i have been saved (in the classic, evangelical sense) for many years, but i’ve only recently begun to come to a fundamental understanding of grace. and the more i learn about grace, the more distressed i am about my ignorance. as i’m beginning to see, the scariest part is that the alternative to grace is not innocuous or irrelevant, but malignant (to me, specifically, and to the body of christ, generally).
this past weekend, i got a chance to spend some time with my father-in-law: a man i admire and respect deeply. for more than 40 years, he pastored little country churches while working a demanding, full-time job in the oil field. but still, after decades of bible study and preaching, he is trapped in a legalistic, works-based system (“when i do this, god is pleased…when i do that, god is disappointed”) similar to the one that plagued the pharisees in jesus’ day. at 88 years of age, my father-in-law stands on a mountain of accomplishments earned by means of great sacrifice and sincerity. he said to me, “having come this far, i don’t want to lose out with god now.” and in my mind i heard him say, “i can’t afford to undo all the good i’ve done.” as if his good work is the reason god loves him.
any of us who has been church any length of time at all probably suffer (at least slightly) from the same malady.
that’s the malignancy i talked about earlier. the simple biblical truth is that jesus did it. all of it. nothing else needs to be done. no further price needs to be paid. and the moment i allow myself to think that i can, by my striving, somehow endear myself to god then i become a victim of my own foolish pride. grace assures me that salvation is all about what jesus did, and yet i am so self-absorbed that i make salvation about something i did (or can do, or will do). and then i compound my mistake by empowering a system that perpetuates the dangerous myth that i can make myself righteous. say it with me: “it’s not about us.”
more on this topic tomorrow. in the meantime, i’d love to hear what you think.