Friday, December 2, 2011

What is Grace?

(Compiled from several different authors, primarily Joseph Prince and Tullian Tchividjian.)

There is a story about a man standing at the gates of heaven waiting to be admitted. To the man’s utter shock, Peter said, “You have to have earned a thousands points to be admitted to heaven. What have you done to earn your points?”
“I’ve never heard that before: but I think I’ll do alright. I was raised in a Christian home and have always been a part of the church. I have Sunday school attendance pins that go down the floor. I went to a Christian college and graduate school and have probably led hundreds of people to Christ. I’m now an elder in my church and am quite supportive of what the people of God do. I have three children, two boys and a girl. My oldest boy is a pastor and the younger is a staff person with a ministry to the poor. My daughter and her husband are missionaries. I have always tithed and am now giving well over 30% of my income to God’s work. I’m a bank executive and work with the poor in our city trying to get low income mortgages.”
“How am I doing so far”, he asked Peter.
“That’s one point,” Peter said. “What else have you done?”
“Good Lord…have mercy!” the man said in frustration.
“That’s it!” Peter said. “Welcome home.”
This is a silly illustration the writer ended by saying, “Teach the law. The Psalmist called it perfect. Teach it until people recognize their inability to keep it and cry out for mercy…Mercy always comes running.”

1.               Grace is mercy.
The law exists to crush any sense that “we can get ‘er done.” Regardless of how well I think I’m doing in the sanctification project or how much progress I think I’ve made since I first became a Christian, when God’s perfect law becomes the standard and not “how much I’ve improved over the years”, I realize that I’m a lot worse than I fancy myself to be. Whatever I think my greatest vice is, God’s law shows me that my situation is much graver: if I think it’s anger, the law shows me that it’s actually murder; if I think it’s lust, the law shows me that it’s actually adultery; if I think it’s impatience, the law shows me that it’s actually idolatry (read Matthew 5:17-48). The law shows us that our best is never good enough. Even the best things we do have something in them to be pardoned. The law smashes our “rose-colored glasses” view of ourselves. No matter how decent I think I’m becoming, when I’m graciously confronted by God’s law, I can’t help but cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Romans 7:24). The law alone shows us how desperate we are for outside help.
After the law does its crushing work, however, we are then able (like Paul) to break out into the song of freedom–the laughter of the redeemed: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord…There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 7:25-8:1). It’s only when we come to the end of ourselves that we come to the beginning of God’s grace–which yields bona fide freedom! We will always be suspicious of grace until we realize our desperate need for it (“Wretched man that I am!”). Desperate people love grace. Deceived people (i.e., those who think they’re basically “making it”) fear it. Those who know (and I mean really know!) just how much they’ve been forgiven, love much (Luke 7:47).
The reason Paul breaks out into loud praise is because he knows that the determining factor in his relationship with God is not his obedience (the law showed him how bad he was at this) but Christ’s obedience for him. He finds great freedom knowing that his standing with God is not based on his struggle for Jesus (he fought the law and the law won), but Jesus’ struggle for him–that God doesn’t relate to us based on our feats for Jesus but Jesus’ feats for us.
The law reveals how quick we are to run from God; the gospel reveals how quick God is to run after us.
So, “Cheer up; you’re a lot worse off than you think you are, but in Jesus you’re far more loved than you could have ever imagined.”
Romans 4:5 talks about faith that believes God justifies the ungodly. When you believe that God justifies the ungodly, it will give you boldness to come to God, even when you feel unclean because you have just blown it.
When you fail, don’t run away from God. Run boldly to Him, knowing that you are justified by the blood of Christ and not by your behavior.

2.       Grace is unconditional.
There’s nothing more difficult for us to get our minds around than the unconditional grace of God; it offends our deepest sensibilities.  We understand conditions. Conditionality makes sense. Unconditionality on the other hand is incomprehensible to us. We are so conditioned against unconditionality because we are told in a thousand different ways that accomplishment precedes acceptance; that achievement precedes approval.
Everything in our world demands two way love. Everything’s conditional: if you achieve only then will you receive meaning, security, respect, love and so on. But grace is otherworldly because it’s unconditional–it is one way love: Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable.

