The Work in Grace
We know the hymn: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
It's a cornerstone principle in Christianity, grace. The linchpin connecting our view of a loving God with a sacrificial Jesus with a sinful you and me. Without the unmerited favor that is God's grace and forgiveness, where would we be?
But grace is hard to understand, at least for me. Not conceptually or academically, mind you. I get that grace is free, and that the salvation of God is not something I have to work for or meet some performing standard to get. But when I examine my relationship with God, good works seem so tethered it that distorts my view of the relationship altogether. I've found that living my life trying to please God gets in the way of the relationship he sacrificed so much to have with me. I start to lose sight of the fact that God's grace is the foundation of our relationship, not my supposed good works.
You may find the same thing in your life.
So what do we do with that? How is it that the idea of grace is so quickly tossed aside when it comes to actually living a grace-filled life. And if it's not about doing good stuff, then what do we do with all the imperatives in the gospel. Imperatives like Go. Seek. Baptize. Pray. Worship. Serve. Read the Bible. Love.
For this Christianity thing to be so not predicated on works, there sure is a lot to do! So where does it all fit in?
I Want To Please God
Deep down we all want to please God. It's the core desire in us which results in a sort of base moral code found in all humanity, the sort C.S. Lewis lays out in his book Mere Christianity. Yes, we're born into sin, but we also innately know God is unhappy about that sin. We know we have some making up to do, some "getting it right."
I say the delusional idea that God simply wants us to be "good people" is the result of this yearning. It's the result of us wanting to control the situation, not in a I-Want-To-God kind of way (at least not today), but rather in a let-me-have-control-of-my-destiny kind of way. We really want to fix the problem of our sin ourselves. We want to work ourselves out of the red area of error into the green area of "right" and "good."
As great as grace sounds, most of us live our lives as if it's a bit too good to be true. Instead of living in freedom, we live worried that God will ultimately conclude we weren't good enough for his Heaven. We live in the small print. We all know what the Bible says about grace, and we know how to tell people (and even ourselves) that our efforts to live a life that is pleasing to God is not about proving our worth. But do we really accept that as true? Upon closer examination of your life, would you find your motivation to please God stems from the need to feel worth it to Him?
Ironically, the bad things aren't the only things hurting our standing with God. It's often the badly prioritized, overemphasized good things as well. Could it be that the great-sounding desire to please God is a bad thing? Quite possibly. Actually, quite likely.
I Trust God
Living a life driven by "pleasing God" can be dangerous. Not that pleasing God is something we should not want, or aspire, to do. But if we deify such a goal to the point of nullifying the grace God has given us, then we will have missed the point of God's love story entirely. The amazing thing about God's grace explodes out of the singularity of this one thought: we can't please God. At least we can't earn that pleasure with what we do, and how we exercise philanthropy and good will, or in how disciplined or religious we are.
We don't work to get God's love and approval, we work because of it. We don't will ourselves toward good works because we have to save face, we do so because the love of God has entered into us, and has decided to use our lives as a medium for his love and grace. We work out of surrender to Him, because we love Him in return. The Bible says we love Him because he first loved us. We live out the calling God has on our lives, not because we need to control our situation, but because we have relinquished control. Because we have surrendered. We are obedient out of love, not fear. We are moved by compassion, driven by God's purpose, and willing conduits to God's will. Not out of obligation or some need to prove ourselves, but because we are free to live a life soaked in the grace of God, free from the chains of measuring up.
It seems that if we fully grasps this for our lives, the Christian world would be a safer place for us to work together through the struggles of sin and shameful deeds. There's no sense in trying to outshine the Son. Let him shine through us, and we can be better conduits of God's grace. And then, the world can truly understand how amazing God's grace really is.
Do you have a story to share about God's grace in our life? Care to share.