A disposition to show kindness. The giving of unmerited favor. Sola gratia. Sola fide. By grace alone. Through faith alone. By Christ’s work alone. Grace. God’s grace. God’s love. This is a very popular topic these days. Do we understand what it means? Do we revel in it? Do we take advantage of it? Our culture loves to speak of the love of God – and rightfully so. We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19. Oh, but we humans love to take good things and twist them into bad. Freedom becomes anarchy. Trust becomes advantage. Hard work becomes neglect of others. Sex becomes abuse. And yet, all is not lost.
I’ve recently been thinking of the concept of God’s grace. What an amazing and truly wonderful gift is God’s work for us, and yet baffling to me – why? God is better than me, that is for sure. I like to give what is earned and withhold what is misused. Not God – He gives, and he enables us to accept, and He transforms us. This is not to say that you, unrepentant sinner, can live a life however far from God you choose and then think that He is such a nice guy He could never judge you and find you wanting. Yes, God has a disposition to show kindness. Yes, he is merciful and forgiving. However, He is not your needy ex-girlfriend who is so infatuated with you that He will overlook everything you’ve done. He is not a doting grandfather that spoils you and doesn’t discipline. He is a good father – and a good father balances love and discipline. He provides correction because He cares about you. God is the only person in the universe who can perfectly balance love, mercy, and justice. He will one day judge us all according to what we have done. Revelation 20:12. And yet we are not saved by our works, but through faith in Jesus Christ.
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18
So how do we get these things so backwards? We do we turn God’s love into a reason to sin? Why do we turn good works into a path to salvation? If there’s a way to get things all messed up, certainly we’ve tried it at some point. Here’s how I think about God’s grace, and my salvation, and my subsequent good works:
I’m a sinner. I’m born into a world of sin. It is my nature. Like a pig wallows in mud, I wallow in my sin. Like a pig loves his mud, I love my sin. It is who I am, it is who we are. The pig doesn’t know it can be clean, the pig doesn’t know why it would want to be clean. Then something happens. I have an emptiness inside. I hit rock bottom. I have a yearning that I can’t fill with mud, or drugs, or money, or sex, or anything else in this world. I meet someone. His name is Jesus. I learn that he’s been reaching out to me this whole time. He’s been giving me this yearning for more this whole time. He gives me the ability to see my sin. I despise my sin. I want to be clean, but I could never clean myself off from all the dirt. But He’s provided the way and the ability to make it happen. What do I have to do? Ask him. Accept him. Trust him. Let him take my place. He crawls down in the mud next to me, but it doesn’t stick to him. He pulls me out. He puts new clothes on me, that I didn’t pay for. I love him so much, but I could never repay him. I want to sit at his feet forever, but he tells me to go out into the world and live my life. I walk down the road. I never fall in the big mud pit again, but I slip into a puddle now and then. I turn back to Jesus. I repent. I help a sick man beside the road. I talk to little kids and show them love. I tell them about the guy I know. His clothes still wash me clean. The only way I make it to the end of my journey is by knowing him, and trusting him. When somebody demands to know where I got my clothes from, I can only point to Jesus and claim they are his. I get to the end of my journey – it’s those clothes that get me inside. Said better – it’s my relationship with the man who gave them to me that gets me inside. It’s only by his work, and his mercy, and his grace, and yes – his judgement that I get to stay inside instead of being cast into the outer darkness. (Matthew 22).
I’ll be honest – for a lot of my life I never understood the concept of a “personal relationship with Jesus”. It seemed a little silly to me. But I’m starting to get it. Salvation isn’t a formula. It isn’t a series of steps or good works earning merit. It isn’t even saying the right prayer or believing the right things. It all about who you know. Who do you know? Let me tell you about this guy…