“So, how far can my boyfriend and I go… you know, without going too far?” The college student couldn’t quite make eye contact with her Bible Study leader. Her leader answered, “A better question to ask, is are your ‘interactions’ with your boyfriend honoring to God?” That made the college girl uncomfortable. “Well, yeah. But we are going to do things. So, where is the line? Is there really a line? Because if we do something wrong, God will forgive us, right? So, there isn’t any real harm done. That’s what grace is all about, right?”
His testimony is so much bigger than mine, she thought, sinking down in the church pew while a former drug addict and prostitute shared how God had rescued him from a life of sin. He’s a better Christian. He will do more for God, because he needed more of God’s grace to save him. My testimony is lame – I can’t even remember when I got saved. I know my life changed, but it isn’t a great story. Maybe if I had sinned in bigger ways, I would have needed more grace and had a way better story.
“Sinner! What a disgrace to the Christian faith!” she shouted at the radio. Recently, a local pastor had come forward about a cliché affair with his secretary. And now, just 3 months later, the radio announcer was interviewing the same pastor about the steps he was taking to live in repentance. “If I was his wife, I would never, ever forgive him! How hurtful and humiliating! Ahhhhhh!!! If I was God, there would be no grace for adulterers!
Grace. A common buzzword tossed around in Christian circles, requested in prayer meetings and lifted up in popular worship songs. Whether you were raised in the church, or a newcomer to the faith, grace is a word that is familiar to our ears. But do we actually understand it? Do we live lives characterized by grace?
Sin, feel guilty at church, ask forgiveness, indulge in temptation, and then sin again. Far too many Christians live their lives in this cycle of sin, using grace as a cheap fix for the guilt felt after sinning. But nothing really changes. There is no true repentance. Such behavior reduces grace – purchased by Christ’s life, death and resurrection – to the status of a morning-after pill used as a ‘quick fix’ to correct a night of sinful debauchery. We aren’t really repentant; we just want to negate the consequences. Jesus did not die to give us a spiritual morning-after pill! He took our sins in his body on that cross so we might never sin again.
We often treat grace like a limitless, cheap commodity that is doled out from a vending machine anytime we punch the “sorry” button. Grace is a miracle. Grace is limitless, not because it costs nothing, but because it comes from a limitless God. Grace is free to us because we can never, ever, no matter how hard we try, afford it. It’s a gift because we can’t buy it for ourselves. We’re like the poor people who are given handouts to survive, yet then waste that money on alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes while their children beg for food on the street corners to survive.
Grace is a gift from God to lift us out of that sin, not allow us to continue in it! As Paul says in Romans 6, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life…So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Grace is the means by which we have been and continue to be saved. It’s the vehicle of salvation. Grace brings about our righteousness (from a sordid life of sinful rags) so we can be with God. John Piper says, “God will spare sinful sons, precisely because he did not spare his only sinless Son.” Grace cost Jesus everything, let it cost us our sin.
We’re amazed when God saves a rebel heart, heals someone of cancer or provides for a huge financial need. We’re awed by how big and powerful God is in that instance. We marvel at the grace extended by God to win the hardened heart of a slave trader, like John Newton. Yet we dismiss the grace extended in Christ’ forgiveness of our sins. We take for granted the grace involved in cleansing us from daily, hourly unrighteousness.
The grace God extends to a dying abuser saved on death row is the same grace given to save you and I. The grace that God bestows to forgive the sin of a murder is the same grace given us to resist temptation. The grace that freed us from sin is the same grace that allows us to daily become more like Christ. Every day we have with Christ, every sin forgiven, every sin resisted – it’s all the work of grace. John Piper explains, “If God is only in front of you beckoning, you tend to become a legalist. If God is only behind you pushing, you tend to lose resoluteness [and sin]…. Not all of God’s grace is behind us pushing to obey. There is also grace in front of us beckoning us to follow. As Christians, we are sandwiched in God’s grace.”
Grace comes from God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our salvation comes through grace. Our relationship with the Lord is maintained by grace. We are literally at the mercy of the grace of God – and it’s a beautiful place to be! “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For 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 2:4-9
Responding to Grace
The miracles of Jesus – giving sight to the blind, healing the leper, making the lame walk again – are living pictures of what grace does in our hearts. “And immediately Jesus said to them, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” Mark 2:1-11. The miracle is grace. And how should you respond to such a miracle?
- Marvel. Take time to marvel at the gift of grace. Rejoice in the option of salvation. Worship the glory of God which is full of the grace of God. John Piper shares, “If you want to be really alert to seeing Jesus’ divine beauty, his glory—the spiritual brightness that sets Him apart as self-evidently real and true—then make sure you tune your senses to see His grace. That’s what His glory is full of.” It is vital that we regain an awestruck view of the miracle of grace, for a right understanding will keep us from taking for granted that which cost Christ all. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2
- Cherish. A person who treasures the grace of God runs from sin. A right view of grace makes us realize how amazing and costly it was. When we value grace, we consistently turn from evil and do good. Grace is given that we might repent, not say we’re sorry and keep on sinning. Grace allows us to leave behind the life of a sinner and embrace a life of freedom, victory and joy with Christ. Piper states, “Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.” “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” Galatians 2:16-21
- Bestow. A person transformed by grace, marveling in the gift, cherishing grace by running from sin is a person that will extend grace to others. God’s grace flows through them to a graceless world. A right understanding of grace compels us to reach out to murderers, adulterers, churchgoers, and family members alike. Grace isn’t tolerant of sin, it’s ministering to the repentant heart. Grace doesn’t excuse the flesh, but cultivates the spirit. We give limitless grace to others, because we’ve received limitless grace from God. “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus to be received by faith.” Romans 3:22-26.
For the college girl, grace allows her to draw near to God and trusting that His parameters for intimacy are best. For the girl in church, grace facilitated her salvation and allows her to now rejoice in that freedom. For the woman listening to the radio, grace flows through her to call others to repentance and extend the forgiveness she herself experiences. For each of us, living for Christ requires grace.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see. T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear the hour I first believed. Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.”