[See part one HERE.]
[Fair warning: today's installment got longer than intended, and went places I didn't expect it to. Read on.]
At the dawn of the world, mankind enjoyed perfect bliss with their Maker. There in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve literally walked with God every day. There was nothing between them, nothing to detract from the perfect peace of their intimate friendship.
And then they broke the one commandment given to them. That peace shattered. Because God is holy and perfect and cannot tolerate sin, something had to be done. Adam and Eve found themselves banished from Eden, cursed to toil under the sun, destined to struggle for survival.
Generations passed. Each one succumbed to their own sins, and consequences followed.
A covenant was then forged between God and mankind, commandments written in stone. If the people obeyed, blessings would follow. If not, curses would befall them. "Obey me," God said, "and I will be with you. I will bless you, conquer your enemies, prosper you in abundance. But if you refuse to listen, you will be destroyed."
The only way for broken, sinful humans to have any sort of relationship with a holy God was to align their behavior with His perfect standards. Read the Old Testament to see how they fared. You'll see generation after generation circling through the same patterns: a time of following God, and then a sudden, violent tailspin into the morass of humanity. One godly king's reign of glory, followed by decades of chaos. Over and over again.
The concept was simple. Do good, get good. Do bad, get bad. And so it continued for millennia.
Until the story we all know so well: the unassuming entrance of a Savior into a world of pain. As someone just as human as the rest of us, yet paradoxically God, He lived a life that completely fulfilled every one of those commandments. On a wooden cross, He carried on His shoulders the crushing weight of the sin of every. single. person. Everyone who had ever lived, all who ever would live--their failures were heaped upon Jesus. The wrath of His Father God crashed down on Him. And He died.
The commands were fulfilled. The law satisfied. Forever.
No longer were we holding to a tenuous covenant based on our efforts and performance. Now Someone had stepped into our place, filling that old agreement to the brim, and replacing it with an unshakeable new agreement purchased with sinless blood. And this new agreement had nothing to do with us.
Don't you see? We're not in control anymore. We tried--and failed--to obtain peace with God through our own striving. When that didn't work, He forged a brand new covenant that no longer depended on us. Rather, it is between God and Jesus, on our behalf. Because Jesus' obedience was perfect, what flows toward us is never going to be curses and destruction, but blessing and peace and abundant life. Does Jesus deserve to be blessed and healthy and prosperous and full of peace? Of course, you say. Anything less would be blasphemous.
So it follows that we get to experience that in our own lives. Not through anything we did to deserve it (goodness knows how impossible that is to reach, never mind to maintain for any length of time), but because Jesus made it possible for us. He took the curse of the law upon Himself, and gave us righteousness (right standing) with God. Once and for all.
I see so many people balk at this. They protest that this kind of grace (but really, is there any other kind?) gives us permission to sin. After all, if our actions no longer matter, then we can do what we want, and we're forgiven anyway. Right?
Well, God will forgive you, but your family likely won't. Your friends and neighbors won't. The government won't. Sin still sends waves of destruction throughout our horizontal relationships, even if it can no longer touch our vertical relationship with God. There are consequences for our actions. There's no way around that. If you murder someone, you'll serve your sentence. If you cheat on your spouse, you'll have the pieces of your shattered family to pick up. If you withhold taxes, the government won't take kindly to you. The kind of misery this causes for yourself and people around you is horrible.
But think about it. Please. Even if this whole post is rubbing you entirely the wrong way and kicking at the support posts of what you've always been taught, just stop for a minute and give this consideration.
If this kind of wholly undeserved grace is yours, do you even want to do wrong? If God lavishes such extravagant love and mercy upon you, if He literally died for a chance to have you close to Him, do you really want to run away from that?
When confronted with such amazing grace, I am utterly humbled. I did nothing, absolutely nothing, to merit a drop of this. And yet my Father gives it to me. His Son sacrificed everything so that I may have life. I did not master this on my own or create it with my two hands. He bought it for me with His very blood. Jesus, on my behalf, paves the way to the Father.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)
Is this not humbling in the best way possible?
Maybe one reason we react so strongly to this concept is that it means relinquishing control. It is so much easier to look at the problems in our life and assume that they'll go away if we just pray more, read the Bible more, serve more, love more, be better Christians. The simplest answer, and perhaps the easiest to live with, when facing unwanted circumstances, is to think we brought them upon ourselves. We're getting what our deeds deserve. Punishment or reward.
The matter is far more difficult to wrestle with when we consider that we did not bring this calamity upon ourselves--that this is not God's wrath but the results of living in a broken world.* It's harder to figure out where to lay blame. Harder to figure out what our response is supposed to be.
*I'm not touching on consequences of our own actions here. Sometimes the crap we deal with is our own fault. When I don't keep a promise to a friend, or say something unkind to a sibling, I have to work out the consequences. If I gorge on unhealthy food and never exercise, I will experience health issues, yes?
This is part of "fighting the good fight of faith." In those times of trouble, when shadows of death cross our path, we must choose to trust God's grace. We must let His truth influence our circumstances, rather than use our circumstances to try adjusting His truth to fit our experience.
We no longer do good in order to earn God's favor. We open ourselves up to the rushing tide of grace He's pouring out, and it is this grace that gives us the power to beat sin. The power to do good. Then there is such joy in it, you see!
It is a response, no longer a hoop to jump through.
It is our heartfelt answer to a Love that will take a thousand lifetimes and more to comprehend.
It's a beautiful mystery, this grace. An unending ocean. Will you dive in with me?