Saturday, May 20, 2006

# 146: Grace is Free but, Not Cheap

Grace, most likely, is the most complex and misunderstood concept in the Christian life. That may be the reason I’ve subconsciously neglected to write about it, although I did mention grace minimally in post # 98. The dictionary gives a dozen or so meanings. Then, at the very end, it mentions the theological meaning: “the unmerited love and favor of God toward mankind, etc.”

Actually, I feel incompetent, as it were, in my attempt to give the full meaning of grace’s potential impact on the Christian life. Nevertheless, I, with God’s help, will do my best: Grace is the ONE ingredient that bestows potency to Christianity. Without it, one has mere religion and morals (human effort), if even that. This is where all other religions are doomed to failure in their quest to please God. By that, I mean that by grace, Christians are FREELY GIVEN all that Christ ever accomplished while on earth: His goodness, holiness, obedience, perfection, etc. (the actual status of Jesus Christ), before the fact, in response to our whole-hearted belief. This is not just an honorary status. That is a vicarious exchange: We give Him our sins, and He gives us His perfect life. As we begin to comprehend and believe the paramount importance of this amazing gift, we will come to the conclusion that grace is the framework that sustains all we are and do; our complete Christian experience is in vain without it.

As can be surmised, we don’t have to work for our Salvation; the fact of the matter is that it is served to us on a silver platter. Nevertheless, as confirmation of our faith to God and company, we still must work (through obedience to the gospel message) to display our appreciation and love for God—which makes us perfect in His sight—for having saved us by His grace from eternal damnation. Wow! That is the main motive behind our desire to live the perfect life, which most certainly won’t come easy.

These last two short paragraphs most likely contain the most profoundly poignant information in this entire blog, which could easily be pondered for a lifetime.

The only reason grace must be given as a free gift is because its unique value is of greater worth than humankind is capable of presenting. It’s not for sale, and it can't be earned; repeating, it is freely given only in response to belief. It also has more depth than human words can fully describe; therefore, I must somehow continue in my attempt to go beyond words.

First of all, grace is not a free ticket to heaven. Even though no one is worthy of a place in the presence of God, yes, we are given entry by grace because of our belief in what Jesus Christ did for us. Therefore, grace and belief cannot be separated; they are the main concepts that give us the power and motivation to live as God requires.

How does one know with certainty that they are experiencing God’s grace and not just using the word “grace” when it applies? Answer: Grace, coupled with belief, is [singular] the most powerful force humans can experience, which allow us to obey the seemingly absurd—according to worldly standards—commands of Jesus Christ. In other words, the proof is in the life. Examine your life against what the New Testament teaches, and not what your church leader says. If nothing else is remembered in this complete post, remember this: I reiterate, if you are a genuine Christian, you, in God’s eyes, have the exact same status as Jesus Christ (a sinless god in the flesh), although I sometimes use the term “clone-of-Christ-in-the-making.” If anyone believes that statement, what is there he/she wouldn’t do to fulfill the requirements of grace? Grace empowers us to live up to our belief.

Shame on me for not bringing this topic up more often.

After reading this post, if you don’t fully understand the power of grace when it is synchronized with belief, that’s okay. If your motives are pure in your devotion to Christ, the meaning will come, but only to the degree that your life is going in a Godly direction. What I am attempting to say is this: Explain the birds and the bees to a child that hasn’t reached puberty yet; he/she can memorize all that you are teaching, and believe every word, but until he/she matures as a preteen or early teen, they won’t fully understand what you are talking about. The same is true with our spiritual puberty. Everything in its good time. The life of Jesus Christ must be experienced, if even in a small way, before Christianity becomes real. Knowledge is not experience. Case in point: A man can write a detailed book on childbirth, but still can’t experience the birth of a child. There is a gigantic gulf between knowledge and experience, especially in the Christian life; one should never equate knowledge with experience.

