Grace is What Works

There is a pragmatist within each of us.

Bent toward the rational and the results,this inner dweller unintentionally opposes some of God’s most profound movements in our lives.

This logic-loving, get-the-job done approach to life, a staple of the Western society in which I’ve grown up, struggles to grasp the life-Creator, who strangely–yet frequently–insists on operating in “obviously” impractical ways.

Grace is the finest of examples.

The careful reader of the New Testament will quickly observe the inadequacy of human efforts toward salvation. However, that doesn’t stop us from trying! Bent on saving ourselves, proving ourselves, and sustaining ourselves, responsibility and duty–praiseworthy qualities within themselves–kick into hyper-gear.  In the process, pride awakens and pressure builds, all the while we are unaware that we are building brick walls between God’s salvation and our souls.

Legalistic tendencies seem wired into the human hardware.

The hymn-writer called grace “amazing”. We call it “unbelievable”. We may never use the word, but we feel incapable of grasping the concept, and embracing it feels even less likely.  That is the pragmatist within us, speaking with conviction: “Grace is impractical.”  You hear it in the push back we feel obliged to offer against grace, particularly religious or responsible citizens: “What about discipline? Grace alone is too soft; it won’t take people where they need to be. It takes more than grace to transform a life.”

Grace is not practical enough for our liking.

Or perhaps we are not nearly practical enough.

The dynamic at work here is something like John Piper describes in “Desiring God”, a book carrying the subtitle of “Meditations of a Christian Hedonist”. Piper argues that hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure, is an attitude built into the very human nature. Other than spiraling our souls into self-destruction, this pleasure-seeking drive is what drives the soul toward God.  Paradoxically, Piper suggests that the reason we get lost along the way is that we are not nearly hedonistic enough!  Settling for watered down forms of satisfaction, our pursuit of pleasure is revealed as too weak, rather than too strong. We chase happiness like slackers, at the expense of our souls.

C.S. Lewis was developing the same thought when he famously observed:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

So back to where we began: We resist grace because it seems out-of-touch. “This won’t work in real life,” we critique.  Even more common might be the unspoken thought that Christ’s role in our lives is to provide a much-needed “reset” button. By his death and resurrection, he presses it and we sigh with relief.  We can take another kick at getting things right, in practical and reasonable ways, of course, powered by the fuel of self.

In this sense, we are part of a rich heritage of Christians who don’t get it.  Paul’s question to such folks:

Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. 2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? (Gal.3:1-3)

Beyond the Galatian goofballs, is anyone else’s “reset” button worn out from use?

“Seeking free-flowing forgiveness so we can take another futile kick at life on our terms”: Give me Impractical for $1000, Alex.

And there’s the rub.

Grace, in all its mystery and apparent irrationality, is the most practical of solutions to the human predicament.  The God we dismiss as idealistic or illogical actually, shock of shockers, knows what He’s doing, with His “power move” of offering freedom through surrender and victory through defeat.  Much to our surprise, perhaps chagrin, grace works.

In fact, it is only grace that works.

YOUR TURN: Why does humanity buck so hard against God’s grace?  What do you grasp about grace today that God has faithfully taught you over time?

Please leave your comment below, and enter the conversation.

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