There is no other doctrine, I believe, that is simultaneously the most difficult to understand and yet the easiest to receive than that of grace. Denominations are split over it, pastors argue about it, cultures ignore it, and only a few ever embrace it. Why is this one little word, this small, yet overwhelmingly powerful concept, so difficult to embrace?
I meet people every day who are weighed down by the burdens of life. Many of them have suffered abuse and terrible trauma in their histories. They were beaten, molested, used by others for sexual gratification and other unspeakable acts. They have scars and pain that runs deep. Most have since learned to use their bodies in some addictive manner to seek relief from this pain, only to realize that their addictions simply lead to more pain (for themselves as well as their friends and family). Their lives are then held up by many in the religious world as examples of decadent, self-indulgent living that Scripture clearly denounces. They are ridiculed, rejected, and run over by the very people entrusted to share the beautiful news of grace with them. Many of them already know God, but run to the dark corners of life in a useless attempt to hide from their shame.
What kind of response do you think I get from these individuals when I tell them that God loves them? Since many of these folks have grown up in religious circles, their response is often one of scoffing or disbelief. They snort, turning their head aside with a mocking grin stretching across their face, as if to say, "Yeah, I'm sure God loves a guy who cheats on his wife and regularly thinks of killing himself." It is as this point that I bring up the topic of grace.
"Yes, God does love that guy. And you know why?" I ask.
"Probably because He has to. He's God, after all."
"No, He loves that guy because He chooses to. He loves that guy because of grace."
"What does that mean?"
It means you couldn't earn it, so you can't lose it. It's a love that is constant, pure, perfect, and eternal. And it matters not a wit what behaviors you commit as to whether or not it is given or present. Grace is a one way street of favor and love based solely on the prerogative of the one giving it. The only thing you can do with grace is reject it. And even then, it doesn't change.
About half the time, people want to hear more. Some, however, have been so hardened by the difficulties of life they choose to remain locked in their shame, unwilling to even entertain the notion that there is Someone who is constantly and perfectly in love with them - every minute of every day, regardless of how imperfect and broken their lives have become.
I believe you don't have to go any further than the definition of grace to understand why it is so difficult to fully embrace. Grace is defined as the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God. Let's break down this definition to see why grace gives us such trouble in our daily, broken lives.
"For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ"
John 1: 16-17
First, grace is freely given. No obligation, no payment for it, no way the person receiving it could demand it. It is freely given, not in a begrudging, obligatory manner like we see so often when human beings give gifts. We are prone to attach strings to our gifts, fully expecting a return on our "investment." Not so with grace. It is freely given, no strings attached. It is a gift that demands no response and expects no return.
Next, grace is unmerited favor. Unmerited simply means we don't deserve it and we can't earn it. Merit has to do with my abilities or giftedness. But grace never takes those qualities into account. They don't matter in the economy of grace. Whether the most talented or the wealthiest or the smartest or the strongest, grace never sees those characteristics. Neither does grace evaluate the most broken or most wicked or most abused as disqualifiers for receiving favor. It is unmerited. Grace is not given based on the "qualifications" of the one receiving it, otherwise it stops being grace and it becomes merely a wage, something earned or forsaken based on the merit of the individual.
Finally, grace embodies the love of God. The Bible tells us that God is love. Love is an essential attribute of God, it is part of what defines and separates God as God. Perfect love, not defiled by sin or brokenness. His love does not waver or wane. And grace is the vehicle God uses to remind us of His perfect love, this one way street of undying, permanent affection the Creator has for His beloved creation, mankind. The Bible reminds us that God does not deal with us as our sins deserve, and that we can find salvation and eternal life through simple, childlike faith in the finished work of His Son, Jesus. And this salvation comes through grace, the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.
Unfortunately, this truth of grace is hard for many to embrace. It requires a humility that is unnatural. It means we must look in the mirror and say, "There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn favor with God. It is completely His work of loving me, redeeming me, and changing me because of His good pleasure, not mine. Grace is not about me, it is simply given to me." This is hard to say. We want to think we can bring something to the table when it comes to grace. We may believe we are saved by grace, but then falsely assume we must then work to "keep" God's favor afterward. But grace is grace. God doesn't change.
Another reason it is so hard to embrace grace is because we think it is limited. We believe we might be able to actually reach a point at which we have sinned so much or so grossly that God will eventually throw up His hands in exasperation and declare He is done extending grace to us. But if we believe this to be true, we have changed the definition of grace. Because, remember, grace has nothing to do with the merit or worthiness of the one receiving it. Grace is NOT about the recipient, it is about the Giver.
One of the greatest deceptions that has entered the church is that a person could lose their salvation based on their behavior (i.e. if you sin enough, you will lose your salvation...or you probably weren't saved to begin with). Heresy, I say! This is just another way of bringing works (something I could do, or not do) into the equation that has nothing to do with grace. And it cheapens the magnificence of God's beautiful grace. It elevates man to a position of judge, determining another's salvation based on how well they are performing.
This is understandable, as the doctrine of grace is scary for a preacher to preach accurately. After all, it might mean there will be some carnal believers in his flock, thus displaying to the rest of the congregation that he has lost control of his church and they may choose to worship (and tithe) elsewhere. But God says that He will not lose a single one of His children, even the carnal son or daughter who continues to choose their will over His. Grace is freely given and never revoked.
Is this a hard truth? Yes. Is it an essential truth? Absolutely! God's grace has the power to change our lives into something beautiful, something of value in this life and the life to come. But we must always remember that it is HIS grace, beginning and ending as His gift, His favor, and His love. We are simply the wretched, undeserving sinner who happens to have the unspeakable joy of receiving such an unmerited gift.
Maybe you are one of those people who feel that you are a good person. You know that you have not been that bad in your life, so you will surly be going to heaven when you die. Grace is just an added bonus that seals the deal so to speak.... "Please watch video and understand a little bit more about how our goodness does not play into the picture.
Can you Bend Your Mind around Grace? All the lies and everything you have believed in the past left your heart and mind like a hard piece of steel. We need to understand that God has made the rules not man. God chooses to give you Grace. God is real and he Loves You! His choice, His Love. His Grace!!! Bend You mind around that!
"Amazing grace how sweet the sound..."
Embracing grace, one Byte and a time.