Written By Paul
Growing up the ‘son of a preacher man’ certainly had its uniqueness in some respects, but the greatest of these was the expectancy to “be good”. It seems I forever felt the pressure to perform for somebody, even if it wasn’t my parents. The theology that my life was immersed in taught that if I screwed up, I could be looking at hell any moment. So there was a continuous looking over my shoulder to see if the ‘angry God’ was looming. This pattern carried over into my adult years and even into my own journey as a pastor. It has always been a personal struggle to understand the ‘loving God’.
This morning I was channel surfing and saw a name that someone had mentioned to me of a TV preacher who seemed to specialize in the area of God’s grace. Now first of all, I in general don’t care much for TV preachers and when at first seeing him, I thought “here we go again, another prosperity preacher looking for our money, trying to sell something.” But I listened and was pleasantly surprised to hear some good stuff. Which brings me to the focus of this writing.
Grace simply means ‘unmerited favor directed toward us from God’. In other words, I thankfully don’t get what I deserve. In my circle of theological culture, grace was sometimes viewed almost as a four-letter word. A favorite warning coming from this culture was to watch out for those who practiced ‘sloppy agape and greasy grace’. Wow! What is that? Boy, was I ever in need of some sloppy agape and greasy grace. Somehow the idea of being able to ‘earn’ God’s favor took over from it being already purchased by Jesus Himself. As if what Jesus accomplished through the process of death and resurrection isn’t quite satisfactory. We have to make it better by our works of righteousness.
The speaker this morning mentioned that Grace is not a doctrinal position, nor is it a principal of God. Grace is the very nature and character of God, expressed through Jesus. He also said that we don’t blend grace with the law, there is no law. This isn’t the gospel of grace but rather, grace is the gospel. As I was chewing on these thoughts my old nemesis showed up again. “Don’t believe this stuff”. To believe is to step into a freedom from religious bondage that so many Christians just can’t quite seem to grasp. I have been chief among them.
Some years ago I found myself at a point of rebellion against everything that seemed right, forsaking much of what was considered normal and sacred. I especially didn’t like Fundamentalists, Pentecostals, or Charismatics. Kind of limited myself somewhat. Especially since I could have been labeled as being an Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Pentecostal, Holiness preacher who hung out with Charismatics. Now I’m not even sure I like the term Christian, only because of the association that unbelievers have with that label. It has lost some meaning. So I would prefer to just be called ‘a follower of Jesus Christ’.
But having clarity of identification doesn’t guarantee understanding of grace. When you have years of bondage centered around the concept of a big, mean God, it’s hard to break loose. Maybe my rebellion was a form of lashing out against that bondage as my spirit was crying out for a freedom I had never experienced.
I’m still working on the understanding that not only does God love me, He even LIKES me. This is a God I grew up not knowing. I’m also still working on the idea that I can rest in Him, totally unable to earn my own way. He has directed a bunch of that ‘unmerited favor’ my way and I’m still trying to lap it up. The realization is slowly sinking in that I can’t perform good, but His grace energizes goodness through me inspite of my humanity. Some of us are just plain slow.