“Amazing race, how sweet the taste, that saved a wrench for me. I once was in the lost and found, was blind but found my keys.” — Reese, Malcolm in the Middle
Understanding grace has been one of the most difficult endeavors undergone in my last 4 years of following Jesus. For me, it is indistinguishable from the free will/predestination (Arminian/Calvinist) debate: If I do not need to do anything to gain salvation, then my salvation depends completely on God. If my salvation depends completely on God and God wants all to be saved, then all are saved. If all are not saved then my salvation does not depend completely on God. Comprende?
The only viable conclusions of Arminianism are either works-based salvation or antinomianism. The only viable conclusions of Calvinism are either universalism or tyranny. I’m sure those terms will make understanding this for you infinitely easier. Actually, ignore them, unless you’re one of those who love jargon.
One thing the theology of grace I have been exposed to does not deal with very well is responsibility. What I mean is that although there are those rare climactic moments when you know completely that there is nothing you can do to gain salvation and that it is completely free, these moments are often all to quickly swamped by what is required of us. Grace: It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. The difficulty comes mid-week when you face yourself to find that the world requires something of you. You need to finish your degree. You need to turn up to work. You need to pay your rent on time. You need to maintain a healthy diet. You need to spend time with those who love you.
Why so worried? These are seriously non-issues. Try: You need to provide food for your family. You need to find a safe place to live. You need to speak out against the injustices your government system perpetuates. You need to stay warm. You need to help those who can’t help themselves.
Consider Paul “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1Co 13:3 NIV). Sometimes we limit even beauty and power of verses like this by turning them into law: You must do everything out of love. Yet in saying ‘you must’, you automatically create law to prevent the law which Paul speaks of, and therefore you again bind grace with law.
Two Christians found themselves each in isolation after being verbally abused and beaten by their persecutors. The first prayed out to God, “O Lord! Thank you delivering me from my enemies. I cannot rid myself of the hate I have inside for them. Please change my heart. I know that you desire for me to pray blessing over them. Please grant me the grace so that I can do this out of love for them, rather than doing this because I know I should.” Somewhere nearby, the second began her prayers, “Father, I praise you for saving my life again today. I wish for you to come soon and wipe evil off the face of the earth. ‘Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies’ (Ps 139:21-22 NIV). Yet I know I am required to pray for them. Despite my complete desire for their destruction, I will ask you to bless them because I know this is your will.”
There are two laws at work here: The second person prays according to the law that you must pray for your enemies. The first person prays according to the law that you must act out of love rather than law. Ideally, we act out of love, yet we don’t always have love with which to act.
Sometimes it is more loving to do something out of obligation than to not do it at all.
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