What is Grace?
Christianity defines Grace as being unmerited favor. Eternal life is, essentially, a gift of Grace. We can’t earn it (Eph. 2:8-9). It’s freely offered by the Divine through Christ Jesus– we only have the power to reject it. But Grace is more than some distant promise of unfettered communion with the Divine… We can experience Grace now (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Grace can come to human beings as moments of being seized and comforted by the personal experience of God’s Love for us.
Philosophically, human beings struggle to understand Grace.
I struggle to understand Grace.
It makes no sense to me. Yet it makes perfect sense to an impartial God (Romans 11:33, Matt 5:45).
We can see with our own two eyes, that while all human beings are equally a part of the human tribe and equal as actors in the human story– we do not all have the same economic opportunities, nor equal intellectual capacities, nor anything near equality in physical prowess. We all differ greatly in our abilities, in our experience of the world, and our individual responses to it.
Deep, humble reflection upon the incredible diversity among members of the human tribe leads me to believe that our fundamental equality is found in our intrinsic worth as human beings– as children of God. God doesn’t value us for our use value or our respective productiveness (as Western culture would lead us to believe…), but values us as a loving parent values their child (1 John 3:8).
The imagery of God as Eternal Father is only one facet of the nature of the Divine– but it is one, as a parent of four rather spirited children, that I strongly identify with.
My children are exceptionally different in their natural gifts and abilities. My 6 year old is the most naturally generous human being I’ve ever met. And I don’t say that lightly! He automatically thinks of others before himself. I could sit here and pat myself on the back for being such an awesome parent… But I have to admit, he’s always been this way. We encourage him in his expression of himself, and seek to empower him as such generous souls are often taken advantage of out in the world. And, of course, my other kids are generous too, but not in the same way. This gift is IN him. It wasn’t something he acquired only through modeling behavior and posituve reinforcement of his social interactions.
It is my role as a parent to help him balance who he is with what the world will expect of him.
This is one area where the Christian tradition is decidedly weak in comparison to other wisdom traditions. A pervasive dualism rules Christian dogma in such a way that many of its adherents feel justified in persecuting other human beings that visibly differ from us. When we separate believer from unbeliever, godly from ungodly, sin from sinner, spiritual and unspiritual–we aren’t doing so out of our Grace-filled transcendence of the human condition… We are doing so because of the human condition.
Grace doesn’t make such distinctions. (Galatians 3:28)
Remember? It’s unmerited favor.
My son is naturally altruistic. Is he more worthy than my other children who struggle with their own selfishness?
No. This is where Grace comes in.
Whatever it is that is good and noble and essential to cultivating our relationship with the Divine and our fellow human beings–qualities we may find we naturally lack as individuals– Grace promises to cover over.
I find I can’t forgive. But, I want to. Grace bestows upon me, in God’s perfect timing, the ability to do so (Luke 17:3-6).
I realize how selfish I am. I don’t want to be selfish, and I try really hard not to be… And, I’m failing (Luke 18:27). Grace enters in and draws me to the Truth I need in order to change my focus from one of self-concern.
This is how Christianity is supposed to work. We acknowledge and confess our natural shortcomings (cultivate true humility) seek Divine assistance, and we surrender to His Grace. (1 John 1:9)
I’ve lived through this process countless times. I don’t know how or why it works short of God being so compassionate that He refuses to hold our shortcomings against us (Luke 6:35-36).
Ideally, the Christian experience of Divine Grace leads us to acting out this unmerited favor in our relationships with others (John 13:34-36).
But, to be honest, I don’t see a lot of that going on in the American Church Culture.
Grace gone wild.
(Ok, this section isn’t really about Grace gone wild, I just wanted to use this phrase as a sub-header because it makes me giggle.)
Grace stops being Grace when it needs to be earned. (Romans 5:19-21). When we require that others change who they are before we allow them to worship God alongside us, or join us in membership.
It’s as if we’ve forgotten that it is by Grace that any one of us can stand before God. We didn’t earn that privilege by exhibiting consistent ‘moral’ behavior. If we exhibit consistent moral behavior, and we do so not out of the Grace of God, then this goes back to a fundamental lack of Grace. Not an excess of it! What Jesus had to say to the Pharisees in the Gospels? (Matthew 5:20)
Those words are for you:)
Grace creates the balance.
What I lack? Grace provides. (2 Cor. 12:9) What you lack? Grace, as an expression of Love (1 Peter 4:8), covers over. And this is how we accomplish unity in diversity. This is how we can agree to disagree and still be friends– I recognize that I am not you. You will never be me, but we are both of equal value to God. So, in loving God, I value you as I do myself. Even when I feel like you could benefit from a good kick in the pants, I’m not going to do so. Grace has a way of teaching us all the lessons we still need to learn. It’s not my place, but God’s.
Grace convinces me that I, as a human being, am not capable of remaining completely impartial. I am finite, subjective, and wrought with bias. You are too! So, let’s stop verbally beating each other up about it.
When we view Grace and our Sanctification as the work of the Divine, we get to be fully, 100% human. With all of our faults and bias. I can be wrong, because God is in charge of my perfection (and He’s got His work cut out for Him). I can own my mistakes, because the Divine does not hold them against me. If we strive to humble ourselves before God, Grace works within us to bridge our gaps, heal our wounds, and strengthen our hearts and minds.
Grace still holds us all accountable for how we hurt others. And it pushes us towards making amends because the work of Grace is one that preserves unity. When we act in ways that wound others, our humility before God gives us the power to fix what we as human beings have broken.
What? After all these words arguing against our own ability to perfect ourselves?
God spreads the Banquet out before us, invites us all to partake, but, we still have to walk our arses over to the table and take our seat (Luke 14:15-24).
We effectively do so by our humility. Humility before God, acknowledging that we are all God’s instead of pretending we are all little gods. Humility recognizes that the human beings around me belong to Him too. Even if they’ve yet to realize this themselves.
If I continue to justify myself (Luke 16:15), I will miss out on the free gifts of Grace. If I pretend I’m wholly self-sufficient in my spirituality, I’m going to stand back from that banquet table. But, eventually, I’ll get hungry enough to acknowledge God as God and myself as not-God; as dependent upon the work of the One I came from in order to make my way back to that One–In this life, and the next.
Or, I’ll starve and eventually die trying to effect my own eternal existence apart from Eternity.
I’d rather choose humility and reap Grace.
How about you?