Non-believers and even some believers see God’s grace as something too good to be true. How about you?
I think most of us understand grace intellectually. But has the astonishing truth of God’s grace sunk in? It is one thing to accept grace as a doctrinal argument, but another for grace to be the truth that defines and thus transforms our lives.
For some, there remains a tension between grace and obedience. This is not new—we see it in the New Testament. “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” challenged Paul in Romans 6:15. “By no means,” he answered, though we can sympathize with these early Christians for having this question.
We too find grace a difficult idea to internalize. Our experience with “special offers” and TV bargains has taught us that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
We all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. So when we read that God has done all that is required to save even the worst sinner, we are suspicious. Our “Yes but….” program clicks in, and we ask “What’s the catch?” There must be more to it than just “accepting Jesus.” We know we can’t earn salvation, but surely we have to do something! Pastors have told me that by emphasizing grace over legalism they worry that they may be encouraging their people to disobey God.
I love the way Peter’s second epistle opens:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:2-4)
God has already offered to himself what we could not offer. The grace in which we participate is the life of faithfulness that Jesus lived towards the Father. As Thomas F. Torrance wrote: “In this God-Man we partake in grace, as members of his body, reconciled to God through him and in him, and even it is said, are incomprehensibly partakers of Divine nature!”
Torrance is right. There is something incomprehensible about it. God’s grace towards us shows a level of love that seems unnatural to us. Charles Wesley expressed it beautifully in his hymn Amazing Love:
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
It does sound too good to be true. But it is true. We can delight to be alive in Jesus and united in his life. We should rightly be dumbfounded by his grace. When we recognize how and why Jesus takes away the sin of the world, we are immediately brought to a point of disconnection from our own false center and nourished by the true vine of life, which is the fullest purpose of God. Worrying about how we and others are falling short is to maintain a focus that stems from legalism.
We never need worry that we are over-emphasizing God’s grace when we point people to Jesus and a living, loving relationship with him. Grace and obedience are not at odds—rather, they are integrated in the source of both—the person of Jesus Christ.