God's grace - too good to be true?

255 God's grace too good to be trueIt sounds too good to be true so begins a familiar saying and you know it's unlikely. But when it comes to God's grace, it is true. Nevertheless, some people insist that grace can not be like that and resort to the law to avoid what they see as a license to sin. Their sincere but misguided efforts are a form of legalism that robs man of the transforming power of grace that springs from the love of God and flows into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5,5).

The good news of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, the personified grace of God, came into the world and preached the gospel (Lk 20,1), that is the good news of the grace of God towards sinners (this concerns us all). But the religious leaders of that time did not like his sermon, because it put all sinners on one level, but considered them to be more just than others. For them, Jesus' preaching on grace was absolutely no good news. In one incident, Jesus responded to their protest: the strong do not need the doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what that means: "I am well pleased with mercy and not with the sacrifice." I have come to call the sinners and not the righteous, (Mt 9,12-13).

Today we enjoy the gospel - the good news of the grace of God in Christ - but in the days of Jesus it was a great annoyance to self-righteous religious ministers. The same news is also a nuisance to those who believe they need to work harder and do better to earn God's favor. They ask us the rhetorical question: How else are we supposed to motivate people to work harder, live properly, and take a role model for spiritual leaders when they claim they are already under grace? You can not imagine another way of motivating people except by affirming a lawful or contractual relationship with God. Please do not misunderstand me! It is good to work hard in God's work. Jesus did just that - His work brought perfection. Remember, Jesus the Perfect has revealed the Father to us. This revelation contains the absolutely good news that God's compensation system works better than ours. He is the inexhaustible source of grace, love, kindness and forgiveness. We do not pay taxes to earn God's grace or to finance God's government. God works in the best-equipped rescue service, whose job is to liberate humanity from the pit into which it has fallen. You may remember the story of the traveler who fell into a pit and tried in vain to come out again. People passed the pit and saw how he struggled. The sensitive person called to him: hello down there. I really feel with them. The rational person commented: Yes, that's logical that someone had to fall into the pit. The interior designer asked: Can I give you suggestions on how to decorate your pit? The prejudicial person said: Here you can see it again: Only bad people fall into pits. The curious one asked: Man, how did you do that? The legalist said: "You know what, I think you deserve to end up in the pit." The taxman asked, "Tell me, are you actually paying taxes for the pit?" The self-pitying person complained: Yes, you should The Zen Buddist recommended: Keep calm, relax and do not think about the pit anymore. The optimist said: Come on, head up! That could have been much worse. The pessimist said: How awful, but be prepared! It will get worse. When Jesus saw the man in the pit, he jumped in and helped him out. That is grace!

There are people who do not understand God's logic of grace. They believe their hard work releases them from the pit and consider it unfair that others will come out of the pit without having made similar efforts. The mark of God's grace is that God generously gives it to everyone without distinction. Some need more forgiveness than others, but God treats everyone equally, regardless of their circumstances. God does not just talk about love and compassion; He made it clear when he sent Jesus to us in the pit to help us all out. Followers of legalism tend to misinterpret God's grace as permissive, spontaneous, and unstructured (Antinomian). But that's not how it works, as Paul wrote in his letter to Titus: For the salutary grace of God has appeared to all men and captivates us, that we reject the ungodly being and the worldly desires and prudent, just and pious in this world live (Tit 2,11-12).

Let me make it clear that if God saves people, he will not let them in the pit any longer. He does not abandon her to herself, to live in immaturity, sin and shame. Jesus saves us so that we can come out of the pit through the power of the Holy Spirit and begin a new life that is inherent in Jesus' righteousness, peace and joy (Rom 14,17).

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard Jesus spoke about God's unconditional grace in his parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Mat 20,1-16). No matter how long each had worked, all workers received the full daily wage. Of course (that's human) those who worked the longest were angry because they believed that those who had worked less did not deserve so much. I suspect that those who worked less often thought they had received more than they deserved (I'll come back to that later). In fact, grace does not seem to be fair in itself, but since God (reflected in the person of the host in the parable) falls in our favor, I can only thank God with all my heart! I did not think I could somehow earn God's mercy by working hard all day in the vineyard. Grace can only be gratefully and humbly accepted as an undeserved gift - as well as it is. I like how Jesus contrasts the workers in his parable. Perhaps some of us identify with those who have worked long and hard and believed they deserved more than they received. Most, I'm sure, will identify with those who have got far more for their work than they deserve. Only with a grateful attitude can we appreciate and understand God's grace, especially because we need it most urgently. Jesus' parable teaches us that God saves those who did not deserve it (and really can not earn it). The parable shows how religious legalists complain that grace is unfair (too good to be true); they argue, how can God reward someone who has not worked as hard as they do?

Driven by guilt or gratitude?

Jesus' teaching removes the guilt feeling that is used as the main tool of legalists to make people docile to the will of God (or more often their own will!). Feeling guilty is contrary to being grateful for the grace God gives us in His love. The focus of guilt is on our ego with its sins, whereas gratitude (the essence of worship) focuses on God and His goodness. From my own experience, I can say that although feelings of guilt (and fear are part of it) motivate me, gratitude for the love, kindness and grace of God motivates me much more. In contrast to legalistic obedience to guilt feelings, gratitude is fundamentally relational (from Heart to heart) - Paul speaks here of the obedience of the faith (Rom 16,26). This is the only way of obedience that Paul endorses, because only this God glorifies. Relational gospel-based obedience is our grateful response to God's grace. It was gratitude that Paul was pushing forward in his ministry. It also motivates us today to participate in the work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit and through his church. Through God's grace, this ministry leads to the reorientation of life. In Christ and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are now and forever beloved children of our Father in Heaven. All God desires from us is that we grow in His grace and thus know Him more and more (2, Petr 3,18). This growth in grace and knowledge will continue now and for ever in the new heaven and on the new earth. God deserves all honor!

by Joseph Tkach