For I have a strong desire to see you, and to give you some grace of the spirit, so that you may be made strong. (BBE Romans 1:11)Grace doesn’t make us soft—it makes us strong; it strengthens, builds up, and establishes us.
I remember one time a dear saint came to me after one of my presentations and, with great concern, said emphatically, “Herb, I appreciated your passion, but you must be careful. Please don’t make God out to be too good!” When I questioned what was meant by this, the concern boiled down simply to this: if we focus too much on God’s grace, loose living will be the result.
I can appreciate this concern. But it comes from a long history, not of focusing too much on God’s grace, but of not truly understanding and focusing on God’s grace clearly enough.
Let me explain.
The Christianity of the Middle Ages, honestly, was just flat-out awful. When those whom Christ called “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) came to power, history refers to that time as the Dark Ages. God’s grace, during this era, was expensive. God’s grace was obtained only by human effort, ways that included, but weren’t limited to, even self-inflicted physical abuse and sometimes literally paying money for it. (God’s grace was turned into a gross fundraiser for the church.) Thus, grace was expensive.
Then came the reformation. (And please forgive me.) But the reformation did not always produce good fruit, either! Although the reformation included steps in a good direction, those steps did not go far enough. The cry of the reformation was simply that God’s grace was not that difficult to obtain. All you had to was “repent” or “believe” or “say a sinner’s prayer.” But honestly, this simply made God’s grace less expensive. It still left God’s grace as something to be obtained by human effort; it just required a lot less effort. Therefore, God’s grace became cheaper, or simply cheap.
The temptation of many today (like the dear sister that I mentioned above) is to take God’s grace away from the abuses of the reformation and move it backwards toward the Dark Ages and make it expensive again. Some very honest souls believe that this will make God’s grace more appreciated. But this is the exact OPPOSITE of what is needed. The reformation wasn’t the wrong direction; it was simply that the good news of God’s grace wasn’t taken far enough.
God’s grace is neither expensive nor cheap. It’s Free!! And when a soul truly understands all of the love, grace, forgiveness, acceptance, favor (and, dare I say, even justification) that exists in the heart of God before you repent, before you believe, before you ask or receive, only then will the human heart be filled with deep appreciation and gratitude. Only then will God become our only concern. Only then will the gross, egocentric concern with gaining heaven or escaping hell be replaced with “no longer living for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15). Only then will conversion from egocentricity, even in our religion, to other-centered love truly take place in the human heart.
We must see the grace of God for what it is! Before you even desire God in your heart you are already in the heart of God. Contrary to the popular hymn, before you even take “one step toward the Savior, my friend” his arms are already “open wide!”
This understanding will not lead to loose living. Truly, this prevenient love in the heart of our God is the only power that can really change the self-centeredness so deeply rooted in each of our hearts.
The plants and flowers grow not by their own care or anxiety or effort, but by receiving that which God has furnished for their life. The child cannot, by any anxiety or power of its own, add to its stature. No more can you, by anxiety or effort of yourself, secure spiritual growth. The plant and the child grow by receiving from their surroundings that which ministers to their life—air, sunshine, and food. What these gifts of nature are to animal and plant, such is Christ to those who trust in Him. He is their “everlasting light,” “a sun and shield” (Isaiah 60:19; Psalm 84:11). He shall be as “the dew unto Israel”; “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass” (Hosea 14:5; Psalm 72:6). He is the living water, “the Bread of God . . . which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:33).
In the matchless gift of His Son, God has encircled the whole world with an atmosphere of grace as real as the air which circulates around the globe. All who choose to breathe this life-giving atmosphere will live and grow into the stature of men and women in Christ Jesus.
As the flower turns to the sun so that the bright beams may aid in perfecting its beauty and symmetry, so should we turn to the Sun of Righteousness, that heaven’s light may shine upon us, that our character may be developed into the likeness of Christ (White, Steps to Christ, pp. 67, 68)
God’s grace is already encircling you, dear reader, as real as the air you breathe. I guess the real question is not how to obtain it then, but rather, will you simply open your lungs and breathe? BREATHE! And watch the transformation that miraculously happens.
I wish you God’s best this week.