At Polishing the Pulpit last week, a combination of a lesson that I heard and a book I read helped to drive home what God’s grace really means.
God’s grace is one of those concepts that is hard to explain. We know that it’s there, but it’s like trying to explain God’s providence. We don’t really know how to put it into words. I’ve often heard it defined in conjunction with mercy. You’ve probably heard this same thing: “Mercy is not getting something you deserve. Grace is getting something you don’t deserve.”
That definition is fine on a very simplistic level, but then we read verses like Romans 6:15, Acts 11:22-23, and John 1:14, and I can’t help but believe that grace is so much bigger than what that simple definition allows.
Then this past week, something finally clicked. I was sitting in one of the sessions of Don Blackwell at PTP called “How We Can Know We Are Going to Heaven.” Even though brother Don didn’t say anything different than what I’ve heard before, something about it really hit home this time. It’s like all the puzzle pieces finally started to fit together. At the same time, I was reading Dan Winkler’s new book called Grace: Simply Incredible, Incredibly Simple in the hotel room at night. I read the last chapter right after listening to Don’s lesson, and it just drove the point home further. For the first time in my life, I finally felt like I understood grace, and it’s like a whole weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Let me try to explain why.
I’m a black and white person. Things are either right or wrong, and I don’t see gray areas very well (which may also be part of the reason I worked for several years as a bank Compliance Officer). I’ve always known that I can’t earn my salvation and that it is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). That is the correct textbook answer because that’s what the Bible says. However, I’ve also always been stuck on the “rules”. Can I do this? Can I do that? Did I do enough of this? Did I read enough? Did I focus enough during worship? Did I talk to enough people? Have I met my quota?
In other words: did I tiptoe well enough through this minefield we call life in order to still be standing at the other side?
There are two problems with that mindset. First, I spend so much time focusing on the “law” that I seem to be wrapped up only in myself. Don’t get me wrong. I understand full well that there is a law, and that God expects us to live by it. We can’t just live life as if there are no rules and say that God’s grace will cover it all (Romans 6:1-2). However, at the same time, we can’t go through life trying to justify our gift of salvation by trying to live by the law. If that’s the case, then we are basically slapping Christ in the face and saying “I don’t need your crucifixion. I keep the law.” (Galatians 2:15-21)
I was searching for an analogy to help explain this, then I found it in the most unexpected place. After PTP was over, our family stayed in Sevierville, TN, for a few more days. We took our kids on one of those indoor rope courses. If you haven’t seen or been on one, you are basically tethered to a multi-story track system by a very uncomfortable harness and a beast of a rope that looks like it could be used to tow a cruise ship. You then have all kinds of crazy obstacles that you have to try and cross, with the only thing keeping you from plummeting to the ground is that rope.
Well, we have young kids, so I got to go up on the rope course with them. I have this strange fear that I used to think was a fear of heights. However, through various experiences, I’ve learned that I actually have a fear of falling. Being too close to a cliff with little to no railing terrifies me. However, being on an airplane or in a skyscraper doesn’t bother me at all, because I feel secure in those situations. You would think that the rope course would make me cower into the fetal position, but I had no fear because I had faith in that rope. I was tethered to a strong system that made me secure. So, when I was literally 40 feet off the ground walking across a 30-foot-long swinging rope bridge that had no rails and had only a series of 4×4 boards spaced about 15 inches apart, I wasn’t scared. The room didn’t spin. I felt secure. I was also able to do something that even shocked me. I walked across that swinging rope bridge without holding on to the rope, which had some slack on it. So in other words, I was able to balance and walk across that unstable bridge without the rope physically helping. But do you think I could have done that if I didn’t have the rope? We’ll never know because I would have passed out. But I did it. I stayed on the bridge. I didn’t turn to the left or the right but walked in the straight line with some decent speed, all because I knew the rope was there to catch me if I missed a step.
Now imagine that rope is God’s grace and that 30-foot-long swinging rope bridge that is 40 feet off the ground is our life. The only reason I can make it through this life is that I have God’s grace there with me. I am not trying to do it on my own. I follow God’s law (i.e. I walked on the 4×4 pieces of wood) without trying to test the boundaries, but I also walk with confidence knowing that Christ has died for me and provided me with the gift of grace (i.e. the rope). Trying to live a life of spiritual do’s and don’ts is like doing the rope course without the rope. The worker at the bottom would simply be shaking his head and saying “I have a rope right here…you don’t have to do it on your own.” And I would be saying in return, “I don’t need your rope. I won’t fall.” That just sounds ridiculous. But are we doing that same thing to Christ by trying to live under a law and ignore His grace?
May we not continue in sin so that Christ can show us more grace (Romans 6:1-2), but may we also not make his sacrifice of no avail simply because we want to try and do it all on our own (Galatians 5:15-21).