Been thinking about grace in the last year more than ever before. Been dependent on it more than ever before. Even though this verse was committed to memory in my college days:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Logically, I could tell you that our works, no matter how benevolent and selfless, could NEVER earn us an eternal relationship with Christ; but my heart and body did not necessarily follow through with that logic. They kept working and working and striving and striving and thinking and thinking and planning and planning and staying up late and making one more list and cleaning one more room and preparing one more Bible study…..and, you get the picture. (You’ve probably done the same thing.) And never feeling satisfied or done. I think I thought it was all up to me…that all plates keep spinning, that everyone around me be OK, that my kids get educated and trained in all areas, and have all the appropriate experiences, and the earth remain on its 23.44 degree axis – and, of course, that I earn some favor with God by doing all of these righteous and responsible things.
And then He sort of stopped me in my tracks, and I couldn’t go anymore. All that will and determination and self-sufficiency suddenly disappeared, and I got tired. And weary. And depressed over being tired and weary.
And it was just as He, in His truly amazing grace, had planned for me. For my benefit. For my growth. So that I would rest and depend on Him. And I’m seeing that grace everywhere now – and more clearly than I was able to before.
I’m seeing it in His complete provision for my recently divorced sister who almost overnight (and through no fault of her own) went from stay-at-home-mom with kids in private schools, to single working mom trying to make ends meet. His grace has been SO abundant in her life. Every time I pick up the phone, she’s telling me another miraculous story about His grace – and NOT His condemnation, which I think she secretly expected.
I’m seeing it in a dear friend’s life who recently and very reluctantly chose to leave an abusive marriage. I’m watching Him surround her with friends and support and strength, even joy – and again, amazing stories of provision. And I’m seeing Him accomplish transformation in her husband’s heart which was something many had lost hope could occur.
Last night, we observed the Passover with our weekly Bible study group. This meal was and is how the Jewish people remember and give thanks to God for delivering them from their enslavement in Egypt. You eat things like raw horseradish, and parsley dipped in salt water to taste the bitterness of the slavery and the tears that accompanied that life. You also eat bitter herbs (radicchio, here) dipped in kharoset (apples, dates, apricots, walnuts, cinnamon – to represent the brick mortar the Israelites used to build for the Egyptians) to remind yourself “that even the most bitter of circumstances can be sweetened by the hope we have in God.” (from the Messianic Passover Haggadah, p. 16) The roasted lamb shank is to remember the lamb’s blood that covered the doorposts of the Israelites’ homes protecting them from the angel of death and the plague of the death of the firstborn. The matzah and the wine, to the Christian, now symbolize the body (pierced and striped) and blood of Jesus. This was the same meal that Jesus had with His disciples on the night He was betrayed.
And as we ate the meal and read through the Haggadah, I kept thinking about the grace in the story of the Israelites being rescued out of slavery. God accomplished it all. He sent Moses. He sent plagues. He provided a way to escape final judgment and death – through the slain lamb’s blood. He parted the Red Sea. He fed them in the wilderness. He led them by a cloud or flame. They needed only to heed instructions, follow Him, and receive protection and provision. They did not have to “work” for it. And they weren’t the most impressive or diligent folks, but rather stubborn and disagreeable. Still He led them. Still He loved them. They definitely did nothing to earn it.
Now, one of the difficult parts for me is that He did create us for “good works.” (See above Ephesians verse.) So, isn’t anything “good” that I do going to be empowered by Him? Won’t He be so pleased with my diligent and tireless efforts? Doesn’t He reward those who earnestly seek Him? (I love the word “earnest.”) Surely my kids will turn out great, my marriage will grow in intimacy, we will all stay healthy, and God will bless us abundantly because of all my “good works.”
The “catch,” I think, is in the two phrases: “which God prepared beforehand,” and “that we should walk in them.” They were works He chose, not that I came up with on a mile long to-do list. And all I have to do is walk in them. And since I’ve been an on-again-off-again runner for the last 20 or so years of my life, I know that walking doesn’t require as much effort or lung power as running. So, walk in the ones He prepared beforehand.
Still that can be difficult to distinguish from my own very high standards and expectations, but when He stopped me in my tracks last year, I think He also gave me a physical sense of when I am “working” beyond what He “prepared in advance.” I simply can’t do some things sometimes. Oh, I still accomplish quite a bit in a day or a week – maybe even more than the next person, but I’m beginning to be more acquainted with His voice – sometimes through the simple feeling of inability…I just can’t. So, OK. I’ll stop. I ‘ll even watch a movie with Robert after the kids are in bed. And then I hear His approving voice. I still love and accept you when you stop to watch a movie – maybe I’m even more pleased when you do, because you are trusting me, resting in me, and not yourself.
Recently, it was pointed out to me that God created man and woman on day six. The seventh day was the day of rest. God was pleased with His creation. So pleased, that on their first full day of life, He granted them REST. He did not immediately put them to work, and when He did, it was enjoyable, fruitful work – for their pleasure.
Unfortunately, we now live in a fallen world, and our work is often fruitless and stressful. But, it is not required for salvation, and it will not earn us more love or approval from God than we already have.
And that is because of the marvelous work that was accomplished on the Cross that we’ll celebrate tomorrow on Good Friday. Jesus earns us complete favor and righteousness in God’s eyes. We no longer have to strive to earn it, which is the good news, because we never could have.
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning was a book that the Lord used to help me more fully receive this truth…
“How long will it be before we discover we cannot dazzle God with our accomplishments? When will we acknowledge that we need not and cannot earn God’s favor? When will we acknowledge that we don’t have it all together and happily accept the gift of grace? When will we grasp the thrilling truth of Paul, ‘Someone is reckoned as upright not by practicing the law but by faith in Jesus’ (Galations 2:16)’
I still become “bewitched” like those “foolish Galations,” but I’m thankful for phone calls from my sister, nights like last night, days like tomorrow, and Resurrection Sundays to bring it all back to the truth. He loves me. I didn’t earn it. His favor was won by Jesus. I can rest in these truths – really rest and “cease striving” (Ps. 46:10)
Maybe even watch the Netflix DVD that arrived today without guilt!
Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.