Earlier this week, I wrote about how there is very little in this life that I actually did by my own strength. In fact, the things that perhaps I should be credited for are usually the things that go poorly. If I just slow down—if I just take time to reflect on where I am in life—I can see that it had little to do with my own power and might. With just a tiny bit of perspective I can see that my strength got me nowhere.
Why, then, do I still spend so much time taking credit for things that I had little hand in bringing about? Why do I have such pride in the things that “I” do? For the past three semesters I have been serving as a GTA (graduate teaching assistant) with an online class at Dallas Seminary. It’s one of the intro pastoral ministries classes and the content of that class has helped to remind me as to why I still try and take credit.
Grace is repulsive . . .*
We try and think of grace as a good thing—and it is! However, you and I often talk about grace like we somehow have always known it is a good idea—like it was even our idea. Grace was never our idea. If left to ourselves for a million years we would never have conjured up grace like we know it and experience it every single day.
Baked into our world is the concept of working, earning, and being rewarded for all of those things. I believe those are good concepts. Hard work is good (Eph 4:28-30; 1 Thess 2:9) and laziness is bad (Prov 19:15; 26:14). God built us for work and we always need to be busy (in a good way) with work.
However, the flesh (as it often does) distorts what is good. It flips the script so that we feel that our work is not just good—but that what we accomplish is ultimate. At that moment the concept of grace has no room in our hearts and minds. Selfish ambition takes over and we think, “It feels good to get some credit. I don’t need 100% of the credit, but I need some. I need people to know that I did something.”
Grace, however, is the concept that says we did nothing—that in the ultimate things at life (the things concerning eternity) we were unable to bring value. The most familiar New Testament passage is from Ephesians:
8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.Ephesians 2:8-10 (CSB)
Notice the juxtaposition. What is saying, “I did it!” but simply a boast? God’s grace removes boasting, yet we always want to boast in things that we did. If you look through the New Testament for references to “boast” you’ll see pretty quickly that we do not boast in our own work and in our own power. (You’ll also find that the word “boast” becomes weird looking really quickly. I mean super quick.)
You can boast in your weakness (2 Cor 12:9). You can boast in the Lord (1 Cor 1:29-31). You can boast in the Cross (Gal 6:14). You can boast about God’s work in others (2 Thess 1:4). Boasting in how you’re the bomb, though, is not really on the list.
We are recipients of grace, but we don’t like grace. We will have all eternity to learn about grace and to walk in its rhythms, but we are still going about the dance unnaturally in this world—yet we assume we are leading the dance. We aren’t. We never have. We never will.
Grace is the Lord’s language and we need to learn to speak it.
*These lectures are by Dr. Vic Anderson at DTS and are on the spiritual life of the Christian (PM 105)