Free gift. Unmerited favor. Imputed righteousness. Amazing. Divine.
Words are wholly inadequate to describe the answer to all of our woes: grace. Grace is real, and it’s felt in general ways throughout the world (“common grace”) and in very specific ways by individuals (“saving grace” and even appointed trials) as well as the grace shown to one anotherby practicing forgiveness, understanding, and love.
I’ll state at the outset of my winter/spring “Confession Stand” series (which will mirror the Five Solas of the Reformation) that I’ll continue to use theology in making my points, but I’ll also make this practical for nitty-gritty, daily life in our pluralistic company and world.
On the highest level of human thought and reality, we grow old and die after short and (let’s face it) disappointing lives, at least compared with our potential. (God originally intended both humans and animals to live on Earth forever.) Grace is the remedy, offering eternal life on a New Earth, with no more aging, ultimate and ongoing purpose and fulfillment, and no more sin. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV) That last verse is especially meaningful to me as a Type-A, individualistic-minded middle class American: I did nothing to earn my salvation, so I can take no credit for it. “But if it (being chosen by God) is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” (Romans 11:6, ESV)
I know it’s often said that someone can be so heavenly minded that he or she is of no earthly good. I turn that adage on its head: to be heavenly-minded is precisely to be of the most earthly good! My daily personal focus on the brevity of life and the fleeting and disappointing nature of earthly relationships is not because I’m a defeatist (despite my admitted struggles in that regard); I keep such human limitations in mind daily in order to make the most of every opportunity to offer grace to others and to receive it for myself. The ultimate goal is the hope of continuing our relationships, adventures, and lives eternally on the New Earth! By what means? By the grace of God!
The risk in writing such things to a readership and community with such varying worldviews is that I’m attempting to walk the tightrope of being winsome to those who don’t share my views while admonishing those who do. Getting along, being civil, being respectful, and even practicing self-sacrificial love—to the point of laying down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13)—are all forms of grace. That includes being gracious even within one’s own theological “camp,” whether it’s little debates over cultural tastes, dearly-held preferences, or sometimes even doctrines. (However, I contend that some “intra-camp” doctrines, such as Jesus’ bodily Resurrection, cannot be debated if claiming to subscribe to biblical Christianity.)
I could go on and on with both theological and practical examples of grace, but I’ll give myself the grace 😉 to keep this more succinct. I’ll end by saying that my worldview considers our recent trip to New Zealand, my wife who loves me, a company that is solvent, and even the air I breathe as examples of real grace by my Heavenly Father. By a larger mystery, I also see infertility, stubbed toes, various hardships, and even occasional doubts as forms of grace. Grace saved me and grace is shaping me.
As one great old hymn from 1911 puts it,
Grace, grace, God’s grace // Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace // Grace that is greater than all our sin.
Grace overcomes our sin due to no works of our own. Grace also gives us “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17) and even trials to shape our character and our very souls into the potential that God sees in each one of us (James 1:1-2, 1 Peter 1:6-7, Matt. 5:11-12).
To be fully experienced, grace needs to be coupled with faith. That pillar of a topic will be addressed next month.