As Christians, our lives are rooted in grace.
In his letter to the Ephesian church, the apostle Paul would write two famous sentences – sentences that ought to haunt every Christian every day of our lives and in every activity in which we engage: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The eternal life that we have is the result of the grace of God. It comes as unmerited favor. It comes as uninvited mercy. It is something every Christian has, and we must stop sometimes and wonder that we have it at all. Because we don’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. There are a million reasons why this gift should not come to us. And there are zero reasons why why it should come to us – except by grace.
I suppose every atrocity or negligent act committed by Christians through the centuries has been the result of the fact Christians sometimes have forgotten about the grace of God. There is nothing inherently righteous about us. We only are righteous because we’ve been given grace.
We will not stand before God on Judgment Day on our own merits. No, we will stand because God enables us to stand by grace. It will be the grace of God that allows us to come near to the throne of God. Grace will prop us up.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Jesus turned aside from the richness of his eternal divinity in order to become a man – and a poor man at that. And out of that poverty, he enriched everyone around him. This is something that Jesus did of his own accord. No one forced him into it. There was no compulsion.
Grace works like that. You see, we normally understand grace as a thing – as unmerited favor or a definition similar to that one. But the grace of God that Paul writes about operates as more than just a “thing.” It operates as a force that is at work in our lives. Grace is more like an action or a power.
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,” Paul said. And he added, “for they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor (read grace) of taking part in the relief of the saints.”
And Paul continued, “Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of grace also.”
Grace is something that moves and does. Grace moves into a person’s life and it works in a church to cause poor Christians to beg to give away their money to help their foreign brothers and sisters in Christ, people whom they are never likely to meet. Grace moved the Ruler of all creation to abandon his seat in order to die on a Roman cross for the sake of the world.
Grace is given to move us. It moves us to act against even what seems to be for our own good – the giving up of our resources and the giving up even of our lives.
We respond to grace. A free and undeserved gift causes us to sit up and take notice. Only a darkened soul fails to realize the gift. But that is not the Christian. The Christian receives the gift with gratitude. The gift is grace, and it begins to work in our lives. Whether we are poor like the Macedonians or rich like our Lord Jesus Christ – grace works all the same. It drives us to give.
But there are times, like in the ancient church in Corinth, where we need to be reminded. Even Christians can become forgetful. Even Christians can become slack. We need to be reminded what we have been given, and we need to be reminded who we are. And the apostle Paul was gently reminding the Corinthian Christians to “excel in this act of grace.”
Again, this is why we gather. This is why other Christians must speak into each others’ lives – so we don’t forget. We’ve been given grace. We cannot boast. What we have must be given.