|Yay for Bing's Photos, if nothing else.|
Something about grace simply bothers a man. This undeserved gift from God is awesome and beautiful and we sing about it at church on Sundays, but so often we forget about it or question its effects. Is grace really real in me? When do I use it? How do I use it? What if I am not strong enough to use it wisely?
The first question I cannot answer for you, but the fact remains that grace is very real, and if it is real in you then consequences will follow.
Nonetheless, I will monologue about the other questions. Now, I know it is rather strange to see grace worded as though it were a weapon or magic ring we use at our bidding, but, let us be honest here, is that not the way many of us Christians treat grace in our daily living?
We have all heard it before: Grace is a gift from God bestowed upon undeserving sinners so that they won't die like they are supposed to, but have eternal life. Dowdy denotation, to be sure.
What follows when someone receives that grace, however, is uncertain; after all, we have been told that God's grace saves us from Hell and "allows us to enter His Heaven." This is a stunning truth, of course, but sometimes it feels as though grace were left with a "now what?" expression scribbled across its face. So, you were saved, you wretch, and are you not glad? You are no longer counted as a sinner is God's eyes, therefore...go rejoicing and skipping in golden, dew-bedangled fields! ...Maybe? And then a throng of excited ten-year-long believers rush around New Christian with their deepest congratulations for becoming a believer, too, all the while impressing upon him that he had now better behave like one, that he had better be good.
Sure, this is an exaggerated case, and while I do not deny that this very scenario has been played out in quaint churches all across America, I neither intimate that it is common. Still, do you not think it is common for many of us, Reformed or not, to practically live as though grace stopped at salvation? That we embrace a sort of deistic sanctification? Yep, the ayes have it.
We praise God for saving grace, and have little to no clue what happens to it after that.
But grace is so much more than God sending His only begotten Son to die. See, we do not need grace just for God to wash our sins away; we need grace to be able to do even one little thing well. I think we are often confused about grace now because we do not realise that God's grace is not just forgiving. It is enabling. Becoming a Christian is not simply about being cleansed, but about allowing us to do and be ~ to live ~ something righteous. To a self-righteous law-lover like yours truly this is disconcerting, for it means that all our post-Christian "good" works are not good because of you or I, but because of Him. Grace kind of messes things up for Pharisees, and that messing up goes deeper than just being eternally saved. It goes into being momentarily good. Yes, grace reaches beyond the cross. Grace is for the good girl.
Definitely, this never-ending, presently-practical grace unsettled me at first, but once I began to think about it, how beautiful and solidifying and comforting did it become! That I sincerely, frightfully, awfully need grace to be sweet for an hour, to speak a kind word for a minute, to think a clean thought for a second, and that God has supplied that grace to me! All those "good things" we do once we are saved? Yeah, that was grace, too. It sure topples self-righteousness, but, then, I would rather have Christ than me. So, perhaps grace would be less confusing, seem less intangible, if we as a group of Christian young men and women would accept that we hopelessly need grace to be good even now, and that God is constantly showering that sanctifying, enabling grace on we who are His own. It is not about waving a magic wand whenever we think we need a dose of grace. Grace is divine, out of our control, and lavished on us all the time, or we'd go right back to being dead in our trespasses and sins. Consequently, besides singing about the grace that brought Christ to die, we need to celebrate the grace that lets Him live today, interceding and covering for us ~ the same grace that lets His Holy Spirit abide in us so that our works are not counted as filthy rags, but divinely pure robes. See, grace is not only for the good girl, it makes the good girl.
So, no, grace is not a magic ring or sword that we wield whenever we are trying to be good or trying to forget we are bad. That's still living by works. No, grace destroys the magic ring along with the suicidal sword, and instead gives us life. A life that is free, free, free! because God's gift of grace includes the making of a righteous soul.
Hold up, though! Anyone feeling queasy again? Anyone doing the Romans 6:15 squeam?* Yeah, I understand. Living by grace feels like someone took the rails off the railroad and left the train running at full speed to who knows where but no place good. I understand, really. But that is to see grace as license, not love. Remember what we said? Grace makes the good girl. Living by grace is more like chucking the train and buying a really really safe version of one of these babies. Grace may be scary, but it is safer, stronger, and ~ even better than a maglev system ~ it carries God's seal for operation and completion.
The railroad tracks of the law are, in all honesty, only as strong as you are. And you are pretty weak, if I do say so myself. Grace, however, is borne of a love that is as strong as the Lover, the Almighty Himself. His Love for His glory, His love for His name, His love for His Son, His love for you, and your Grace-bestowed love for Him are all in your favor. A person who is truly living by grace cannot help but be drawn to the ultimate Attractor, like a magnet is drawn to the loadstone rock. God is casting away the self-will of a stony heart and giving you the Godwill of a fleshy heart invaded by His Spirit. It is like staying married because you want to, not because you have to. Forced marriages find loopholes. Loving marriages only grow stronger.
Thus, nothing is more secure than grace. We will slip, but we are saints. We have old habits, but we are being made new. We are not yet perfect, but we are being perfected. "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). In short, living by law is betting on yourself. Living by grace is betting on God. Since I don't like risks, I am going to bet on God, on a divine love that inspires divine obedience. Sure, it means giving up on me completely, for salvation, for present goodness, for future perfection; but, hey, to live is Christ. And so, we can sing in praise for God's grace at all times, in unison with the Bride of the Song of all Songs:
"Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm,
For love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house,
He would be utterly despised....
Make haste, my Beloved, and be like a gazelle
Or a young stag on the mountains of spices."
Love is stronger than death, and floods cannot stop it.
"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).
*So what, I nouned an adjective. Sue me.