Philip Yancey’s beautiful book What’s so Amazing about Grace does a wonderful job exploring the sheer marvel of the grace of God. Though several years since it was first published, his descriptions of grace manifested in the lives of everyday folk remains insightful, encouraging and challenging. The book should be a yearly “must-read.”
Many other excellent books continue to point to the majesty of this gift of God to us in Christ Jesus. Yet again and again, I find myself perplexed by attitudes among Christians – both laity and preachers – which, in my mind, reveal a tragic misunderstanding of the gospel. Just recently a friend and colleague was asserting the need to emphasize sin and our necessity of coming to repentance, and while I agree that is always an important theme, it was the sad omission of any reference to the work of grace that stood out.
Now, I do not want in any way to cheapen the costliness of that grace which flows to us from the cross of Christ. I do not in any way mean to minimize our need to come to grips with the reality of our sinfulness and our brokenness and to turn to Christ for mercy, healing and transformation. But just as scripture tells us that it is in the light of God that we see light, and be extension, realize how dark indeed it is without God’s light, it seems to me that it is only in the light and experience of grace that we begin to realize how lost, defeated, foolish, helpless and needy we were, and are. Only as grace fills us do we discover how empty our hearts were. Only as grace upholds us do we come to grips with the reality of our weakness. Only as the grace of God floods into our minds, hearts and souls are we at last able to cry out to God for more of his mercy, more of his power, more of his Spirit, and more of his love.
More and more I am convinced that in many ways it is not sin which is our biggest problem (though of course it is) but rather it is grace, or should I say, realizing our desperate need for grace and throwing ourselves utterly and totally into the grip of grace. Part of our sinful nature seems to be this arrogant and stubborn unwillingness to admit how dependent we are on God and how completely unable we are to do anything to save ourselves (again scripture voices the truth so well in the assertion heal me, O Lord and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved).
Surrender to grace and celebration of grace and dependence on grace seem to be so difficult for us. We so fearsomely determined to stand on our own two feet and march our way into God’s embrace and into heaven itself, when in truth, like a babe in arms that did nothing on its own to get conceived and born, to find ourselves in God’s embrace, or in his eternal glory, means being carried in the strong arms of the One who died for us. We human beings, and sadly, too many of us Christians, seem to get caught into a twisted variation of works righteousness, in which we have made faith, theology, repentance, discipleship and so much more into the human achievements by which we think to win God’s favor, blessing and salvation.
We are much more helpless. The doctrine of grace alone means just that – it is only and always by Christ’s grace that we come to our senses and begin to believe and call on his name. It is only by Christ’s grace that we learn and grow in trust of his great mercy. It is only by grace that we receive the Holy Spirit who guides and strengthens us in our discovery of the riches of Christ, and it is only by Christ’s grace that we discover how truly deep the hole is in our souls that can only be filled by Jesus, who does so, in grace.
From first to last, our hope is in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, which, praise God, is so full and free, so good and holy, so amazing and abundant, and is offered to all and any who would simply welcome and receive it.