Grace is a tricky word.
In the Church, grace has often been used to mean something it does not in fact mean. It’s like that line from “The Princess Bride” when Vizzinni keeps saying “Inconceivable!” Inigo stops and looks at Vizzinni and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
It’s a classic movie line.
But the truth is that we in the Church have thrown around the word grace and the way we use it is often different depending on the situation. For example, we have said so much that God gives grace that we frankly don’t even know what it means anymore.
And so grace becomes a euphemism for freedom to do whatever I want or licentiousness, to use a fancy shmancy word.
But what I’m learning is that grace is so much more than I had ever dreamed. Specifically, God’s grace is so much more than I had known but had always dreamed it was.
Let me explain.
I was raised in a religious culture that was entirely works based. Before I go further, please do not read this as some sort of indictment on the character of my parents. They were and are good and godly people who did their best with what they knew and with the wild kid I was. I’m not talking about my parents specifically; I’m talking about the religious culture.
So let me go back. I was raised in a religious culture that was entirely works based. It was all about what you did to find your way to God, what you did to choose to believe and how you acted once you made that choice.
Does anyone but me see a problem with this? Look back at that sentence. The name of God was used once but the word ‘you’ was used four times. I did that on purpose to prove a point. The religious culture I was raised in was all about you at its most basic level. You had to earn God’s love.
Oh, no one dared say that. But it was implied in everything that was done. You made the decision to follow Jesus; you made a public profession of faith; you stopped drinking and cussing; you stopped sleeping around; you, you, you.
There was no space given for those who failed. There was no space for those who were sinners. There was no space for God. There was no grace. I can look back at that now and see the damage it caused me spiritually. God was not a loving Abba. He was not gracious. He was a taskmaster that wanted to take all my fun away and would send me screaming straight to hell if I stepped out of line or watched an rated R movie.
This is completely antithetical to the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ is that you don’t have to clean up. You come to Jesus just as you are, helpless and messy with a hangover and a cigarette dangling from your mouth, still smelling like the club you just left. You throw yourself on his chest sobbing and scream out, “I can’t do this anymore!” And He washes you off and holds you tight and wipes your tears and says, “I know you can’t. Let me.”
This is the gospel.
This is grace.
When we were at our worst, when we ARE, right now, at our worst, Jesus loves us. He wants you in all your mess to come to Him. Read the gospel accounts. How many people who “had their shit together” did Jesus go out of His way to show love to?! He blasted those guys, calling them white washed tombs, vipers and sons of hell!
The beauty of God’s grace is that it takes literally no effort whatsoever from you. You get it, as a gift in Jesus! Let me say that another way if you didn’t hear me. It’s free!! God’s grace to you costs you nothing; it is freely given in Jesus.
I’ve just finished an astonishing book. I literally have been weeping at times reading this book at the staggering love and grace of God portrayed so beautifully by the author Brennan Manning. It has given me new hope! The Spirit has used this book to again press into my heart what His Word already says, that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever would believe should have everlasting life!
Did you see that?! You don’t need to clean up. You don’t need to be perfect. Jesus is already perfect; just trust in Him! Here’s an excerpt from Manning’s book, “The Ragamuffin Gospel.”
“Perhaps the supreme achievement of the Holy Spirit in the life of ragamuffins is the miraculous movement from self-rejection to self-acceptance. It is not based on therapy or the power of positive thinking; it is anchored in their personal experience of the acceptance of Jesus Christ. They are not saints, but they seek spiritual growth. They accept counsel and constructive criticism with ease. They stumble often, but they do not spend endless hours in self-recrimination. They quickly repent, offering the broken moments to the Lord. Their past has been crucified with Christ and no longer exists, except in the deep recesses of eternity. Immersed in the sinful human condition, the ragamuffin struggles to be faithful to Jesus. Taking up the cross of his wounded self each day, he battles with fatigue, loneliness, failure, depression, rejection, and the sting of discovering untrustworthiness in the person he thought most trustworthy. The ragamuffin road always leads to Calvary.” (Italics mine)
Read that again. And again.
Now read Jesus’ words from St. Matthew’s gospel, chapter 11:28-30,
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (NASB)
Is this the Jesus you know, friends? Is He, in your mind and heart, gentle and humble? Does He offer Himself to you freely? If not, it may be that you don’t know the actual Jesus.
Abba’s grace is so much more than you can imagine. Look to Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!