Grace is a complex term.
In the worlds of finance, insurance, or even libraries, grace is finite. Grace comes in a pre-determined amount, known as a grace period. Late paying your credit card? Tardy on that mortgage? Well, I’ve got good news. Grace has you covered.
Sooner or later, though, as many of us have experienced firsthand, this grace comes to a close, and we’re hit with late fees, interest charges, and calls from collection agencies.
Sometimes, grace turns out to not be very graceful in the end.
The concept of grace without limit, to our utilitarian minds, ends up sounding like the fine print for the American Express Black Card: there’s no credit limit, but there’s a hefty annual fee. Oh, and you still have to pay back what you spend.
The truth is, we know nothing about grace.
In fact, we have very little need for grace anymore. We have a sense of right and wrong, to be sure; but grace doesn’t quite fit with our world’s concept of equivalent retaliation and consequence. Simply put, you get what you deserve.
We as a planet have tried to make a go of it on our own. Post-modern. Post-grace. Have we created that utopian society many predicted that the inevitable demise of religion would usher in? Hardly. Instead, we’ve created chemical warfare. Nuclear bombs. Genocidal regimes.
We have tried to save ourselves. It isn’t working.
Charlottesville. Charleston. Aleppo. Paris. Orlando. Another day, another act of hate.
I don’t see a society growing towards perfection and unity. I see a self-destructive planet desperately in need of grace, and blind to the truth about what grace truly is.
Simply put, grace is unmerited favor. Love we don’t deserve. Forgiveness we can’t earn. There is no credit limit. There is no annual fee. This kind of amazing grace is hard for a broken world to comprehend.
This brokenness is not simply found in the latest news story. It’s found in my heart. I, too, have tried to make a go of it on my own. Tried to fix myself. Fill the emptiness inside with anything and everything but the love of a Savior. Where has this approach gotten me? Nowhere. Instead, it leaves me hurting. Frustrated. Lonely.
At a superficial level, it’s easy to convince myself that I’m a pretty good person. I call my mother. I sponsor kids in Africa. I volunteer. I’ve never murdered. Raped. Stolen. (Okay, I did steal a 5-Hour Energy in Alabama once.)
But when I delve deeper, when I begin to see what lies beneath, when I start to analyze my motives, I see a man who is selfish to the core. Who is much better at taking than giving. Who pays lip service to others’ needs but constantly puts his own agenda first. A man who struggles with sin. Lust. Pride.
A man in desperate need of grace.
I write this from a place of longing. I am a man who knows what grace is because I need it. I continue to need it. I continue to make the same mistakes. I continue to hurt people. It’s tough enough to change my actions. It’s impossible to change my heart.
We as humans tend to instinctively categorize people as either good or evil. MLK? Good. Hitler? Evil. There is some truth to this. However, none of us, not even Mother Teresa herself, are perfect. All of us have evil in our hearts. None of us are worthy of grace. Of salvation. Evil results in death, not life.
This is where every single other religion, including Christianity, gets it wrong, and where Jesus gets it right. Famed author Sam Harris constantly reiterates that religion is responsible for most of the world’s wars, wrongs, and ignorance. I have a feeling Jesus would agree with him.
Every other belief system teaches that we must earn our salvation in some way. Sacrifice more. Become better. More lovable. More perfect. In every other belief system, it’s tough to rationalize why karma isn’t working, why bad things happen to good people. The truth is, none of us are good. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. Don’t believe me? Watch the news. Better yet, examine your own heart.
Jesus looked down and saw a world getting worse, not better. He saw our hearts…my heart…and saw selfishness. Lust. Bitterness. He saw a dead, cold place that only He could bring back to life.
So, He did the unthinkable. Gave up everything. Stepped into our tattered history. Loved. Healed. Forgave.
We couldn’t handle it. Couldn’t believe that someone would see us as we are, and love us anyway. So, we killed him. We thought we were putting Him to death, but little did we know that He was putting sin to death. Brokenness to death. Pain to death. Death to death.
He didn’t wait to offer us this amazing grace until we had achieved some standard of excellence, or gotten a few more steps down the Noble Eightfold Path, or said a few more Hail Marys. No. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. He didn’t just brush away our sin, pretending it never happened. No, He took the punishment that we deserved. Why? Because He is love. Because He is grace.
This is the single most life-changing truth the world has ever known. I am loved by God. Loved passionately. Loved with a love I can never earn, a love I don’t deserve. A love that will not let me go.
I am only able to see my need for this love and receive this love when I am weak, not when I am strong. Paul puts it this way:
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
If we can’t see the brokenness, the pain, and the evil inside our hearts, then we will never see our need for grace, and will miss out on the greatest gift ever given, the greatest story ever told.
Grace isn’t just for the taking. It’s also for the giving. If we have seen the power this grace has to change our lives firsthand, why wouldn’t we, in turn, want to share it with those who need it? To leave jealously, hate, lust, and anger behind, and give of the love we’ve been given?
It’s impossible to be confronted with radical grace and remain unchanged.
Grace is what this broken world needs. Anytime we pass legislation mandating tougher gun control laws, or broker a peace deal, or boost the police budget to crack down on drugs and violent crime, or execute a death row inmate, we are addressing symptoms, not the disease itself. The only way to heal any illness is to get to the root of the problem, not write a prescription to mask the symptoms.
One of my favorite bands, Thrice, put it this way: “We can’t medicate man to perfection again; we can’t legislate peace in our hearts. We can’t educate sin from our souls; it’s been there from the start.”
The problem? We are broken, sinful, selfish. Dying. The solution? Grace. The grace that flowed crimson at Calvary, now poured out to a world in need through those who have experienced its heart-changing power.
Have you received grace? Don’t keep it to yourself. Give it. Have you been brought back to life? Then it’s time to live.
Do it tangibly. Don’t give out trite tracts and pithy platitudes. Give of your time. Your money. Your heart. Give of yourself.
Be the hands and feet of grace. Give what you’ve been given. Love like you have been loved.
Then, and only then, will a dying world be brought back to life again.