I struggle with grace at times, though I’ve been a Christian most of my life.
I came to know Jesus as my Savior when I was 11 years old. I was raised in church. I went to Sunday School, VBS and all the extra meetings in between. I knew all about God and Jesus. I heard all the Bible stories while growing up. I was well versed in the ways of “churchdom.”
But don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a saint.
During my teen years, I was rebellious. I remember coming home many nights after partying with my friends. I would sit on my bed smoking a cigarette, flipping through the pages of my Bible, “The Way,” which was the Bible to read back in the day.
I remember praying, thanking God for my salvation through Jesus. I told Him I loved Him, and I would serve Him … one day, but not just yet.
I had parties to attend and friends to hang with, but not to worry, I would be all in one day.
Thankfully, God didn’t turn His back on me in all my teenage audacity. He loves me just as much today as He did then. That is unconditional, unfailing love from a compassionate and merciful Father. I could stop right here—grace defined—but there’s so much more to grace.
After all these years, I still don’t fully understand grace. I get the concept. I know that Jesus paid a price for all mankind—those who have gone before us and those yet to be born. I know that grace is unmerited favor with God. I didn’t earn it. I don’t deserve it. Grace is a gift freely given by the Father because of the sacrifice of the Son.
Wikipedia defines grace as “the divine influence which operates in humans to regenerate and sanctify, and to impart strength to endure trial and resist temptation; and as an individual virtue or excellence of divine origin.”
That definition sounds very ethereal, like it’s not even attainable by humans. And that sort of makes sense to me because grace is in total opposition of how we live today.
In our world, our worthiness is based on what we do and who we are, or better yet, who others think we are. Our worthiness depends on us and has little to do with grace.
We learn at an early age that we need to measure up. There is a standard—an unspoken (or sometimes spoken) set of rules about what we need to do, be or achieve to be worthy enough to deserve all the things we have or are trying to become.
Even when I come face to face with grace, when I feel the overwhelming love of God that leaves me in awe, my thinking eventually goes back to, “Am I enough?”
Like my value depends on me.
I listen as others talk around the topic of grace. It almost seems as if we reserve grace for the “churchy” aspects of our lives, that it doesn’t fit into everyday living. I can only conclude that we don’t understand the magnitude of that one small word.
I read “Grace Is Greater” by Southeast Senior Pastor Kyle Idleman.
That book was a hard read for me.
It’s grace, right? Why should that be a hard subject to read about? But it was. I would read a small section and then I would have to step away to process what I had just read. Don’t get me wrong, “Grace Is Greater” helped shed some light on the topic.
But I always (unconsciously) go back to core beliefs about who I think I am. And when that happens, I never measure up. There’s always someone better, stronger, smarter.
Sometimes, I compare the other way. I might find a person who isn’t doing life as well as I think they should.
There’s danger in comparing.
For one thing, it simply isn’t true. I don’t know what I think I know. I only know what I see, and I assume the rest.
That’s not how my Father lives or wants me to live. He doesn’t compare me to someone else. If He isn’t comparing us to each other, then why do we?
Maybe understanding what grace is not has helped me better understand what grace is. When I have questions about grace, I stop trying to figure it out and simply put my trust in the One who is holy, all-knowing and unconditionally loving.
I once heard Chip Ingram say this about grace: “Perhaps it (grace) describes everything God is, in every work that Jesus did on the cross on our behalf.”
It still doesn’t totally define grace, but it helps me to rest in Him.
I recently thumbed through “Grace Is Greater” again to see what stood out to me when I read the book in 2017. As I scanned through highlighted and underlined sentences, I saw that Idleman doesn’t really define the word, but what he says paints a beautiful picture of grace.
“I tend to think grace is best and most fully understood not by way of explanation alone but through experience,” he writes. “Jesus, on the other hand, never used the word ‘grace.’ Instead, He showed us what it looked like.”
When I don’t totally understand grace, all I really need to do is look to the cross.
Jesus chose to experience pain and suffering for you and me, knowing that by enduring the shame and bearing the sin of the world, we could live with Him forever.
I can choose to believe what the Bible says about grace and learn by experience. Looking at the cross helps me better understand how that one, small word makes all the difference.
Laurie Lyons works in Southeast Christian Church’s Campus Care Ministry.