Some people wonder why I do what I do. Those familiar with me and my ministry are aware of how I sometimes say or do things just to “mess with” people or challenge their preconceptions. It doesn’t always jive with the other person very well, but there are those times when gears start grinding that haven’t moved in a long time, if ever.
While I could stand on a stage and preach all the time, I really enjoy the interaction of small group discussion. I love seeing the light bulb come on in someone else. For them, there’s a new understanding or possibility to grapple with. And I offer my help in that journey.
One of our home group discussions recently resulted in a spiritual “light bulb moment” for me. This particular discussion was about Grace. It was the last night of an incredible video series I had chosen to accompany my preaching series about The Narrow Road Paradox. The videos were by a pastor from a different denomination as our own, and his teaching from a different perspective helped us expand our view of God, and especially Grace. One of the last questions we talked about that night was this: Can you really take advantage of God’s Grace?
The initial response to the question brought up ideas that are familiar to a lot of Christians. We have heard and taught how we can take advantage of Grace by twisting its meaning to suit our own purposes. This usually takes the form of a conclusion similar to, “I can do whatever I want and God will forgive me because of Grace.” To such a believer, Grace becomes a license to indulge in sin without the fear of consequence or spiritual separation from God.
But is that really taking advantage of Grace? Paul condemned this line of thinking but didn’t attach it to Grace. Instead, he warned believers to watch that they didn’t misuse their Freedom in Jesus as a license for sin (Galatians 5:13 NIV). Such a mindset is a misunderstanding of God’s plan for us as His children and of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Keeping Grace Safe
Knowing how easy it is to trade our Freedom in Christ for a free-range sin license, well-meaning but misguided teachers and preachers have locked Grace away in a vault. God reserves Grace for a few and only as long as they meet a set of conditions. If we try to misuse Grace, God slams the vault door closed and we are separated from it.
This is almost as terrible as using Freedom to excuse sin. It adds prerequisites and qualifications to Grace, which essentially robs it of its substance. Grace is powerful because it is without qualification. As the video series we watched explained, Grace is God’s “one-way love” for us that cannot be earned and is not a reward for our performance. Grace is Grace only when it comes with no strings attached.
One reason we lock Grace away is because we believe it is a tool for believers. We talk about how Grace saves us, and then we proclaim that it helps us through life and keeps us in reach of God’s love. It is a sign of God’s approval. But Grace is actually God’s tool. Grace doesn’t help our lives, it transforms our lives.
Consider the words of Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV). “For it is by grace you have been saved …” Grace affects the transformation from sinner to saint, from lost to found, mending the broken, and adopting the orphan. “… it is the gift of God … so that no one can boast.” Grace isn’t given to those who deserve it, but to those who are completely undeserving.
Grace, then, is for the sinner, the failure, those who are destitute and empty. Who needs Grace more than these? For so long we told them that they couldn’t have it. Shame on us. To the sinner, the weak and the worn, those who are broken and shattered, God freely offers Grace.
God’s Incredible Challenge
Here is where the question of the day finds its answer. As I shared with the group that night, I don’t think you can take advantage of God’s Grace. Grace was made for the taking.
Our bad teachings about Grace serve to confirm a nagging voice in their hearts. That voice has lied to them, shackled them, turning them away from the only Source of what they desperately need. It says they aren’t worthy or good enough. There isn’t enough Grace to cover what they have done. Their sin is too great, their failure too painful, and their works too destructive.
Almighty God spoke, and BANG! Time and space appeared in the midst of eternity. He made the heavens, the Earth, land and sea, all living creatures, and even humanity. Did God have to save up for Creation? Was there a bank in Heaven where He had to deposit some power and wisdom, a little bit at a time, over the unmeasured ages of eternities passed? Or was God able to create whenever He wanted to, simply because He is God?
Don’t forget for one moment about God’s infinite resources. There is no limit to how much He has of anything He has promised us. There is an infinite supply of mercy. His goodness doesn’t end. The Psalms declare, “His love endures forever!” So how much Grace does our God possess?
God doesn’t run out of anything. There isn’t just an abundance, there is more than enough. More than enough for you, for me, for every man, woman and child, throughout all time and eternity. And then there is still more.
Grace is God’s incredible to challenge to us. When we feel like God can’t possibly care anymore, or we couldn’t dare to even approach Him, He reaches into His pocket and says, “I have more Grace. You don’t think there’s enough? Try me. Give me a chance. Stick your hand into my Grace jar and see if you can find the bottom. I can’t. I have all the Grace you could ever need, and then some.”
I don’t think you can take advantage of God’s Grace. You can miss out on it. But if you are really in need of Grace, God has no plan to cut you off or to put you on a grace-payment schedule. Grace was made for the taking.