Thursday, August 5, 2010

Infinite God, Infinite Grace.

"In the terrain of life with God, grace is not a ticket to heaven, but the earth under our feet on the road with Christ . . . Grace saves us from life without God--even more it empowers us for life with God." ~ Richard Foster (with Kathryn Helmers) in Life with God
When I decided to take seriously the call to follow Jesus I left God’s grace behind for a while. I thought grace was what God did for me the day I was born from above. I thought grace was only about forgiveness. I thought grace was a ticket to heaven. How little I knew about God’s grace. Decades later I’ve discovered his grace is the air I breathe.

One of the challenges of spiritual formation is the easily-held idea that God has done everything he’s going to do. The rest is up to me: I must meditate, pray, serve, study, contemplate, isolate, and even celebrate on my own. Jesus showed me how it’s done, died on the cross, paid the price, and now it’s up to me to respond. There’s a measure of truth to such thinking, but the best lies always use a bit of the truth. God's grace is the disciple’s fuel for life.

God’s grace starts well before we come alive to his call; it is the power to forgive and save at the new birth; and it is the pathway to walk with him forevermore. As mentors like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard have pointed out time and again, the spiritual disciplines are practices that put us into position to receive more of his grace--the disciplines are not spiritual hurdles to be cleared by the “serious” student of Jesus. The startling truth is that those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus need more of God’s grace than others who have no interest in spiritual transformation.

May I share three surprising passages about God’s grace?

  • “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2: 11-12) Simply put, Paul reminded Titus that God’s grace is available to teach us how to live right now. Do we ever think of grace as a teacher? What have we learned from grace? God’s grace stands ready to teach us even after we turn to Jesus: we can learn how to say ‘no’ to ungodliness. We can learn from God’s grace how to live upright lives. We need not be forever trapped in a cycle of same-sin, same-forgiveness, same-life. This too is part of the good news.
  • “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” (John 1:16) Apparently the good folks who translated the New International Version were challenged by the more literal rendering of this verse, “From his fulness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (NRVS) The NIV substitutes “one blessing after another” for “grace upon grace.” But why argue over translation? I believe John was searching for a way to communicate that God’s grace is multi-layered. If we walk with him 50 years we will discover again and again the God who beckons us (in C.S. Lewis’ happy phrase) to come “farther up and farther in.” But take note: if we are determined to think of grace as merely a ticket to heaven there is no farther up and farther in--either in this life or the next. Why come to the shores of God’s grace only to dip our toes in the ocean? 
  • “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (James 4:6) More grace. Greater grace. All the more grace. I believe James was speaking from experience, not theory. I think he discovered the multi-layered grace of God as he learned to humble himself again and again. When we humble ourselves we position ourselves for greater grace. One sure indicator of a religiously closed mind is the firm conviction that we have this Jesus-thing figured out. The religiously closed mind is only interested in exporting it’s brand of spirituality. We need to discover that it’s impossible to drink in God’s grace if we do nothing but tell others how to live.

What kind of Father would tell his child, “I’ve done all I’m going to do, the rest is up to you?” Our transformation is his work, accomplished as we present ourselves to greater grace again and again. If we limit his grace to the work of forgiveness, then forgiveness is all we will know.  If we open ourselves up to his infinite grace then our destiny is the infinite God.

Infinite God. Infinite Grace. Infinite Destiny.

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