Have you ever listened to a sermon and found yourself thinking that something just wasn’t sitting quite right? Perhaps some aspect of the message contained obvious errors, or maybe you were experiencing some Spirit-guided discernment.
Years ago I was listening to a message on grace being given by a young pastor. At the time I wasn’t able to articulate my concern, but something about it didn’t feel right even though his perspective was typical of the standard Christian teaching of the day. Just a few years later that young man was no longer in ministry, having divorced his faithful wife who had borne him three beautiful children. There was something about Christianity that he didn’t quite get.
Grace is one of the most significant, and yet most misunderstood, concepts of Christianity. If we don’t get grace, we’ll find ourselves continually sloshing through spiritual muck, viewing life as a heavy chore. Far too many of us see Christianity primarily as a list of burdensome rules that we need to trudgingly follow in order to appease an angry God. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Really, it doesn’t.
Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as in the entire world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, so it has also been bearing fruit and growing among you from the first day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth. Colossians 1:5-7 (NET)
Do you see it? Truly understanding grace is a prerequisite for spiritual growth. But one of the biggest mistakes Christians (like the young pastor I mentioned above) make with regard to grace is that they see it through only a one-dimensional lens. The Bible teaches in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace (God’s unmerited gift of favor that we can do absolutely nothing to earn) and not by works. This is entirely true, but God’s amazing grace is even more than unmerited favor!
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 1 Peter 4:10 (NASB)
Peter is telling us that God’s grace is multifaceted. Twenty years ago when I first began to intently study grace, it seemed as though unmerited favor was the sum total of how the church defined the concept. Only with extra effort was I able to find a few commentators who described grace as a form of empowerment freely given by God to humanity. Thankfully, the tide has begun to turn–and none too soon. Many more Christian leaders are beginning to grasp the empowering nature of grace.
As an example, the chárisma (gifts of the Holy Spirit) are grace gifts that we do not deserve, but that empower us to do things we would never be able to humanly do apart from God. In a very real sense grace is the life-flow of God that enables humans to do whatever God calls them to do. In this we can find various expressions of grace such as grace for giving, grace for service and grace to overcome the power of sin.
It’s the missing link of this last aspect of grace, the power to reign over sin, that hinders so many professing Christians from growing to spiritual maturity. Try reading Romans 5:15 – 6:12 and substituting the phrase “the power of God to overcome sin and live the Christian life” wherever the word “grace” is mentioned. You’ll find that more times than not this definition is an excellent fit for what Paul was trying to communicate to his readers–that grace isn’t an excuse to sin, but rather the power to reign over sin. You see, salvation (and therefore grace) isn’t just about being forgiven and going to heaven. God’s desire is to free us from both the power and the penalty of sin.
Got Grace? There isn’t anything God calls us to do that He doesn’t provide the grace (ability) for us to actually do it. We desperately need to let the reality of the manifold nature of grace permeate our hearts and minds. If we do, we’ll never be the same!