3.       Grace is shocking.
The gospel of justification by faith is such a shocker, such an explosion, because it is an absolutely unconditional promise. It is not an “if-then” kind of statement, but a “because-therefore” pronouncement: because Jesus died and rose, your sins are forgiven and you are righteous in the sight of God! It bursts in upon our little world all shut up and barricaded behind our accustomed conditional thinking as some strange comet from goodness-knows-where, something we can’t really seem to wrap our minds around, the logic of which appears closed to us. How can it be entirely unconditional? Isn’t it terribly dangerous? How can anyone say flat out, “You are righteous for Jesus’ sake? Is there not some price to be paid, some-thing (however minuscule) to be done? After all, there can’t be such thing as a free lunch, can there?”

4.       Grace is to be cross-conscious.
1 Corinthians 2:2
2For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
To be cross-conscious is to see Jesus, who loves you so much that He willingly died for you on the cross. To be cross-conscious is to look to Jesus, who offered His own body to be punished, so that your body can be free from all punishment.
To be cross-conscious is to fix your eyes on Jesus, who has provided for your deliverance and victory at the cross. At the cross, all your enemies were vanquished. All your diseases were destroyed. Your poverty was removed at the cross. Your sins were wiped out at the cross.

5.       Grace is NOT religion.
I've discovered that religion is man's poor attempt to make himself feel responsible for that which Christ alone can/could accomplish.  Papa (our Father) is not about rules and regulations, but His own Word reveals that He is all about freedom from such.  I find that religion cannot exist apart from those rules, whether they be mandated, implied, or simply expected.  

Religion is the greatest enemy of grace because it exists in a culture where the currency of survival is performance.

Life is, quite simply, all about a relationship with Him, in which rules do not even exist.  Love does not need them, much less impose them on another.

6.       Grace is unmerited favor.
God loves to bless you. He has even declared that “blessings shall come upon you and overtake you”. This means that you can’t run fast enough to escape them! When you turn one corner, there is a blessing waiting for you. When you turn another corner, you run smack into another blessing!
Now, you may think that you don’t qualify for God’s blessings because the Bible says that these blessings will come to pass only if you diligently obey God’s voice and keep all of His commandments. You know that no matter how hard you try, you just cannot keep all of God’s commandments. In fact, the Bible says that if you fail to keep just one commandment, you fail to keep all. (James 2:10)
I have good news for you: Jesus is the one who qualifies us for every single blessing because He has kept all of God’s commandments. When He died for us on the cross, He not only fulfilled all of God’s commandments, He also redeemed us from the curse of the law. (Galatians 3:13) Note that He did not redeem us from the blessings of the law, so the blessings are still ours today!

7.       Grace IS the Gospel
The grace of God stands in a category all by itself.  There’s nothing to compare with it because there’s nothing else like it in time or eternity. Grace is expression of the complete goodness of Pure Love toward those who have done nothing and never can do anything to deserve it or reciprocate for it. Either grace is a unilateral (one-way) act or it’s not grace. The minute we think we owe anything for it, we have insulted both the gift and the giver. Those who spend their lives “trying to pay Him back for all He has done for me” will spend a lifetime unwittingly insulting the One they most want to please.

Grace throws parties for returning prodigals without saying a word about their sins. Grace pays everybody the same regardless of what time of day they began to work. Grace restores dignity to whores that everybody else wants to stone. Grace hugs the diseased leper (or AIDS patient) that nobody else wants to touch. Grace looks past a person’s behavior and sees the person for who they are in the eyes of God.

Grace is irrational to the thinker. It is unfair to the judge. Grace is foolishness to the achiever. It is a waste to the selfish. Grace is a mistake to the disciplinarian. It is shame to the religionist.

But it is a stream of water to the thirsty. It’s freedom to the imprisoned. It is life to the dead. Grace is rest to the tired. It is another chance to the failed. It is hope to the despondent. It is a way out for the lost and a way in for those who can see the Door.

Grace. It’s not a theological premise. It’s not a doctrine. It’s not a philosophy. It’s not something to be balanced with anything else. It’s not even the most important thing. It’s The One Thing – The Only Thing. It’s a Person – a Person who has held you in His heart before the first molecule existed and One who will never let you go. 

Contrary to what we conclude naturally, the gospel is not too good to be true. It is true! No strings attached. No but’s. No conditions. No need for balance. If you’re a Christian, you are right now under the completely sufficient imputed righteousness of Christ. Your pardon is full and final. In Christ, you’re forgiven. You’re clean. It is finished.