My family and I just got back from an all-expense paid trip to Disneyland. My parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, my wife and I our 20th, and my sister and her husband hit 12 years, so my parents took us all down south to celebrate. Every expense was covered. Parking was paid, airfare, hotel, meals, even souvenirs. It was such a blessing, I felt like a kid again. I have to confess though, sometimes I felt spoiled, ridiculous, childish…and that’s when God showed me something important.
God has given us grace. You might read over that with your brain in neutral, but let it sink in for a moment. On our trip, every possible expense was covered – even money for souvenirs. In fact, I was looking at a sweatshirt in one store, but was $10 short. My mom compelled, even admonished me to take another $10 (as if she hadn’t given enough already) so I could get the sweatshirt. I hope you can hear my reluctance as you read. It’s a sweatshirt; I didn’t need it. I just liked it. Mom bought it for me anyway. That’s grace. It’s unmerited favor. It is gift upon gift. Grace is not satisfying an obligation; it is not giving with an angle. Grace is generosity driven by love, nothing more. Grace goes well beyond what is expected. Think of it this way: the Grace of God is scandalous generosity.
The reason it was so hard for me to accept gift after gift was pride. Like you, I feel like I need to have a part in the effort. I need to earn the gift, I need to be worthy of the gift, or I need to help acquire the gift. At that point, however, we have refused grace and chosen works – which is the opposite of grace. Serving as the pastor of our church, I see this all the time. People want to work for God because simply receiving grace is too easy, or makes them feel unworthy. We are unworthy, and yet God gives and gives. Too often, his gifts go unnoticed. If we could really see his grace in our lives, we’d be even more humbled.
On our vacation, we woke up in a nice hotel room, enjoyed a full all-you-can-eat breakfast, and just walked into the parks. How easy it could become to take those things for granted. Unlike the dinners, which were paid at the time, these things were paid in advance. We didn’t see the transaction and could lose sight of the gift that they were. Likewise, every day we wake up is a gift, full of opportunities. We have air to breath, sun and rain to nourish the land which produces our food. We have a place to call home, and a job to earn a wage. The list goes on and on. The temptation is to feel like we’ve worked for what we have, but who gave us bodies? Who gave us skills? Who enabled us to work and earn? Grace upon grace!
All our works, all our religious expressions, can never earn God’s grace. It is already given. First comes grace, then salvation, and then flows the life of Christ. The life we live must be understood as the result of grace. Grace does not free us from the pursuit of holiness, it compels us to pursue Jesus, who makes us holy.
Another struggle with grace has to do with the condition of the heart of the recipient. Sometimes our sense of entitlement can distort God’s amazing grace. We spent a lot of time at these two amusement parks, and must have seen a million people over the days we were there. The number of whiners was astounding. I’m not just talking about kids either – though they tend to let that sinful, selfish nature show more naturally than well-trained adults. People of all ages had plenty to complain about – so much for the “happiest place on earth.” Rather than realizing and delighting in the great privilege of having such an opportunity, some people complained about the lines, the crowds, the toys they got…or didn’t get. It’s like someone owed them something, and they were not happy that their expectations weren’t magically met. I think what people need, especially people in our part of the world, is a healthy dose of reality. We need to see how other people – precious and every bit as valuable in God’s eyes – live. We might be embarassed…and a lot more grateful as we realize how much we’ve been given.
God’s grace is freely given (it is finished) to the least and the lowliest, to the sinner and the saint; to everyone without finding fault(James 1:5). Salvation comes when we are willing to trust and receive his grace (which always walks hand in hand with mercy). Abundant life is realized as we live in the awareness of God’s presence and of his amazing, endless grace. The question is, will we be willing to simply receive it? Are we able to recognize it, or are we too wrapped up in ourselves and our expectations? Will we allow the Grace of God in Jesus Christ to captivate our heart and amaze us? Jesus paid it all…an all-expense-paid trip into eternal life: into communion with God.