GRACE is one of my favorite words. GRACE. In theological terms it means “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.” (via Dictionary.com)
Meaning I didn’t do anything to deserve it. I didn’t become perfect. I didn’t score enough points via doing good deeds. I didn’t pray enough prayers, read enough scripture passages, or go to church an adequate number of times. I didn’t light enough candles, give enough offering, sing enough praise songs (or even hymns).
I was so hard on myself, most of my life. I knew I was supposed to be perfect; I knew. No one came right out and said it, but I understood that I was supposed to never cuss, always share with my sister, never backtalk my parents, never tell a lie. I was supposed to look right, act right, sound right, clean my room right, and get good grades. I knew, though, that I didn’t measure up! I cussed at school so my friends would think I was as cool as they. I cheated on tests a few times because I was so scared of the repurcussions of failing. I got annoyed when my little sister wanted my stuff. I didn’t share. I had a messy room.
I remember a well-intentioned couple from my college church discussing a mutual acquaintance. They said that he hadn’t been coming to church on Sunday nights anymore, just Sunday mornings. (Baptists go to church, or at least when I was growing up, on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.) They actually said that they thought he must be falling away from God because he wasn’t present every time the church met! (Backslider!) I am not kidding. They measured one’s closeness to God by how often one made it to church. This is not GRACE. This is legalism. Keeping rules in order to measure up, and to receive favor with God. It scared me. I knew I would never measure up!
As a result of this kind of experience, repeated year after year in my life and in my own mind, I began to think that God was really mad at me. I pictured God just shaking His head in disgust as He saw me fail at keeping all the rules and at meeting everyone’s demands of me, real or imagined.
It’s weird, because I had read Ephesians 2:8-9 many times (the Baptist church is excellent at teaching members the Scriptures; I love that). It says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Here are those verses in context from a modern paraphrase, The Message. I love how it elaborates! 🙂
Ephesians 2:8-9 (The Message)
7-10Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:16-18
And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
Below are the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, Grace, by U2, my favorite band. I especially love the line that says that grace “travels outside of karma.” That’s good. Karma means getting what you deserve; reaping what you sow, the Bible says. I know that that is part of life, but when grace enters the picture, you have the undeserved favor Jesus provides.
(music and lyrics written by U2)
Grace, she takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name
Grace, it’s the name for a girl
It’s also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything
Grace, she’s got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She’s got the time to talk
She travels outside of karma
She travels outside of karma
When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty in everything
Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
Grace finds beauty in everthing.
Grace finds goodness in everything.