I have a new understanding of God’s grace.
I’ve always had a very narrow view of grace limited to the element that bridges the gap between our sin and God’s righteousness. One preacher explained it to me like this, “grace is not getting what you deserve”.
To be completely honest, I’ve resented grace for most of my life.
I get this image in my head of me running up a huge bill and Jesus having to pay it back to get a zero balance. Phrases like ‘your sins nailed Jesus to the cross’ haven’t helped with this struggle either. Grace has reminded me of this constant problem of sin in my life. I get scared that one day God is going to get tired of having to pay my bills and reminding me of what my sins costs. This understanding of grace feels like a one sided relationship where one person is always cleaning up the others’ messes, which can easily turn from appreciation to guilt.
I feel bad that God has to clean up after my mess.
Last week I was blessed by being able to attend the Catalyst West conference and hear Dallas Willard speak. He is considered one of the most important living philosophers and theologians, and I am inclined to agree. I’ve heard his name before, but have never gotten around to reading any of his writings. That will change shortly.
Ken Ortberg interviewed Mr Willard in front of the Catalyst crowd last Thursday. I hung on every word as he talked about a few subjects, and I’d like to share some of my notes and thoughts from that session, specifically on grace. Mr Willard has shaken my understanding of God’s grace and I could not be more excited to pass this liberation on to anyone with ears to hear (or eyes to read). These are my notes from the session and not exact quotes, still working on tracking down the dvd.
Q: What have we as Christians missed over the past few decades?
DW: We have missed the importance of the central message of the Bible. We are to love the living God that saves us through the Gospel. Our inability to convey that message undermines any ministry or evangelism that we might embark on.
This is a big change of pace for me. At the very least it has me rethinking how we function as a youth ministry on the whole. Do my events, classes, interactions convey this message effectively? If not, how do I retool those things to this message? Do I need to skip retooling and completely start over from the ground up? This must be at the center of who we are a church.
Q: What is something you wish more Christians understood?
DW: A lot of people focus on the question ‘how do I get into heaven after I die?’ when they should be foxing on ‘how do I get into heaven before I die?’
I laughed at this. The more I read the NT the more I understand how Jesus wasn’t saving heaven for another world. Part of His plan was to establish His kingdom here on earth. This is why those who are poor in spirit are blessed as opposed to will be blessed. This provides an amazing purpose to every life. It gives solid backing to ‘love your neighbor’. We, as Christians, have the ability and responsibility to bring God’s way to our world. This puts ‘in the world, not of the world’ into perspective as well. But what is heaven, and how can I be a part of that here? Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long for an answer.
Q: Share with us your thoughts on heaven.
DW: Heaven is the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is God in action. God in action is what we call grace.
I was floored. Grace is God in action. This is much more in depth than some type of payment plan. This has implications. God isn’t just in the forgiving game, He forgives, redeems and empowers. He moves. Grace isn’t just getting back to a zero balance, it is an active living God moving through us for a higher purpose. I’ve been focused on the bookkeeping and missing out on the action.
All of the sudden things started making sense. When Jesus got baptized, why did it say that God’s grace shone upon Him? Jesus didn’t need forgive forgiveness for His sins, He needed God to be active in His ministry. When it says the ‘the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us… full of grace and truth’ the bible is talking about God’s active presence. Saved by grace? It’s not about a scorecard or what we’ve earned, it’s about God being active in our lives.
I have never felt so empowered. God’s grace is him being active in my life.
My guilt over grace is gone.
Q: What don’t we understand about grace?
DW: We look at sinners and say they need God’s grace. The truth is the Saint needs even more of God’s grace to do good. The Saint uses grace like a plane uses fuel on takeoff.
At this point I am doing everything I can from not jumping out of my seat and yelling ‘hallelujah’. Although, there were enough Pentacostals there it probably would’ve been okay. Fortunately there were enough ‘Amens’ in the crowd to go along with my excitement.
This makes so much sense. The saint needs God’s grace, or God being active, because they use it so much in their lives. The closer we are to God, the more we rely on His power to do the things we are called to do. The sinner needs grace for redemption, but the saint needs grace for survival. Grace has turned from a burden to a source of joy, energy, and direction.
I am happy to receive God’s grace.
Q: How does grace work?
DW: Grace is God acting in your life doing what you can’t do on your own.
Let that soak in for a minute.
God is active in our lives doing what we can’t do on our own. To say that this is expanding my understanding of God’s grace is a gross understatement. I think this understanding of the word grace has forced me to rethink my understanding of the word blessed as well.
Q: What about grace and works?
DW: Grace does not make you passive. Grace is opposed to earning, not action.
Amen. I am free from my checklist with God. I am free to adventure with God, and explore His grace. I’m no longer searching for a point where I can ‘relax because I’m saved’. There is no zero balance, there is a continuous call to action. I am called to be a part of a living Kingdom. Grace as simply forgiveness ends with Jesus dying on the cross. Grace as God in action begins with the resurrection.
May we all be blessed with God’s grace.
One love, one heart.
Ragamuffin Soul / Carlos Whitaker