If you’ve grown up in Christian circles or read many books on Christian topics, you probably run across a lot of different definitions for grace. Things like, “Grace is the unmerited favor of God” or “Grace is the power and desire to do God’s will” or my personal favorite, G.R.A.C.E. is
(This one is the best because it both defines and spells Grace at the same time!!!)
And while I don’t really want to knock those definitions (except maybe the acrostic), I wonder if you’ve ever felt like me that such simplistic definitions do not do grace justice?
I should point out that I’m not saying that we can completely understand grace. In fact, as we discuss grace a little bit, I’d like to try to show that to understand grace completely, we would have to understand God completely.
The seed thought that I have for thinking about grace is this:
Grace is associated with the specific work that God is performing in any situation. What we identify as grace is the interaction of God with us as His creation to accomplish His purposes. Grace is tied up in the specific actions of God and in our perception of those actions (think revelation).
In this post, I want to focus on the specificity of grace in any given situation.
As I was growing up, I tended to think of the world as a complex system that God had put into place and that ran, machine-like with only occasional “intervention” needed by Him. And while this abstraction of the world serves quite well for some purposes, much like Newtonian physics, it is a severely flawed way of understanding both God and the world He has created. You see, Scripture defines God as omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and outside of time. It also says that he actively sustains the world. Because of this, any system that God has created is, by His very nature, constanly being intervened upon. Or to say it another way, God Himself IS the system (and therefore, is not a system at all.)
If we accept this, that a Sovereign God as described in Scripture demands a completely involved God, and that God’s involvement in our lives is of a personal nature, we begin to see how specific grace must be.
I should also state this: If you do not believe in a sovereign God, then it is not my intent with this post to convince you of it. The goal of this post is to bring previously separate concepts about God and His grace together into something of a cohesive whole (and, as with all my posts, to perpetrate excessive comma usage upon the world)
Let me give some examples that demonstrate my understanding of grace in action:
Let’s suppose for the purposes of this example that God’s ideal for a functioning home is some form of home school. This is for example purposes only. Let’s also say we have FamilyA and FamilyB. The Mom and Dad of FamilyA have been saved for about 6 years and are in a small Bible preaching church in a small town with no Christian schools. Several church members teach at the local public school and DaughterA and SonA both attend there. FamilyB attend a different church in the same town and the Mom and Dad of FamilyB have been saved for approximately the same amount of time. The elders at the church that FamilyB attends all home school their children and they have recommended home school to the members of the church. FamilyB decides to home school their children and do so for several years. At some point, the Dad of FamilyB decides that home school is costing them too much in terms of time and energy. He talks to his wife and they decide to put their children in the local public school for the last four years of high school. This part is the key: in this example, FamilyB’s reasons for stopping home schooling are carnal and are based on their own selfishness.
Based on what I know of grace in Scripture, it would not be unreasonable to expect that God would treat these two families very different for their decisions. He may very well bless FamilyA and protect their children from certain dangers while FamilyB and their children may have a very different experience in the same school during the same time period.
Two young Christians get married and have a couple of children. Because of the way they were taught, and the church that they are attending, and the best advice that they can get, they do not begin disciplining their children in earnest until they are three or four years old and they rarely spank them. Nevertheless, their children are relatively well behaved and respectful of their parents, their rules, and the Word of God. Over the next 14 years, the parents do not have any more children, but they do change churches and they mature quite a bit in their faith and in their understanding of Scripture. At this point, they have two more children in short order. Initially, they treat these children much as they did the previous two, but these children are much more unruly and do not respond to the limited discipline that they get.
In this situation, though there is only one family, the passage of time and the greater revelation of God is what has changed. We have every reason to believe that God would not bless their current actions where they have greater knowledge of him in the same way that he would when they acted through ignorance, but through faith as well. We also have every reason to believe that if they begin applying what God has revealed to them over the past 14 years they will see results (not perfection, not all their problems going away, but God will bless their obedience)
What I am trying to get at with these examples is not that we can control the actions of God or that works produce righteousness, but instead the idea that we cannot always compare two separate actions and understand why God chooses to bless or curse as He does. (In fact, we cannot always tell what is a blessing and what is a curse. I am also not saying that life is inscrutable and that we shouldn’t try to understand God or His ways.) Because grace is not some magic pill that fixes things, but is instead exactly how God as a Father/Judge/Triune God is working in the world both through His actions and through His revelation to each and every man, it is not something that we can just wave our hands at and explain away. Grace is complex because God is complex and grace is the work of God. But Grace is also simple because all we have to do to receive it, is to obey.
There is, of course, more to be said about grace and what it teaches us about God, but I think this is enough for now. I realize that this is a rather long post for this blog, but if you’ve managed to fight your way through it, I’d love to know what you think.