One of the most misunderstood concepts in the church is grace. I’ve seen many flowery and convoluted definitions of this word which betray its simple and profound meaning.
Grace is favour!
It means more simply “an approving attitude; good will.”
Grace is not merited!
Merit means a “claim to respect and praise; excellence; worth.“
When it is explained that God has restored our relationship with by grace, it means that God decided that he approves of us and takes pleasure in us. There is nothing we have done to earn it or deserve it.
From our vantage point it seems as though there is an ebb and flow to our relationship with God. It feels like we lose his favour when we indulge in pride, selfishness or envy. If we stray too far we lose our usefulness to God and his agenda and we become worthless and if we become too worthless, then God must, in his holiness take harsh measures to give us the punishment we deserve. In some twisted way we believe God’s favour is unearned, by his disfavour is completely earned.
Many assume that we can become like God by knowing God’s character and expectations and striving to live up to them. Some are more nuanced in that they see God’s grace as his spiritual power strengthening us to live better in order to please him.
I think there is a better path, one that is less traveled. One that involves a lot less striving and lot more transformation. It comes from knowing God’s love and importantly our own sense of worth to God. This is the one great lesson I’ve learned in my years. Once I came to know the great value God places on my life it began to infect the way I saw myself and everyone else. All of the sudden I came to appreciate God so much more and I came to appreciate what he appreciated. With all that acceptance and love I came to know love for others in deep and profound ways. While I can’t proclaim that I like everyone, knowing God’s love for very unlikable people has given me incredible patience and mercy for people.
Knowing God’s love and the inherent worthiness of everyone around me regardless of the choices they make has changed my perception and values. I don’t steal from people because I care about them, not because I’m striving to live up to some standard. It isn’t even a decision I have to make, I just care. People matter to me even when they treat me like garbage.
In this path the great obstacle is shame. No amount of sin can separate me from the love of God, but my personal response to my sin can lead me to retreat from the light in to blindness and darkness. God is always there but I grow callous and insensitive. Shame is a personal sense of unworthiness. If I feel unworthy then I hide and the more I invest my personal resources in hiding how truly unworthy I become the more I begin to fear the light. Instead of embracing the God of light I hide from him and then begin to strive to make myself worthy which inevitably ends in failure and more shame. The cycle continues. This is the life most Christians live, and the concept of salvation is just a free ticket in to heaven instead of something much more transformative.
I have stopped trying to be a good Christian and I simply believe that God has deemed me and everyone else worthy of His love. As that truth penetrates my heart and mind I end up doing and saying things that I never would have if I was striving to live up to a standard.