I don’t presume to speak for worldwide trends in Christian thought, but in my particular corner of the Church, the idea of grace is trending big.
Of course, this is a good thing. The Christian life or the Christian community without grace is not really Christian, or life, or community at all. I am completely, gratefully, unreservedly pro-grace.
(You know every interesting post needs a good “but” to go anywhere, so here it comes:)
Like almost all divine gifts, grace exists–flourishes, even–in tandem with complementary concepts such as law, responsibility, and consequences. If we isolate grace from these other notions, we rob it of its power.
In our attempt to love grace and eschew legalism, we run the danger of reducing grace to a “get out of jail free” card, or the spiritual equivalent of diplomatic immunity. (I have never really researched diplomatic immunity, but I think it boils down to getting to park anywhere you want and avoid getting a ticket.)
So in our spiritual life, it plays out like this:
Sermon application: “You should spend time reading your Bible.”
Initial response: “I feel guilty because I am not reading my Bible.”
Application of Grace: “But God loves me whether I read my Bible or not. Hooray! Because I haven’t had a chance to watch that new season of Arrested Development on Netflix, and I want to see it before I read any spoilers online.”
And in our Christian relationships it might look like this:
“I volunteered to help in the church nursery this morning, but I didn’t realize how late we’d get in from our thing last night and right now we are super exhausted. So we’re going to stay home this morning. I know the nursery director will give me grace.”
“I got sucked into Pinterest for longer than I meant to during nap time and now it’s 5:00 and I have no meat thawed for dinner. So it’s frozen pizza again…I’m glad to have a husband who will give me grace!”
Now, in all of those situations, grace is real and grace is given, and aren’t we thankful for that! But I think it’s possible to get so comfortable with grace that we view it as an entitlement, and we forget what it really means: Grace is when someone else bears the cost for me.
Most profoundly, I can stand before God with confidence, knowing that I will not be condemned for my inconsistency or my laziness or my secret bitterness or my self-absorption. But it’s not because grace brushes the whole mess under the rug, it’s because Jesus bled for it all on the cross. Forgiveness is not something that God tosses from his throne like cheap candy at a Fourth of July parade. Every single sin would condemn me to death, and Jesus died for each one. Grace is immeasurably precious.
Paul acknowledges our sneaky natures when he confronts the question, “Shall we sin more, that grace may abound?” with an emphatic “No!” In the same way, we can ask ourselves, “Shall we avoid all spiritual disciplines, all convictions of the Holy Spirit, all obligations to our brothers and sisters, that grace may abound?” May it never be, for such a casual invocation of grace reveals a heart that doesn’t really understand the gift or the Giver.
I recently read a book about grace that was subtitled, “Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life.” And this is true, in the sense that we don’t have to strive and perform in order to be accepted and valuable to God because our worth is entirely bound up in the perfect work of Jesus. And yes, YES, this is true. We don’t have to put on masks and pretend to have it all together and make sure we “earn our keep” within our Christian community because our love for each other is an overflow of the love that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. YES.
But just because I’m not living the “try-hard life” doesn’t mean I’m parked on a pool float sipping something colorful from a twisty straw until I get whisked away to Heaven. Precisely because I’m NOT trying to justify myself, I can be free to love God with my heart, soul, and mind. I can read the Bible, pursue spiritual disciplines, strive for holiness with the joy of a secure child who wants to please her Father rather than with the fear and guilt of a servant who is always afraid of dismissal. And when I fall short, I can confess and repent with a full appreciation of the costly grace that God generously promises me.
And precisely because He first loved me, I can love my neighbor as myself, which means I’m going to come through for her even when it’s inconvenient, when I’m tired, when my kids are out of sorts, when keeping a promise costs me more than I initially thought it would. I do this not because I’m afraid of losing face or being rejected, but because my love stems from the generous, self-sacrificing love I’ve received from God.
As these thoughts percolated in my brain yesterday, I read this related article from Christianity Today…
What’s more, Christ at work in me doesn’t permit me to rest in my failure…
Grace covers. And it covers again and again. Thanks be to God. But if we stop there, as so many writers do, we are only telling half of the story. Titus 2:11-13 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.”
Grace covers my sin, and then it pushes me to be more like Christ.
…and followed the link to this thoughtful post:
The biblical witness compels us not to feel really sorry for ourselves, excuse our weakness, and give up on discipline in the name of “big grace.” The biblical witness offers us forgiveness, and it impels us to renew our efforts to mature and grow in the power of the Spirit.
That’s exactly what I am trying to say! Let’s rejoice and celebrate a “big grace” that doesn’t just smooth over our rough edges, but that compels and empowers us to grow in godliness.