Friday, September 3, 2010

Finding Grace by the Way of Learning What Grace is Not

 What is grace and how does one find it?  We all have the sense that we have “fallen from grace,” but how can we get back to that place that we lost and that from which we feel like we’ve fallen?  What if we’ve never really known grace at all?  I find it quite easy to feel more connected to my failures and imperfections, particularly when I try to measure up to the ideal that others have created for me.  Good performance often brings good favor, but that feeling is rare and always fleeting. It never satisfies for very long.  It stops when I inevitably show my human nature and acceptance ceases, sometimes bringing the pain of rejection and disapproval.  This is not grace.  I long for unmerited favor and joy, the expression of unconditional love.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves:
It is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

The Apostle Paul points out that to us that grace is a free gift from God that cannot be earned in any way.  Grace comes to us through faith and not by anything we can do.  We only need to believe in Jesus (God in sinless human flesh) and in the Blood He shed to pay for our sins.  God then sees our faith in Him and extends His favor to us for no other reason, for there is nothing about ourselves that merits His grace.  We then embark upon a journey of transformation as we become more like Him, the process of being made holy and set apart for Him (sanctification). 

Paul’s writings define “grace” as the antithesis of “works” and of “the Law” in a way that neither Greek nor Hebrew did before.  This grace originates unilaterally from within God Himself, favor that proceeds from God apart from anything that man does.  The understanding of grace as God’s gift describes something quite radical and difficult to understand in human terms, because everything else in life must be earned and always comes with a cost.  I believe that grace is something that the natural mind does not really comprehend, making it a true miracle when we receive it through faith and the Spirit which lets us see and understand.  Our minds of flesh cannot make sense of real grace apart from the Spirit.

Not unlike far too many Christians before him, Bill Gothard fails to fully grasp the nature of grace and sutbly redefines it improperly, understanding it in human terms.  He accepts grace as Paul defines it for one’s initial moment of conversion, but for the ongoing sanctification process of being continually changed by the Holy Spirit, he effectively teaches that grace must be earned.  In the Epistles of James and Peter, Gothard takes note of the proverb that God opposes the proud and gives grace to those who are humble. He concludes wrongly and too simplistically that grace should be sought, merited, and accumulated through acts of obedience, submission and humility.  Though these traits are desirable ones, they are not any kind of means that one uses to achieve the end of more grace and faith.  They are the effect, not the cause.  Gothard, the patriocentrics, and many of those of the Quivefull mindset reverse them, mistaking the effect for the cause.

Sadly, this makes grace out to be exactly the opposite of what grace really is, changing God’s gift of unmerited favor that comes through faith into a privilege that must be earned and merited.  Rather than the actions coming forth because of the desire of the heart to be obedient to God out of love, Gothard makes grace into a commodity that must be bought and paid for through following laws, particularly through acts of submission, humility, and suffering.  The follower believes the illusion that they are following God, but they are using God Himself as a mystical means to a desired end of power, safety, and acceptance.

Many unsuspecting and earnest people who desire to honor God unknowingly accept Gothard’s paradigm and proceed to understand saving and sanctifying grace as something that must be continually earned through good works like submission to remain in God’s favor.  Children learn that they are loved and get grace only when they perform through acts submission and duty.  Parents teach this to their children when they act out the new lessons they’ve learned, protective rules that were devised to keep safe and holy the precious things of God. Performance and comparison become the counterfeits for true intimacy and grace, but the system actually fosters duty and deadness instead.  Sometimes, it fosters bitterness because children recognize that what their parents define as love feels more to them like fear, obligation, and guilt.

These misguided parents should be shown mercy, because their own lack of understanding points out that they also do not understand love themselves, or they’ve set it aside for a plan that they believed would make them better lovers of God.  They understand that they are loved themselves only to the degree that they are able to perform and live out a list of laws and standards -- outward signs that prove that they belong to God on the inside.  Those who follow God in this way soon come to understand that can only be loved when they perform up to expectations.  They learn from their teachers to resist the true message of grace by wrongly discounting it as lawlessness.

God does not love this way.  This is NOT grace.  It is just the opposite.  Grace cannot be earned, and God offered it to us because we there was no other way to make our way to His heart of love.  He makes the way.

Grace says, "I love you, forgive you, and grant you mercy, despite your imperfections."  Grace says that though you fail and are weak, though you sin and make mistakes, I love you anyway and think you’re a most remarkable and wonderful creature.  Grace sees past the flaws and loves the good potential it sees in you, and it makes you realize that you want to be better than you are now.  It helps you see what it sees, that which you cannot yet see in yourself.  It holds out hope for you and creates a place of joy and healing, even though you really don’t deserve it.  None of us deserve it, yet it is freely, freely given to us out of love.  Grace believes the best about you until circumstances and that sanctification process can catch up to where you’re meant to be.  It is God’s willful act of mercy, giving you all the wealth of benefit that you could never earn in a million lifetimes.

If you’ve never known grace, the expression of what a friend of mine calls “ego-free love,” I hope and pray that you will begin to know it.  It makes you feel wonderful and safe, not ashamed and hopeless. This is the spirit and attitude that we should have for one another, not benchmarking and performing that we might understand from our churches and from within our families.   It is the center of the loving, forgiving heart of God who has renewed mercies for us every morning. His grace and Spirit fill our hearts so that we no longer need the lists of duty, doing the right thing out of joy because we love Him Who delights in us.  God extends grace to us, and grace makes the way for us -- for there is no other way.  Grace is God’s heart for us that delights in us, His gift to us, freely given.