This article appeared in The Southeast Outlook. I am humbled.
Have you ever struggled with grace? I do at times and I’ve been a Christian most of my life. I came to know Jesus as my personal savior when I was eleven years old. I was raised in church. I went to Sunday School, VBS and all the extra meetings in between. I knew all about God and Jesus. I heard all the Bible stories while growing up. I was well versed in the ways of churchdom.
But don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to give you the impression that I was a saint. During my teen years, I was rebellious. I remember coming home many nights after partying with my friends. I would sit on my bed smoking a cigarette, flipping through the pages of my Bible-The Way -which was the Bible to read back in the day if you were young. I remember praying; thanking God for my salvation through Jesus. I told Him I loved Him, and I would serve Him…one day, but not just yet. I had parties to attend and friends to hang with, but not to worry. I would be all in…one day.
That paragraph may be the very definition of grace. God didn’t turn His back on me then in all my teenage audacity. That is unconditional, unfailing love from a compassionate and merciful Father. I could stop right here, grace defined, but let’s talk a little more about grace.
After all these years, I still don’t fully understand grace. I get the concept. I know that Jesus paid a price for all mankind; those who have gone before us, and those yet to be born. I know that grace is unmerited favor with God. I didn’t earn it. I don’t deserve it. Grace is a gift freely given by the Father, because of the sacrifice of the Son.
Wikipedia defines grace as ‘…the divine influence which operates in humans to regenerate and sanctify, and to impart strength to endure trial and resist temptation; and as an individual virtue or excellence of divine origin”.
That definition sounds very ethereal, like it’s not even attainable by humans. And that sort of makes sense to me because grace is in total opposition of how we live today. Our worthiness is based on what we do and who we are, or better yet, who others think we are and who we present to the world via our social media feeds. In a nutshell, our worthiness depends on us and has little to do with grace.
We learn at an early age that we need to measure up. There is a standard; an unspoken set of rules (or sometimes spoken) about what we need to do, or be, or achieve, to be worthy, to be enough to deserve all the things we have or are trying to become.
Even when I come face-to-face with grace, like those times as a teen, or these days, when I catch a tiny glimpse of what grace really is, when I feel the overwhelming love of God that leaves me in awe, my thinking eventually goes back to; “Am I enough”? Like my value depends on me.
I listen as others talk around the topic of grace. It almost seems as if we reserve grace for the “churchy” aspects of our lives, that it doesn’t fit into everyday living. I can only conclude that we don’t understand the magnitude of that one small word.
I read Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman, the senior pastor of Southeast Christian Church when it was published. That book was a hard read for me. It’s grace, right? Why should that be a hard subject to read about? But it was. I would read a small section and then I would have to step away in order to grasp what I had just read and how it impacts my life as a child of God. Don’t get me wrong, Grace is Greater helped shed some light on the topic, but for me, I always (unconsciously) go back to core beliefs about who I think I am. And when that happens, I never measure up. There’s always someone better, stronger, smarter…
Sometimes I compare the other way. I might find a person who isn’t doing life as well as I did in one area or another. There’s danger in comparing. For one thing, it simply isn’t true. I don’t know what I think I know. I only know what I see, and I assume the rest. And for another thing, that’s not how my Father operates or wants me to conduct my life. He doesn’t compare me to someone else in a negative or positive way. If He isn’t comparing us to each other then why do we?
Maybe understanding what grace isn’t has helped me better understand what grace is. When I have questions about grace, I stop trying to figure it out and simply put my trust in the One who is Higher than I, the One who is Holy. The One who is all-knowing, and unconditionally loving– ALWAYS.
I once heard Chip Ingram in one of his broadcasts on Living on the Edge, say this about grace; “Perhaps it (grace) describes everything God is, in every work that Jesus did on the cross on our behalf”. It still doesn’t totally define grace, but it helps me to rest in Him.
I located Grace is Greater from my bookshelf recently and thumbed through it to see what stood out at me when I read the book in 2017 – what I had highlighted and underlined. Although Idleman doesn’t really define the word, what he says paints a beautiful picture of grace. I found these excerpts in the introduction of the book Grace is Greater. “I tend to think grace is best and most fully understood not by way of explanation alone but through experience.” And this; “Jesus, on the other hand, never used the word grace. Instead he showed us what it looked like.”
When I don’t totally get this thing called grace, maybe all I really need to do is look to the cross and see the pain and suffering Jesus experienced for me and for you, knowing that He chose to endure the shame and bare the sin of the world in that small span of time, so we could live with Him forever. I can choose to believe what the Bible says about grace and learn by experience. Looking at the cross helps me better understand how that one small word makes all the difference.