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. 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 to God's love that it distorts my view of the relationship altogether. I often find that living my life trying to please God gets in the way of the relationship he sacrificed so much to have with me. And when that happens, I start to lose sight of the fact that God's grace is the foundation of our relationship, not my supposed good works.
Are you with me on this? Do you feel the same way? If so, what do we do with that? How can we toss so quickly aside the idea of grace when it comes to actually living a grace-filled life. If life after salvation is not about doing good stuff, what do we do with all the imperatives in the gospel. Imperatives like Go. Seek. Baptize. Pray. Worship. Serve. Read the Bible. Love.
For a religion that says it's not predicated on works, there sure seems to be a lot to do.
Life In The Small Print
Deep down we all want to please God. It's the core desire lying inside us, which at minimum results in a base moral code found. 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.
The insanely popular, but deeply flawed, 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." And that means that when it really comes to it, grace sounds a little too good to be true. Instead of living out of the freedom of grace, we live our lives in the small print. Instead of living in freedom, we live worried God will decided we weren't good enough for his Heaven.
We know what the Bible says about grace. We may even say 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? If we really survey our motivations, would we find your motivation to please God stems from the need to feel worth it to Him?
The truth is, it's often the badly prioritized, overemphasized good things that get in the way of truly enjoying God in our lives. Could it be that the great-sounding desire to please God is a bad thing? Quite possibly. Actually, quite likely.
We Can't Please 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, we 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 philanthropy, good will, discipline or religion.
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 are 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?