The Mystery of Grace
We read a lot about grace in Scripture. It is nearly on every single page of the New Testament. Yet few really understand what grace is and why we are given so much grace. Grace is one of those things that can be elusive for most to define. Essentially, it is one of the ways in which God interacts with humanity. It is the unmerited love and mercy (you cannot earn it) of God given to you and me, even though we, in no way, deserve such love. In fact, grace is there for you even before you become a Christian (Ephesians 2:4-5). The grace you receive before you are a Christian is called prevenient grace, since it allows you to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ even while you are still in your sins and without justification. Grace also helps us to grow in our inner desires to know, love, and serve the Lord, and then to act on that desire (Philippians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 15:10). Furthermore, grace also reveals the forgiveness of God to us (Ephesians 2:7-9; Titus 2:11-12; Romans 3:24) and helps us to live a holy life (Romans 5:21). Nobody is excluded from the grace of the Lord. The principle is that it is undeserved. Now, I do not know about you, but I do not think I have ever met someone who either claimed to deserve the grace of the Lord or who actually does. I know I certainly do not qualify by any of my own merits. Fortunately, it has nothing to do with your merits or mine. It is completely undeserved, which is why it is open to every man, woman, and child, as none of us is deserving of so precious a gift. It is very important that when you sense the grace of the Lord, that you do not resist it out of embarrassment, anger, or pride. Christians can indeed resist grace and even fall from the grace of God back into their old lives of sin (Galatians 5:4; Hebrews 12:15). Non-believers who resist the grace of God upon hearing the gospel have in essence refused the free gift of God, which is akin to spitting in the face of the person trying to save your life. Dr. Allen Brown, one of my mentors, teaches that people remain unsaved for three reasons:
The grace of the Lord is sufficient to forgive and cleanse us of these sinful attitudes, actions, and desires, but we must cooperate with that grace in order for that to happen. It is the exact same with your physician. Your physician diagnosis you with a particular illness, and then prescribes a treatment. However, if you do not cooperate with the physician regarding the treatment, then you are simply ignoring the diagnosis at your own peril. Make no mistake; resisting God’s grace is indeed possible and has tragic consequences (Galatians 2:21). That resistance places us outside the protective relationship of God, and almost completely under the influence of the Adversary. And if we resist the grace of the Lord for too long, or too obstinately, there is a point where the Lord will simply cease to attempt to get your attention and allow you to have total control over your own life (Romans 1:28). I could recount many stories of people I have known throughout my life who had the opportunity to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and either did so and then walked away or who simply refused to, even admitting they understood the truth of the gospel. In all cases, those I knew who did one or the other of these things resisted the Lord’s grace rather than cooperate with it.
My own conversion is a good example of both resisting grace and subsequently cooperating with it. As a punk in my teens, I was a pretty unruly kid. Drugs, premarital sex, parties, and little violence were all a common part of my everyday life. It was not that I had never heard of the gospel, but that I did, understood it to be true, and still went on living as if I didn’t. I was resisting the Lord’s grace. As a result, my life was spinning out of control. I found myself in the hospital twice in one year. The first time for alcohol poisoning, as I had stayed inebriated every day for about six months, and when I drank, I drank a lot. The second time, I had a bad reaction to cheap LSD that had been laced with rat poison. So, along with really frightening hallucinations I was in severe pain. Every muscle was tightening, I could not open my mouth, my heart rate was through the roof. The emergency room physician told me I was lucky to be alive. Again, I was resisting the Lord’s grace so intensely that He finally left me to my own sinful desires — a reprobate mind. When I finally stopped resisting, I was in a phone booth (they had those back then) on a 90-degree summer day, intending to argue with a Christian radio talk show host. I felt the grace of God hit me like a cool breeze in that hot phone booth, and I broke down on the phone. And that is where I surrendered to the Lord’s grace. Not in a beautiful church during an altar call; not at a revival meeting with great music and speakers; not even a chapel. I was saved in a phone booth. And that is the good thing about grace. It works everywhere and for everyone. It is through this grace that we are justified. That is, God declares us “not guilty” of every lie, every theft, every dark thought, every premarital sexual act, every single sin, based solely on the merit of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24-25). It is for all of these reasons that the Lord gives us grace upon grace, upon grace, ad infinitum. It is not just because He is bored and wants to make someone happy. It is not because He does not care about sin. It is because He knows as well as we do the multitude of sins we carry in our hearts, the depth of our depravity, the sorrows of our pitiful state, and we need an abundance of grace just to make it through and serve Him with even a little success. It is all for our benefit, and we are truly needy. Ann Lamott said it well. She wrote: “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace-only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” That grace continues with us as Christians, as long as we remain faithful, and helps us in all of life's obstacles and trials.