face my peeves and gripes – and fears, doubts, challenges, worries, troubles, etc. – and recognize that, by His grace, I have the strength to face anything in my path. Including / especially the roadblocks I put up myself through sin and doubt. I have that strength not because I am so great or righteous or anything special. It is by the grace of God alone that I have any strength.
It is by the grace of God alone that I would ever manage to anything good, or right.
It is by the grace of God alone that I would ever repent of – let alone give two thoughts to – my sin, or His righteousness.
It is by the grace of God alone that I would ever seek Him first, above my own selfish desires and perceived needs (not the same as actual needs, mind you).
It is by the grace of God that I am moved to recognize that I am a sinner saved by grace – and grace alone – deserving of nothing good from God and yet blessed beyond comprehension by my Heavenly Father, Who is Love Himself; His Son, Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace; and the Holy Spirit, Wonderful Indwelling Comforter and Counselor.
On my own I am nothing but a damned fool (and I mean that literally, not profanely). I am grateful for the grace of God poured on me anew everyday, at just the right time. Thank you for enabling me to pursue You, Lord. For giving me the right desires of my heart. And I pray for your grace when those desires take a wrong turn, or I am distracted and do not seek You first. For it is by Your grace alone, through faith, that I am saved.