“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Grace is what I crave the most when I mess up the most. And yet, it’s often the very thing I’m the most hesitant to give when I’m confronted with the wrongdoing of others. God’s grace is for everyone- except, maybe, for those who have more than 15 items in the express lane or those who take all the M&Ms out of the trail mix.
All joking aside, justice is logical because it’s deserved. Grace, however, is unreasonable because it’s undeserved. That’s the struggle, the struggle for grace. When we are on the receiving end, grace is refreshing. When it’s required of us, it is often disturbing.
What is grace? It’s a gift – freely and graciously given.
In the New Testament, the same Greek word translated grace (χάρις) is the same word for gift. Grace is the gift of God as expressed in His actions of extending mercy, loving-kindness, and salvation to people. The Septuagint, (LXX/Greek translation of the OT Hebrew Scriptures) employs χάρις to translate the Hebrew root meaning favor. For example, Noah found favor before the Lord (Gen. 6:8); Jacob sought favor in the eyes of Esau (Gen. 32:5). Both the Hebrew favor and Greek grace are used in Scripture generally to indicate God’s free and unmerited gift toward mankind. God’s grace is a gift.
To see grace in focus, we must look to Jesus, God’s indescribable gift (2 Cor. 9:15). John, the friend and disciple of Jesus tells us He was and is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Not the balance between, but the embodiment of grace and truth. God’s grace is inseparable from his love expressed in Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3). John goes on to say that not only have we seen grace, but we have all received grace after grace from His fullness of grace and truth (John 1:16).
Jesus came to save sinful humanity because of God’s unreasonable grace. In Jesus there is no conflict between grace and truth. It is an artificial conflict that throws so much of Christianity into disarray. It’s our misunderstanding of grace, as modeled and taught by Jesus, that leaves us feeling as if grace allows people to “get by” with things. But grace doesn’t dumb down sin to make it more palatable. Grace doesn’t have to. Grace acknowledges the full implication of sin and yet it does not condemn.
We are surprised by the unreasonable grace of God. Only when we understand the full liability of sin can we fully appreciate the full worth of grace. You can no more deserve grace than you can plan your own surprise party. In the same way that planning voids the idea of surprise, so claiming to deserve grace or expecting grace voids the whole idea of grace. You can ask for it. You can plead for it. But the minute you think you deserve it, the it you think you deserve is no longer grace. It is something you have earned. But grace cannot be earned because what we have earned is separation from God – death.
Much of our confusion around grace stems from our confusion about sin. Simply put, we severely underestimate the impact of sin on our souls and in our world. According to the Genesis account, ALL of creation was affected. Everything and everyone has been poisoned by sin. In our modern world, we’ve substituted the term mistake for the Bible calls sin. As a result of sin, our vision of life has been impaired.
In the beginning, Adam blamed Eve and God for his troubles, and mankind has been blaming Him ever since (Genesis 3, Romans 5:12-14). In Psalm 143, David pleads for mercy from God acknowledging that, “no one alive is righteous in Your sight.” Paul clarifies that all have sinned and as a result all have earned physical and spiritual death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Because of sin, what we deserve is God’s judgment and eternal consequences. That’s why God’s grace is so surprising. With the knowledge and comprehension of what we deserve as fallen creatures, we are able to truly appreciate God’s gift of unreasonable grace through Christ taking our sin and it’s judgment.
We are saved by the unreasonable grace of God. “For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11). Forgiveness of sin and eternal life before a Holy God are not earned – ever. Only God’s grace has saving power because eternal life isn’t a reward for good people – it’s God’s unreasonable gift to forgiven people. What ever you think you owe God, He paid it. Whatever you think God owes you, you don’t deserve it. So the most important question for anyone is, Have you ever received God’s gift of eternal life by placing your faith in Christ’s death as the full and final payment for your sin?
When Jesus appeared on earth, He was a full-bodied boy (Philippians 2:7), and yet was still the Eternal Son of God. John tells us that He came so that all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, would have the right to be children of God (John 1:12). At the end of John’s Gospel, he stated that he wrote all these things so that “by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31).
We are sustained by the unreasonable grace of God. The gift of God’s grace that saves us is the same grace that sustains us. We see in the historical genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17) that God sustains and empowers His redeemed people even in their weaknesses. Beyond establishing Jesus as the rightful heir of Israel, Matthew identifies the weak, imperfect, sinful men and women who were saved and sustained by God’s grace. The same grace the shepherds celebrated in the crèche and the grace soldiers witnessed on the cross will be the grace that carries us each day.
Over the last 3 weeks, our family has suffered heart-ache upon heart-ache after a serious motorcycle accident of my brother-in-law, Jeff. We were with my wife’s sister, Debbie, and niece, Kaelyn most of Thanksgiving week. On Saturday, December 1, Jeff died and left a wife a young widow and a 19-year old daughter fatherless. Their future is uncertain and their lives are devastated. But the God that saved Jeff from His sins and gave Him eternal life by grace is the same God that will sustain them by grace.
The grace of God is the life of our Savior that surges through the souls of believers to sustain us through those things that will not or cannot change. The grace of God is a constant reminder of the presence of God. Paul records the promise of Jesus, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness”(2 Corinthians 12:9-10). God’s gracious gift is the gift of His presence in our lives and the power that fills us as a result. Because of His grace, Paul says, “I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9b-10)
We are sent out by the unreasonable grace of God. The final words of Jesus to His disciples echo the fullness of His grace and truth. “Go,” He said to them, “make disciples.” (Matthew 28:19-21). How were they to go? In the same way that He lived – full of grace and truth. “You will be my witnesses…” He said (Acts 1:8). How? Sharing the grace they had received. The church of Jesus Christ is most appealing to the world when the message of grace is most apparent. The church is most effective when grace is most evident. Grace is not a gift to be received and hoarded selfishly, it is a gift to be given and extended to others generously.
Grace has two sides: It is gift to be received. It is a gift to be given. The two are connected, but in this case, giving is much harder than receiving. When extending grace to others seems unreasonable, it’s then, however, that we begin to understand that God’s grace given to us that is unreasonable.
Who are the people to whom you have a hard time extending grace? Whose demise do you secretly celebrate? Who do you wish would get what you think they have coming to them? Let’s start with large groups: rich people? Poor people? White people? Black people? Hispanic people? Skinny people? Republicans? Democrats? Okay, let’s narrow it down a little bit. What about your sister-in-law? Or your brother-in-law who divorced your sister and walked away from your niece or nephew? What about your ex-boss? Ex-husband? Ex-wife? Who in your life needs a freely given, unreasonable gift of grace this Christmas?
As we celebrate the Christmas season, we realize the greatest gift wasn’t placed under a tree but was hung on a tree and resurrected the third day. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift. Praise Him for His unreasonable grace!
And one day, when we’ve been there ten thousand years bright shining as the sun; we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun. Amazing Grace.