“From the fullness of Christ we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16
This verse is the foundation for GraceWaves. It summarizes so beautifully some of the themes of grace that are central to understanding and relating to God. Jesus came to show us God’s grace. As we are still near the beginning of the New Year, I thought this would be a good opportunity to review some of the basics of grace.
First, grace is action. It’s the removal of sin (one of the Greek words for forgiveness is built on the root word for grace). It’s the binding up of wounds and caring for the man waylaid on the road to Jericho. It’s paying the last hired the same as the first hired. It’s the cross. Grace is always action.
This distinction differentiates grace from love. Love is more of the force, the divine energy that catalyzes the action of grace. God IS love, and because God is love, God does things for us. In fact, He’s constantly trying to improve our lives.
The same is true in any healthy relationship. Leslie loves me, of course, but I see her love for me by all the things she does to make me feel her love. Grace makes love concrete and makes people around the agent of grace better.
That God is eternally, and moment by moment, trying to impart His life-changing grace to us is a point repeatedly emphasized throughout the Bible. So as you begin this New Year, simply accept the truth that God is on your side. That cannot be changed. God is trying every moment to bring something good into your life.
This active goodness of God is what makes grace so puzzling and confounding. Most people don’t trust grace and ALL people struggle with the concept regularly. At some level we’re suspicious of grace, feeling that if grace applies then we’ll all misbehave terribly.
This misconception brings us to the contrast between grace and law. Law does constrain behavior to an extent, for breaking the law sounds life a fundamentally fearful thing. That’s why some religious types can be so very good in the very worst sense of the word. A man who is thoroughly sold on law alone inevitably becomes judgmental and condemning for a focus on the law always ends up being a focus on self, and the self’s ability, strength, and commitment to fulfill the law. It’s a classic ego move.
Grace, by contrast, always focuses on God. Further, only grace, ONLY GRACE, truly changes a person, for it works from the inside out. Law attempts its work from the outside in and always fails. It can create the appearance of holiness, but a law-oriented person retains a fundamental fear that he will break the law and thus offend God. In the love/grace construct “perfect love casts out fear.” Grace creates security.
So be secure this New Year. Whatever you fear, you can trust to God. Anything.
I want to close with an idea that has has taken more form in my mind over the decades. It seems I have a bent to grace, if you will. As far back as I can remember grace has resonated with me, and even “made sense.” Additionally, I’m often puzzled by the number of Christians that struggle with the concept. I’ve seen a lot of fear in Christians, the antithesis of grace.
I’ve come to the conclusion that grace was modeled for me from an early age. My adoption, I think, set a tone. I was loved and chosen, and told so over and over. I remember my parents as smiling people. I felt secure, from before my first consciousness.
I think also that the ministers in my life modeled grace, chiefly Bro. J. K. Pierce of my home church, and a man I still consider the pastor in my life. And in seminary I heard grace taught, and my studies of Greek confirmed my experience.
What I had modeled for me in my life, many people have missing from theirs. We certainly get our fist theology from our parents and early childhood experiences continue to shape our views of God. Frankly, I’ve worked with so many folks with fractured pasts that it doesn’t surprise me they struggle so much to find intimacy with God.
In fact, according to Erikson the chief developmental goal entering into adulthood is intimacy as opposed to isolation. Interestingly, the basic virtue-goal in this stage is love. Multiple or normalized trauma early in life challenges the ability to be loving (i.e. showing grace). A child/teen who has been denied grace-models often grows into an adult focused on rules and either becomes insufferably good (again, in the worst sense of the word) or rebellious out of sheer frustration at failing to successfully follow all the rules.
Of course, it’s never too late to find good models. It starts, I think with a decision to look for them. Remember, God is constantly washing grace over us. If we stop focusing on the shouting world and the screaming ego then we find the whispered grace of God. Just make a decision to start looking. And for the rest of us, make the decision to keep looking.
So allow me to suggest a prayer for the New Year that draws on these ideas:
God, I commit my past to Your mercy, I commit my future to Your Providence, and I commit myself to looking daily for Your grace. Amen
Dr. Terry Ellis
January 14, 2018