One thing is for sure: Grace is not a crutch to be used as an excuse to sin. I have heard this alibi more times than I care to remember: “If I do sin, the blood of Christ will forgive that sin.” They then quote 1st John 2:1. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But IF anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ the Righteous one.” John is not talking about premeditated sin; the word “IF” implies that he is talking about inadvertent sin. Here is why I say that: Go to the same book, 1st John 3:6. “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” Here is what the Apostle John also says in verse 9: “No one born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed [the life of Jesus Christ] remains in him . . .” [emphasis added]. Grace can do nothing about premeditated sin. If anyone continues to live in that sort of sin, it is sure evidence that some serious renovation is needed in that life. Yes, grace erased our previous filthy life of sin, and grace will even forgive an extremely occasional, unintentional sin.

Many times, it seems to us that we deserve grace because of the effort we put into living the Christian life. This is untrue. In this, we are deceiving ourselves. The only thing that God asks of us is to have faith (active belief) in what He has done for us through Jesus Christ. That does not seem very hard to do on the surface. He says, “Just believe Me.” We must come to Him with genuine belief, with no other goodies, thereby receiving His grace.

Let me make this very clear: Belief and grace must at all times be active to be of any value to God or anyone else. But belief and grace are misunderstood, in that yesterday’s belief lacks spiritual substance today. Our past is nothing more than bygones, be it good or bad, though it is influential as to who we are and what we do today. Therefore, yesterday’s grace, as good as it was, was meant for yesterday. The kind of belief that saves must be fresh every day, renewed and active for grace to continue to be given. Grace cannot be continued if we choose to disbelieve what we believed yesterday. This would be evidenced by a life of disobedience.

When God's grace is given to us, it is a spiritual noun, but when we receive it and assimilate it into our lives, it is converted by love into a powerful active verb that gives us and makes us what Christ is. If we don't use it, it was given in vain, and we lose it. Grace is not something we pin on our lapel as an ornamental award to display our sanctity to others. Repeating, grace is the ammunition we receive via the Holy Spirit for our spiritual weapons (our faith) as we fight the unending battle against the evil one. Without that ammunition, our faith is man-made and self-oriented, making us unresponsive to the Commander’s orders.

Where grace reigns, there is no room for pride. Amen. God's grace makes us into a people we don't deserve to be. Without the power that is released by grace, all our efforts to please God are in vain.

A good description of the value of grace can be made when we compare it to the value of our belief. Our lifetime of belief—if we could put monetary value on it—might be worth one dollar to God in comparison to the value of His grace, which would be worth trillions of dollars, plus some. This is why grace could be called free. Yet, that one dollar of our belief is more valuable to God than the whole inanimate universe that cannot cry out His name in joy, but must function according to the laws of physics. Though He can resort to making the stones (like myself) cry out, grace goes out the window when those who take on His name keep silent concerning the all-important, hard-edged truths that many don't care to hear or accept.

One final note must be fully acknowledged before a true understanding of grace is given to us by Christ: God has no way other than grace to free men from the triple snare of self, sin and Satan, from our first accepting Him as our life, to the last breath we take. In other words: Our belief is not worthy of His life no matter how good and perfect our belief is. Although our belief by itself is unworthy of Salvation, He still gives grace when it’s joined with faith because He is a gracious God. He could act in no other way toward those who truly desire Him. He is a God of love, but He is stern to those who don't display belief in Him with their lives. True grace cannot be given to those who do not desire God. They will, by their own choice, be left on the outside (without God).

In conclusion: Everything in our Christian life is a result of God's loving, merciful, and powerful grace. Without grace we would be nothing, could do nothing, and would have nothing, including his Holy Spirit. God's trump card is grace, which He had up His sleeve until Christ came. The devil and his cohorts cannot comprehend the power of God that is released through grace, which enables us to live a life that is pleasing to God. Could you imagine trying to live the Christian life without grace? Our dynamic belief in God continually activates and renews God's life-giving grace.

This post, especially paragraph 2 and 3, may need to be read more than once, in an attempt to get the full extent of the influence God’s grace has on the genuine Christian life.

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