The Truth about Grace
By Bob Zoellner
"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14 NIV)
The day is sunny, the weather perfect. You couldn't ask for a better day at the amusement park with your family. This is a well-deserved day of fun, and your son has been looking forward to it all week long. You've given him $15 for the whole day, with the instruction that this is all he gets - spend it wisely. The only additional money coming from you is when you meet back up for the evening meal.
The arcade beckons. Video games, skeeball, bean bag toss, car races, whack-a-mole. Air hockey, pinball, and skill games. Soon the money is gone.
By noon, you happen to run into your son, broke and hungry. He begs for more money. The question is, what do you do now? The answer to that question can give us a glimpse into the heart of God, and the depth of his grace.
We don't have much difficulty with the subject of salvation, agreeing that it comes as a gift and that it is not something we deserve. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV) says: "For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast."
The difficulty most Christians face is that after salvation, many times the rest of our walk is done by human effort, by works, by a standard other than which God desires. This results in a legalism that is stifling to the one living that way and very unappealing to any non-believer that sees that Christian life.
Jesus came full of grace and truth. Both of those elements are vital for a healthy Christian life - one that truly makes a believer the salt and light of the earth.
Truth tells us...we are sinners. Grace tells us...not in spite of that, but because of that, we were given Jesus.
Truth tells us...sin deserves punishment. Grace tells us...Christ took our place; he paid the debt we owed.
Truth tells us...we will never measure up to God's standard. Grace tells us...to stop trying. Jesus is God's standard, and he is our friend, our advocate, our substitute, our Savior.
Truth without grace breeds low self-esteem and perfectionism. If we look at the truth of who we really are, but don't accept God's grace along with that truth, we will be defeated at every point in our lives. Why? Because the truth is, no matter what we do, attain, or achieve, it will never measure up, never satisfy, never be sufficient. We will never be the parent, sibling, child, co-worker, boss, grandparent, or even church member that we should be. That's the effect of sin.
We need God's grace. It is based on our needs, not on our virtues. God does not work on a debit/credit system of accounting, and he does not give us his grace based on an obligation of repayment for our behavior.
The flip side of not taking all of Christ - accepting both grace and truth - is taking grace without truth. That is just as destructive and just as dangerous. All grace and no truth gives one license to do whatever he chooses, because there are no consequences to suffer. Nothing is right, nothing is wrong. Whatever feels good, just do it. Grace will cover it.
The truth is, sin hurts. It brings death. Grace is God's gift in the midst of sin. By God's grace, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (I John 1:9 NIV).
Sometimes God needs to chasten and discipline us. His grace is that he does it as a loving father, to teach us how to live (see Hebrews 12:5-11). What parent doesn't discipline his child? The form of discipline shows whether it is full of truth and grace, or just one of the two.
At the amusement park, once all the money has been spent at the arcade, "grace only" says: "That's o.k. I didn't expect you to be responsible. I know I said no more money, but here's another $15. Now, this time I mean it, this is it! That's all you get the rest of the day. Maybe. Unless you spend it all again."
"Truth only" says: "You are so irresponsible. You can't do anything right, can you? Because you blew it, I'm really mad at you. We are leaving now, because you really messed up. You are not allowed to come to this park ever again, and I'm never going to give you any more money, because you proved you can't handle it."
On the other hand, "truth and grace together" say: "You know, son, you spent your money too quickly. I know you'll want to do more today while we're here, but you can't have any more money. You did blow it this time, and you'll have to learn from this experience, so plan better next time. Now, please don't ask for more money today, I'm not going to give you any more, and I'm not going to change my mind. Like I promised, when we meet for dinner, I will buy your meal. See you at the cafeteria at six o'clock."
And then, the following weekend you take your son to the same amusement park for another fun outing, and give him another $15 with the same instructions as the last time.
It's difficult to truly live in God's grace in today's results oriented society because of the "if I work a little harder and do a little more, I'll get where I need to be" mentality. But that mindset makes it hard to live in God's grace, because we feel like we have to do things with our own effort to please God, to earn his favor and blessing. That crowds out the very grace we need in our lives, and we are doomed for disillusionment and failure.
How much grace does your family, co-workers, and friends receive from you? If the answer is not much, then chances are great that you're not truly accepting God's grace in your life first! We can only pass along to others what we have received ourselves from the Lord. We know the truth - we need God's grace.
Bob is a former long time youth pastor who enjoys sports, his family, and writing. His desire is to minister to people through his writing. He currently writes as a correspondent for a daily Ohio newspaper, contributing sports and news coverage as well as feature articles.
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