Contemplating Grace

Last summer we went away on holiday to Northumberland. One day, my son Tim and I took a trip to Lindisfarne - Holy Island - while the girls went shopping in Newcastle (aren’t we the super-spiritual ones? :-D). It was a gorgeous sunny day. We did the ‘sights’ - monastery, castle, etc., but we also walked around the island, and found ourselves eating our picnic lunch on a headland, looking out at the sparkling blue waters of the North Sea and watching the waves relentlessly washing onto the beaches below. For some reason, I started thinking about grace. And I carried on, on and off, for the rest of the holiday.

Grace is not grace if we have to ‘do’ anything to ‘earn’ it - perhaps even having to ‘accept’ it is too much. Let’s consider what I think I mean in a little more detail.

Grace is, by its nature, something which God extends to us. It is part of his loving essence. It is, stated most simply, ‘unmerited favour’. Unmerited - that means we haven’t done anything at all to deserve it, or to earn it - indeed it can’t be earned - it is a free gift from God, a manifestation of his unfathomably deep love for humanity. It is God’s benevolence towards humanity, deserving or not.

"Grace is God's best idea. His decision to ravage a people by love, to rescue passionately, and to restore justly - what rivals it? Of all his wondrous works, grace, in my estimation, is the magnum opus." (Max Lucado)

If, in order to receive God’s ‘grace’, we must ‘do’ something (obeying the Law of Moses for instance), it isn’t grace - it’s us ‘working’ for it, earning it, - perhaps even if those ‘works’ are as little as to ‘accept Jesus as our Lord and saviour’ (whatever the heck that means!). If it’s grace, it must apply to all, without exception - it can’t be any other way - because, otherwise, ‘we’ have done something more to ’deserve it’ than ‘them’ - and it isn’t, therefore, grace. It’s there, freely, for all of us.

But what about people who aren’t Christians? Surely grace hasn’t been given to them too?

Think of it like this… Suppose a rich relative dies, and leaves you a lot of money - and you receive a nice fat cheque in the post. You don’t even have to open the envelope, let alone pay it into your bank account - and even if you do pay it in, you certainly don’t have to spend it. Whether you take advantage of it or not, the fact is that, thanks to the benevolence of your deceased relative, you are now rich. That is, in effect, what God has done for every single member of the human race - deposited a big fat, free, cheque in their account… Not that anyone is forced to cash it in (though, personally, I think you’d be mad not to!).

This is where the translation of ‘through faith in Jesus Christ’ versus ‘through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’ matters - in the former we are, in effect, working out our own salvation (or not, if we don’t have ‘faith in Jesus Christ’); in the latter, it is pure grace - i.e. nothing we’ve done at all, because there is nothing to do - everything is accomplished through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ in giving us his gift of grace.

And if it is grace, freely bestowed upon all, then there truly is no difference between anyone - male or female, slave or free, Jew or gentile, homosexual or heterosexual, cisgender or transgender, believer or unbeliever, Muslim or Christian.

In the words of Buky Ojelabi: There is no “them” and “us”. We are all sons and daughters of God.

We are all one in Christ Jesus. (From Galatians 3:28)

This runs so contrary to our (worldly) way of thinking and being, that almost no-one can accept it - we find all manner of ways to ‘wriggle’ out of it, and try to find reasons why it can’t be true; and reasons why there has to be an ‘us’ and a ’them'. We don’t do well with free gifts - things we don’t deserve, haven’t worked for, or haven’t bought somehow (even if the payment is just ‘obedience’). Free things like that, especially if they’re valuable, make us profoundly uncomfortable…

We fear that there must be a ‘catch’ - because that’s the way the world works. And we want to be special, and for our ‘specialness’ to be exclusive, so that there are some (or many, or even most) who don’t qualify.

But this comes from God, and God doesn’t work like that. The heavenly ‘economy’ works in a way which is diametrically opposed to what we’re used to in every aspect of our world. Where we seek to find excuses to exclude ‘others',God makes ways to include everyone!

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022