What is the point of God’s grace? I mean, it means so many wonderful things that it would take a book as long as . . . well, as long as the Bible, to explain it all. But what’s the underlying point? The Big Cheese? The bit we can bite into and hang on until we can understand all the rest?
As I have said before, I believe the point of grace is (as I heard from a minister) God’s overwhelming desire to treat you and me as if sin had never happened.
This truth is something I have basked in for a long time; something I have studied and studied, trying to search out its depths. But one characteristic of grace is that it’s bottomless. God will never run out of it and never stop extending it to us. The scripture says it endures forever; it’s new every morning; that God always gives us more grace; grace upon grace.
I think of grace, in its practical application, as God’s forgiveness mixed with His favor and blessing. It’s like a huge Heavenly soup: you can’t separate those ingredients. And whenever I feel stretched thin and dissatisfied with life and with myself, I open my Bible and think about that forgiveness. I turn to passages that remind me how unconditional my Father’s love is. This reminds me that I have His favor, which I will never deserve and yet will always have. This in turn reminds me of His blessing—that is, that no matter how much I have messed up lately, no matter how wrong I feel inside, God is still going to extend His hands and pour out unexpected gifts into my daily life, if I will let Him. He is still moving me along in His plan for me, and always ready to greet me with a smile.
But how can He greet me if I won’t come to Him? And even this morning, after all this time as a student of grace, I felt uncomfortable when speaking with the Lord. I felt, even after repenting of all the resentment and doubt I had wallowed in earlier, that I was still unclean inside. Somehow, I just had to get myself ready to spend time with Jesus. Get cleaned up somehow.
How could I think that way? I know Jesus! He went to heal lepers who lay in gutters, with their noses and fingers falling off. No stench or horrible spectacle was enough to deter Him. He treasures the very worst of us. He took the festering carcass of humanity into His loving arms, and healed us. And what’s more, He promised me that I am wrapped in robes of righteousness. He promised to see me that way forever. He promised that if I come BOLDLY to the throne of GRACE, I will obtain MERCY and find GRACE to help me in my time of need. And what time, I ask you, is more a time of need than the times when we’ve messed up? Those are the times this gift of grace was meant for.
Instead, I cowered before God’s throne. I couldn’t make myself ask the Lord for the things I wanted. (It feels selfish to ask for that blessing . . . those ugly thoughts I had about my loved ones; just felt so bitter . . . not sure where my life is going; what happened to that faith I had yesterday . . . geez, I am so stupid, why didn’t I spend more time praying this morning . . .)
I truly believe that the Christian life is a constant bloody struggle between the grace of God and the condemnation of the devil. You can expect this duel between two mighty forces to show up in some large or small way, every single day of your life. Now, it is certainly true that Grace (God’s forgiveness and undeserved favor) is more powerful than any arrow of accusation Satan can shoot at you. It’s true that grace always wins in the end. After all, do you think there will be any guilty consciences in Heaven? Of course not! But, unless I miss my guess, you are not reading this from Heaven. You are here on the Earth, just like me. You might still be feeling the old sting of reproach about something you said to someone a decade ago, or you may be thinking about recurrent faults, e.g. maybe you’re always late for engagements and you feel like a loser who will never get ahead. Here on Earth, there are times when we ask forgiveness for our ocean of faults and trespasses, and yet thoughts of self-rebuke come immediately afterward. Now, I want to tell you something about those thoughts. Read my lips: They. Are. From. Hell.
Do you think God would keep pestering you after your repentance, when He promised that He is faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness? No. He NEVER breaks His promises. EVER. And He would never call you a loser. If you feel like one, you know where those feelings come from (hint: not from Heaven). No, God not only forgives us completely, but empowers us to leave those bad memories and bad habits behind. Whenever we get behavioral correction from the Lord, it always builds us up; never tears us down. (Three guesses what I call this empowerment . . . yup, I call it More Grace.)
Back to the epic battle between Grace and condemnation. The truth is, although Grace is by far the greater power, it’s up to you to decide which of them wins in your own life. In life, we make missteps, and we think about them afterward. Waking up in the morning, hanging up the telephone, exiting the movie theater, clearing the dining table, sitting behind the car wheel, sliding into bed at night. It’s tempting to feel like a fool, a failure, a rebel, or somebody who never learns from their mistakes.
At these times, you have a choice to make. Will you beat yourself up; try to punish yourself? Will you let the guilt consume you? Will you let the devil’s condemnation curse your life?
Or will you accept God’s forgiveness? Will you forgive yourself? Will you dare to ask the Lord for His blessing?
I will help you out with this one. CHOOSE LIFE. (Deuteronomy 30:19!). That’s an order. Choose grace.
To conclude the anecdote about my experiences this morning, I will say that I had enough sense to run to the Word of God to sort out my confusion. I decided to read Philippians 4:6-7, but instead of starting in verse 6, my eyes fell on verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
In the past, I always skimmed over this verse in a hurry to get to my favorite part of the chapter. I would respond, “Yes, I agree, whenever things go badly, rejoice, and miracles will happen, yup.” But this time, it hit me in the face. BOOM. Rejoice always.
Always is not just talking about tough circumstances, like when friends turn on you or when someone keys your new car. “Always” means AT ALL TIMES. Including the times when you mess up! Including the times when the problems are your fault! When we sin, God doesn’t want us to wallow in guilt. He wants us to rejoice! Why? Because we’re forgiven. We don’t have to live with that self-scorn anymore. We are allowed to be happy. God said so. Memorize the R.R.R.: Repent, Receive forgiveness, Rejoice.
So I am rejoicing. I’m not groveling at God’s shoestrings. I’m looking Him straight in the eye, thankful for my undeserved favor with Him, ready to receive the boatload of blessings He’s about to pour on me. I am one great big huge piece of FORGIVEN!