“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
The church I’m working at loves to talk about grace. It’s in our motto: God’s Grace Changes People. It’s in the verse my pastor quotes several times a week: See to it that no one misses the grace of God (Hebrews 12:15). And all of this talk about grace has made me realize that I don’t really understand grace. Not only can I not fathom the immense grace that God has shown us, but also I don’t quite understand how it works. I mean, we like to attribute all sorts of things to the grace of God. If you become fluent in Christianese, you will talk about grace in your theology, thank God for his grace in your prayers (of course with separate references to his grace in saving you and his grace in your everyday life), sing about it in church, and tell your brothers and sisters after the service that “this week was tough, but I made it through by God’s grace.” The Grace of God must be very busy indeed, if everything good that happens to us is to be attributed to it. I won’t deny that I’m at once bothered by its flippant usage in Christian conversation and at the same time dying to understand its role in my life, because I really do believe that God’s grace changes people. I’m just wondering how.
The old Sunday school definition of grace says that grace is unmerited favor that we receive from God. That makes sense to me, no problem. What Jesus did on the cross was a living picture of grace, the ultimate example of favor bestowed when someone didn’t deserve it. But I want to understand how that extension of God’s favor actually makes a change in us. Grace does not seem like a likely agent of change to me, because it isn’t forceful. It doesn’t make anyone do anything. It simply extends goodness and love to the recipient, who can choose whether or not they want to respond. The Sunday school answer doesn’t end up helping me too much. But when I look at Jesus, I think I get a better idea of how this grace thing works.
John said that Jesus came full of grace and truth. I would say those two words sum up the things Jesus did and the things he said in the Gospels. Jesus acted out grace. He was extending unmerited favor to people, and he was doing it in the flesh. He was healing the unclean and eating at dinner parties hosted by sinners. It was as if grace itself had shown up for the party, because those people certainly had done nothing to deserve God showing up to eat with them (although it would be pretty cool to have God RSVP for your event on Facebook.) If Jesus was so active with sharing his grace, might it be that he does the same today in our lives? Might it be that when we are faced with a particularly strong urge to give in to a temptation he shows up and throws a grace party, as long as we are ready to party with him? And is that why we say that we make it through our struggles and trials in life by the grace of God?
Obviously, we have some responsibility in all this. After all, the author of Hebrews tells us to make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. I’ll probably want to look at our part in this some other time. What I do know without a doubt right now is that my life has been changed by the grace of God. I may not have seen it coming, but I’m thankful he gave me his grace anyway. I get this way from time to time with some of the abstract words we use to describe God. I realize that I don’t understand why they are important or how they change my life, and so they are heavy on my mind for several months at a time. I probably will be learning a lot about what grace means this summer. So for now, grace to each of you (whatever that means).