Never before have I heard the phrase, “Can I have grace?” so often since becoming a dean at a Bible school. And why shouldn’t I? We all want grace. We get pulled over for speeding, and we do everything in our power to convince the pleasant police officer to give us grace, to get us out of a ticket. We explain the situation, we act sugary sweet…we even cry on occasion hoping the basket case of emotions will derail the man into feeling sorry for us. Or maybe we’ve turned in a project a little late at work and hope our boss is in a good mood to give grace where we don’t deserve it. Whatever the scenario, grace is like an unexpected present under a tree that everyone hopes to receive. Where we thought would be punishment or condemnation, we find warmth and understanding instead.
But is that what grace really is? Has our society so distorted the word “grace” that it’s now relegated to a mere “get out of jail free” card where we may commit some grievous act without the gauntlet dropping? Or is there more to it than that? In our culture which reeks of self-entitlement, has grace become an expectation on which we rely?
What is grace really?
There are precious few things that are free in this world. Grace is no exception. Well, true grace at least. When I give my student grace, it’s free. I don’t take their punishment and there’s no whipping boy in a room somewhere that receives the punishment; it just is gone. Likewise, when the cop gives you grace on the side of the road, he’s not paying the ticket. You’re just getting free “grace.” I would submit here that biblical grace, the grace you receive from God on a daily basis, is not the same kind of grace. God’s grace is costly grace. When God forgave me, saved me, redeemed me, my sin didn’t just wash away like dirt hosed off of me. It didn’t just disappear. A transfer occurred from one account to another. The sin that I commit, the debts that I’ve racked up, Christ took on Himself (Isa. 53:6, 12; John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24). My debt didn’t just vanish; it was nailed to a cross, and I was buried there with Christ (Gal. 2:20). Colossians 2:14 says, “By canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” PAID. You see, God didn’t just forgive us of our sins, He provided a way for our sin debt to be paid. That is grace. It is costly. You can’t earn it, buy it, work for it, or deserve it. But you can have it.
Because it’s Grace. Grace. God’s Grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin.
There is a major misconception of God’s marvelous grace that is still prevalent in our churches today just like it was in Paul’s day (amazing how everything changes and yet stays the same, huh?). In our world today, Christian and secular alike, we have cheapened God’s costly grace by viewing it as a mere slap on the wrist when confessing our sins. We confess our sin to God and rejoice in our lack of condemnation taking up Romans 8:1 as our mantra, but then continue to walk the same ways that we’ve always walked cycling around to confession again and again. We forget Romans 6:14, “For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace.” Often we want to skip right to happy Romans 8:1. “There is no condemnation (true!) for those who are in Christ Jesus (Praise God, that’s me!).” But we must not pass over the promise of Romans 8:4, “The law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Whoa, wait, what??).” Why the qualification? Why can’t we just have no condemnation without any expectation of changed behavior? Because Christ died for us and, by His grace, we are dead to sin (Romans 8:3). Why should my life be lived differently? Because once I was a slave, and now, by His grace, I am free (Romans 8:2). A Spirit-led life is a result of a life of no condemnation because of GRACE. Because grace is always for the purpose of bringing about change in a person’s life. This is why Paul is aghast at the concept of sinning more so that grace can abound more (Ro 5 & 6). “May that thought never even exist!” Paul says in Romans 6:15 (Bubar-phrased). We receive God’s grace so that we “may walk in a new way of life” (Ro 6:4; Eph 4:23, 24). If you miss this, you miss everything. Grace is the basis of the whole work of salvation.
God’s grace is not only a costly grace and a life-changing grace, but it’s also a heavy grace. Romans 3:23 and 24 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by HIS GRACE through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” It is this grace, Paul says in Titus 2:11-14, that teaches us to put off ungodliness, the passions after which the world chases, and to live self-controlled and godly lives. Grace does all that. Correction: a proper understanding and apprehension of grace does all that! Grace is serious. In Galatians 1:6, a group of so-called believers is running out on the faith and abandoning their doctrine, and Paul’s response is one of shock. “I am amazed,” he says, “that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you by the grace of Christ.” I read that passage and I see my generation and yours, and I think, “Wow. We just don’t get it. We have such a dim understanding of the grace of God in our lives, of all from which we have been saved. If we but knew all that we deserved, all that our salvation, our freedom, cost Christ it would change us in an instant. Suddenly we would grasp the debt that was paid on our behalf, and grace…grace would be heavy. Grace would be costly. Grace, God’s marvelous grace, would CHANGE us!”
What is grace to you? Do you echo the words of that great hymn:
Oh to grace, how great a debtor, Daily I’m constrained to be. Let that grace now like a fetter Bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.