1980s: How are you doing? Fine, thank you.
1990s: How are you doing? Great.
2000s: How are you doing? Awesome!
2010s: How are you doing? Epic!!!!!!!
Over time, words lose their meaning. Like cars hooked together on a train, words carry freight. That freight consists of meaning and emotion (denotation and connotation, to be showy). Apparently, for some words, the freight leaks out. We use and overuse words to the point they have little meaning. If you tell me your day has been awesome or epic, I am sure you mean neither “that which produces jaw-dropping awe mingled with dread at powers beyond comprehension” or “worthy of universal acclaim and a big fat book like the Odyssey.” What you mean is “fine,” as our grandparents would say.
This is a problem for a faith built upon the words of Scripture — for a faith built upon the words of Almighty God. We must always seek to dig backwards in time to the ancient and original meaning of the words of faith. What did these great biblical words denote and connote when the inspired authors wrote them down?
In hopes of rescuing the glorious word GRACE from a premature demise, please consider with me three myths about it. Unchecked, these myths will rob the grandest word of the Christian vocabulary of any amazement at all.
1. The myth that GRACE MEANS LENIENCY.
God is either too wimpy or too distracted to worry about our shortcomings, so he gives the universe a hall-pass and looks the other way as we party. God gets dumbed down to an impossibly nice old man or a sweet old grandmother, who chuckles at “kids these days.” The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has been declawed, defanged, and robbed of his roar.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The grace the Bible offers, and the grace we need, is a rigorous, tough, exacting, unforgiving DEMAND on the part of God. Grace is the marriage of UNFLINCHING JUSTICE and BOUNDLESS LOVE, without the sacrifice of either. Grace nailed God’s Son to the Cross. Grace looked upon his shed blood and outpoured life as the necessary sacrifice for sin. Grace called for DEATH — the agonizing death of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
How could anybody imagine Calvary’s scene and conclude that grace means leniency? Grace teaches that God will not make war within his own nature in order to make peace with you.
God is not nice. He is not a senile grandfather nodding in approval at wayward kids. To say that God has a heart of grace is to say that he deals with every sin according to the strictest standards of justice. He doesn’t back down one bit from an holy wrath against sin. He can’t back down. If holiness evaporates, God ceases being God and love can’t win.
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7, NKJV). The riches of his grace come at the price of blood.
To divorce the grace of God from the Cross of Christ is to empty the word grace of all its meaning.
2. The myth that GRACE CAN BE EARNED.
God did not bless you because you were good this week, or because you said your prayers. He did not open up a great parking spot because you managed to keep that nasty sin under control. If you in any way merit, earn, deserve, or pay for a good thing that happened in your life, then that good thing cannot be called a blessing; it has to be called a PAYCHECK.
But our God is not in the business of issuing paychecks for good behavior. He has nullified works by grace. Grace, by definition, cannot be earned. It is unmerited, undeserved, unrecompensed (you don’t pay it back).
Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: (Romans 4:4-6, NKJV).
Get it? In God’s economy, if you try to work, you don’t get paid. But if you stop working and just believe, you get paid the wages earned by Christ.
I’ll bet your Inner Legalist hates that. Mine does.
God is never in your debt. He never owes you anything. Whatever good flows into your life does so because Christ’s shed blood legitimized God’s kindness toward a moral train wreck like you or me. God blesses his wayward children just as much as he blesses the upright. Shocking isn’t it? God blesses you on the day after you sin, just as much as on the day before. His blessings flow, no matter what you deserve or earn. The promise to supply all your needs doesn’t evaporate when you misbehave (Phil 4:19).
Go ahead and do a big juicy sin. God’s grace toward you won’t even flicker. I have to testify: I have received some of my greatest answers to prayer on days I have least deserved them. Thank you, Lord.
So is there any connection at all between our behavior and God’s grace in our lives?
Yes, but only by way of AWARENESS, never by way of MERIT. God’s daily grace flows to all his children all the time. Every hour of every day, God is supplying your needs, including the needs of motivation to get your spiritual butt back in gear (i.e., correction and chastening, which are blessings of grace, Heb 12:6,7).
When your heart is good with God, you see his grace all around you. You feel blessed. You experience the grace you have always possessed. You are thankful, appreciative, confident, relaxed within the streams of blessing that never cease.
But when your heart is cold toward God, grace feels a million miles away — even though God is showering blessing upon you every single day. You will be blessed but you won’t feel blessed. You will be a miserable rich person.
Let the people of God uncouple the car of grace from the train of human performance, once for all.
3. The myth that GRACE IS UNIVERSAL.
Grace is universal, but only in the sense that when God sends the rain, he waters the lawn of sinners as well as of saints (Matt 5:45). Theology experts call this COMMON GRACE. Common grace is the goodness of God reaching out to the whole human race. That goodness, that common grace — which is indeed universal — is NOT ENOUGH to save a soul.
SAVING GRACE is not universal. It is particular. That means not everybody participates in this grace. Not everybody is saved. “Amazing Grace” at a drug-dealer’s funeral doesn’t spring anybody from the jail of sin. Not even if you sing all the verses.
Jesus taught: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. “For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it. (Matthew 7:13, 14, NASB).
John taught, And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11, 12, NKJV).
Popular? No. True? You decide. At least you have to agree that I’m being consistent with the Bible when I say that unless a person opts in to Jesus Christ, that person will be separated from the saving grace of God. I’m just the messenger.
The only way to make saving grace universal is to rob God of all his holiness, a theft I wouldn’t recommend. Two attributes mingle in God without any conflict at all: a) God is love, and b) God is a consuming fire (1 John 4:8, Heb 12:29).
May the people of God pack the car of grace with the freight of infinite holiness, justice, and love. May we enclose it in the Cross of Calvary. May we then bow before a gift so beautiful only eternity will reveal its depth.
Such a grace is awesome, don’t you think? Hey, we can even call it epic.
***** (Sharing is appreciated).
Three Myths of Grace. Click to tweet.
Grace is the marriage of UNFLINCHING JUSTICE and BOUNDLESS LOVE. Click to tweet.
Whatever good flows into your life does so because Christ’s shed blood legitimized God’s kindness toward a moral train wrecks. Click to tweet.