Receiving God’s grace through Christ’s sacrifice frees me from the labor of self-effort (flesh) and leads me to choose Christ as life.
Choosing honesty has freed us from the illusion that we can make life work on our own, that we can find life apart from God. Having laid down our own ways, we are not ready to choose God’s way. We are ready to choose grace.
Grace is defined in many ways. Some use an acronym and define it as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Others simply say that it is unmerited favor. The truth is that in its broadest sense, grace is God’s operating system. Because of who He is (holy) and who we were (sinful), there was no way for us to get to God, and no reason for God to reach out to us. The fact that He did reach out to us, in a most dramatic way through Christ, is grace and
it is the only way that God allows us to have a relationship with Him.
You have chosen honesty… now what? The danger of being in this place on your journey is that, having confessed your neediness and the inadequacy of your old ways of dealing with life, you will simply “try” something else, some new system. Trying implies works and works precludes grace. You cannot “try” anything to guarantee the life that God desires for you to experience. You can only receive it, because it only comes by way of grace. Our restoration to life is fully dependent on the grace of God it is not dependent on any change of behavior on our part, any penance that we can do, any disciplines that we can maintain. We must allow confession at the foot of the cross to lead us to receiving relationship with God by grace.
Journey back with me to the garden again. Adam and Eve have just chosen death instead of life by eating of the forbidden fruit. The punishment has been foretold and must be executed. They must die. The next event is unscripted, unpredicted and unprovoked. God, in an act of utter grace, covers their sin and shame with the sacrifice of an animal and continues to dialogue with them. Surely there were consequences, they were removed from the garden, their bodies began to deteriorate toward death and their relationship with God was limited but God still extended grace. Not only did he temporarily cover their sin and shame but He made a promise to them that one day, the ‘seed of the woman’ would forever deal with the evil one and his sin. Grace. What had they done to deserve this ‘second chance’. Nothing. It was all God’s doing, not dependent on them at all. It was grace.
Grace comes to us in the same way, unscripted, unexpected, undeserved. At our lowest point, believing there is nothing salvageable in our lives, the Father extends His grace to us through the forgiveness offered by Jesus. I remember on my own journey being completely caught off guard by His grace. Confession had taken me to the lowest place yet. I had admitted my sin and wounds for the first time and it was painful. I had spent the first few days in the psychiatric hospital on suicide watch because of my depression and demeanor. The door to my room was kept slightly ajar and someone checked on me every 30 minutes. My belt, shoestrings and razor had been taken from me so that I could not easily hurt myself. In the middle of the night, the Father called to me and I was drawn to His Word for the first time since I arrived at the hospital. My wife had brought a small Bible to me, one that had been given to me by my youth group on my 30th birthday. I crept out of my room into the light of the hallway, sat on the floor and began to read the Psalms. There is a word in the Psalms that is translated, love, lovingkindness and mercy. It is the Hebrew word chesed and it communicates the grace of God clearer than any other Old Testament Word. I read through the Psalms that night and marked every occurrence of that word that I could find. As the impact of His grace began to settle on me, the tears began to come and I literally collapsed into the arms of the Savior. I knew that I could not make my life better. I feared that it never would get better. I knew that I did not deserve for it to be better. In spite of all of this He extended His grace toward me and I, having exhausted every other avenue simply chose it. What had I done to deserve this ‘second chance’? Nothing. It was all God’s doing, not dependent on me at all. It was grace.
The trouble is that all of our religious training has taught us to believe otherwise. Brennan Manning says, “For many people in the church, Christianity is not Good News. The Gospel is not glad tidings of freedom and salvation proclaimed by Christ Jesus but a rigid code of do‘s and don’ts, a tedious moralizing, a list of minimum requirements for avoiding the pains of hell." Didn’t Jesus come to bring life? The church has the same response that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had, it is afraid that with the dangerous freedom of the grace of God, the systems developed by the church will lose their place! Let us pray that they do! We don’t need a religious system, we need a Savior!
Can you see then how choosing grace will stop the never ending cycle of striving and indulging? We spend all of our time trying to eliminate the ways that we indulge ourselves with the pleasures of sin (alcohol, drugs, food, money, shopping, gambling, sex, etc.,). But the best way to end the cycle is to choose the grace of God so that we can stop striving. Relationship with God is not about striving. Jesus invites us to rest, not striving, because He did all of the striving for us… and won the victory that we could never win!
How do receive this grace? Receive Jesus. Paul told Titus that God’s grace had made an appearance to all men. Grace had taken on a visible form, the form of Jesus. His sacrifice on the cross for us forever settles the question of our acceptability. All sin and wounds are erased, guilt and shame are overcome and even death itself is conquered. When we, by faith, receive Jesus, we receive the grace of God and are accepted by Him. No more striving, no more trying, no more religious systems. Rest.
Receiving Jesus is more than praying a sinners prayer to escape eternity in hell. It is inviting Jesus to take away everything that separates us from the Father, believing that His sacrifice was for us. It is inviting the life and power of Christ to come into our lives and be our source, our identity and our hope. It is asking him to take away our heart of sin and give us a new heart, a good heart, a heart we can live out of. It is changing our identity from a sinner to a saint. It is a new birth! The decisions that follow, choosing forgiveness, choosing truth, etc., will not be possible apart from choosing Jesus, choosing grace. When we choose grace, we choose to allow Christ to live in us and be our life. We no longer need to find life in anything else. With Christ in us, as our life, the choices for life begin to flow! Choose grace! Choose life!
[i] Manning, Brennan The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus p48