We are using the 40 days of Lent to consider different aspects of God’s grace. I believe our culture is increasingly at war with grace. Lent 2021 will be observed in a social, political and moral context unknown to most all of us. The journey to the cross by followers to Jesus will need to pick its way through a minefield of political disillusionment, justified immorality and social disintegration. The quiet of Lenten contemplation will need to find its place amidst the cacophony of voices spewing out various versions of the original lie of the enemy that we are lords of our own kingdoms.
How do we make this journey in a way that cleaves us to our Savior? How do we hear his voice in the midst of the clatter? Last week we looked at the convicting nature of grace. This week we will consider the implications for the truth that God’s grace is undeserved.
Grace is Undeserved
How do we acquire the things we believe will make us happy? We are all pursuing them. The call to do so is right in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
We are a nation fixated on pursuing happiness. Look around and you will see two primary routes people take in that pursuit. The first is the avenue of earning happiness. If we work hard, make enough money, buy enough things, gain enough reputation, obtain enough financial security, have enough friends, and find some meaning in life, we will have done the things that will earn us happiness. The American ideal is this independent, self-propelled process of finding our place among the successful through our hard work and personal efforts. We applaud those who achieve success by their ability to acquire the trappings of happiness. And we instill in future generations this pension for climbing ladders, acquiring wealth and pursuing the trophies that demonstrate they have achieved the prize of happiness and security. Happiness? If it’s to be, it’s up to me.
The second avenue is through entitlement. Rather than feeling the responsibility for earning our way to happiness, there are sectors of our culture that believe they are entitled to the elements of happiness by virtue of their place in society. They interpret the words of the declaration to mean that happiness itself, and not merely its pursuit, is the inalienable right. The basis for this entitlement is our perception of our own goodness. Believing we are basically good people who live mostly moral lives and make positive choices, we are deserving of a happy life. It is our right.
We carry these pursuits over into our relationship with God. If we go to church and try to follow the Ten Commandments, we should find our place in heaven either by our good works or the goodness inside us. Either one is sufficient to merit us the things that make for happiness. We believe we can apprehend God’s favor by earning it through right actions or by some innate sense of right because of our general decency. Either way, it is our goodness that tips the scales in our acceptable place before God.
In the face of these alternatives, grace is an unwelcome truth. Here’s what Martin Luther had to say about grace and our status before it.
“The sin underneath all our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands…The will of man without the grace of God is not free at all but is the permanent prisoner and bond-slave of evil since it cannot turn itself to good.”
John Calvin stated, “We should therefore learn that the only good we have is what the Lord has given us gratuitously; that the only good we do is what He does in us; that it is not that we do nothing ourselves, but that we act only when we have been acted upon, in other words under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit.”
D.L. Moody offered this perspective, “Grace means undeserved kindness. It is the gift of God to man the moment he sees he is unworthy of God’s favor… Grace means undeserved kindness.”
R.C. Sproul comments, “God is not obligated to save anybody, to make any special act of grace, to draw anyone to Himself. He could leave the whole world to perish, and such would be a righteous judgment.”
Perhaps my favorite perspective comes from Jerry Bridges, “Before we can learn the sufficiency of God’s grace, we must learn the insufficiency of ourselves. The more we see our sinfulness, the more we appreciate grace in its basic meaning of God’s undeserved favor. In a similar manner, the more we see our frailty, weakness, and dependence, the more we appreciate God’s grace in its dimension of His divine assistance. Just as grace shines more brilliantly against the dark background of our sin, so it also shines more brilliantly against the background of our human weakness.”
The point is clear, God’s grace stands beyond our ability to earn it or any status that would entitle us to it. In fact, grace is grace precisely because we can only earn and certainly deserve its exact opposite. Put bluntly, if we are left in our sin, what we earn in this life is judgment and what we are entitled to is hell.
We live in a culture desperately seeking happiness through means that have no chance of securing it for them. We can never earn enough, make enough or save enough to find the ultimate security we seek. We can never claim enough entitlement to meet the deep needs in our spirit brought about by the brokenness of sin. Left to ourselves to either earn it or claim it by right, the abundant life offered in Jesus Christ will never be more than a distant vision seen through a mist of doubt and despair.
As long as we continue to live in bondage to the deception that we must earn God’s favor or the prideful self-righteousness that we can, we will miss everything Christ came to win for us.
Grace is amazing because it frees us from the bondage of the deadly pursuit of self-generated success and the soul-destroying delusional pursuit of happiness by fiat. Both are tearing at the fabric of our nation, and as they become more entrenched as the only two options available, the good news of God’s unmerited grace will become ever more reviled.
However, for that very reason, we must proclaim it all the more powerfully and joyfully. As the body of Christ, we must allow this grace to so overwhelm us that people will see its fruit without us saying a word. We must be stewards of this grace by letting God show it to the world through us. How do we do that? Here’s five ways to see it happen in your life in the week ahead.
- Keep your heart focused on finding true contentment in your status as a child of God and a recipient of his loving and unmerited grace.
- Let your first thought every morning be praise and thanks for God’s unmerited grace.
- Share what that grace means to you with one new person every day and pray that God will bring the right people who need to hear that word across your path.
- Pray grace into every difficult situation you face this week.
- Be gracious. As you have received grace undeserved, give undeserved grace to everyone you meet.
God’s unmerited grace has changed your life forever, how might he use that amazing truth in you to change someone else’s life this week? Will you steward God’s grace for just that opportunity?