I apologize for the abrupt end to the previous post on grace. It wasn’t intended to be a dramatic pause, I promise. It was just one of those reflections I sat down to write, overconfident in my ability to be succinct. The thing kept getting longer and longer, and there was still much I meant to say. I guess I’ll have to split it into two or three installments. It’ll be more difficult to follow the flow of thought (which might not have been smooth sailing anyway), but at least it will be in manageable chunks.
I left off explaining why I think unmerited, though usually a completely accurate adjective, should not be assumed in the Biblical definition of grace. Along with confining the concept of grace to unnecessarily cramped quarters, the attachment of unmerited seems to have produced a confusing disassociation between the results of grace and the one through whom they are manifested.
I said before that grace could be described as God’s kind intention toward us—and its manifestation in our lives, and in all of creation. In more practical terms, grace is the God-given ability to be who he intends us to be, and to do what he intends us to do.
Let’s return to the little scenario I began with:
One believer thanks another believer for some act of service or encouragement—only to be promptly informed that their gratitude is entirely misdirected. The forthcoming explanation apprises the grateful one that the good thing that was done really had nothing to do with doer’s efforts, but was accomplished solely by God’s grace working through him or her.
I didn’t choose this illustration to pick on nice folks who respond to praise or recognition in this way. I’m pretty sure I’ve done it myself a time or two. I chose it because this response assumes that, apart from some intangible and poorly-defined state of yieldednes, the effect of grace is in no way dependent on the participation of its recipient and agent.
This is hard to reconcile, first of all, because we are all very well aware of our own efforts and the part they play in the good things we do—the good things God does through us. How can it be true that the positive results of our actions have nothing to do with us?
An illustration is probably in order here. Partly because he is always on my mind, and partly because I am unashamedly proud of him, I’ll offer my husband as a for-instance.
He is a brilliant thinker and an effective communicator. These are God-given gifts. This is grace. But he has the freedom (also grace) to respond in a variety of ways. He could ignore these abilities and leave them untapped. He could take advantage of them for some selfish pursuit. Or, he could choose to use them for the Kingdom of God, but put little effort into developing them into something very useful.
He does none of those things.
Instead, he has—and continues to—study diligently, in order to grow in wisdom and to improve his ability to communicate. He listens and tries to see people. He strives to be open and sensitive to God.
These are all choices that enable him to make use of the grace available to him. He engages in a very literal cooperation and partnership with God. The way he responds to grace has immeasurable significance for his relationship with God, for his family and friends, for our church, and for the Kingdom of God.
In all of our endeavors, we never get away from grace. It is always there—providing, inviting, directing, enabling, and multiplying. Nothing is possible without it. But grace is much more like a compass, a pair of oars, and a favorable wind, than a current that carries us along, without our knowledge or consent.
Grace waits for me. I was meant to take up the oars. If I expect a current to carry me away, I may end up just bobbing on the surface. Even the ability to float and bob is made possible by grace…but is that really what God desires for my life?