By Jack Wilkie
Did you ever have one of those moments as a kid when you really wanted to buy something? Whatever the item may have been, you had your eye on it for months as you saved to buy it. Finally the day came when you decided it was time to make your long-awaited purchase. You got your parents to take you to the store, you proudly took the item off the shelf and walked straight to the checkout line… only to find out that you were a few dollars short.
Maybe the price had gone up since you last checked, or you hadn’t factored in taxes, but whatever the case, you simply didn’t have enough to get what you wanted. So, in your time of desperation, maybe your mom or dad stepped up and covered the extra cost. They made up the difference for you and now your trip to the store ends happily ever after with you having secured what you wanted all along.
Great story, nice memory if you have one like it.
Not a good analogy for God’s grace, despite the fact that many times we as Christians see it that way.
In much of what I read and hear about grace (and even as I understood it for a time), the following scenario is given by implication: We as God’s children have a goal in mind (heaven). We have to try our hardest to get to that goal (obedience), and where our efforts come up short (sins we haven’t conquered by the time we face the judgment), God takes care of whatever cost remains by offering His grace to cover the difference. Therefore, the less grace you need, the better.
That couldn’t be more painfully illustrated than by preachers or writers who say things akin to, “We don’t want to rely on God’s grace too much!” In all seriousness, the way some Christians talk about grace you would almost think it’s a bad thing, something we should only use in limited quantities because it means we’re not good enough.
Well, a bit of a newsflash for you, if you think that way: you aren’t good enough. There is no such thing as relying on God’s grace too much. In 1 Peter 1:13, Peter commanded his readers to “rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Grace brings us salvation and justifies us (Titus 2:11, 3:7). Grace, not our precise obedience, is our comfort and hope (2 Thes. 2:16) Even the good works which He has planned for us are not possible without His grace, as Paul stressed throughout His writings (Eph. 2:8-10, 4:7).
As these verses show, grace isn’t the spare change that meets with our good works where we come up short to help us pay the toll into heaven. A more accurate understanding of it would be to see it as the air you breathe in your new life in Christ. You can’t do anything without it. It is literally an essential part of every single second of your life as a Christian. God breathes life into us through His grace and it is by this breath that we operate in obedience to Him. Sure, you can always choose to give up your life for the death that previously reigned in you (Romans 6). But at that point you aren’t “relying too much on air,” you’ve decided not to use it at all.
Here’s what we have to constantly keep in mind: we are nothing without grace. All the good you can ever do in your entire life is absolutely worthless if it’s done outside of the grace of God (Isaiah 64:6). This idea we have that there is a certain percentage of us that’s good and God’s grace fills up the rest is completely false. You won’t stand before Him at the judgment in need of a bit of spare change to make it into heaven. You will stand before Him as a hopeless, lost sinner but for the grace of God covering you entirely.
There is no greater news than that God loved us enough to provide grace through the cross. To diminish that, to shy away from it in our teaching, or to act as though grace is God chipping in where we come up short is something the church has no business doing. Instead of avoiding the topic of grace or looking at it as the spare change we need to cover our deficiencies, why don’t we aim to declare our weakness and God’s amazing love, power, and grace that still provides us a way to know Him and be with Him in heaven some day?