September 2: The Thing About Grace

If asked what grace means, most of us would say, “unmerited favor.” But that is sort of like asking what is the ocean and getting the answer, “wet.” While both statements are true about their respective topics, both only scratch the surface of the truth.

If grace were simply “unmerited favor,” how could we “grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18)? Isn’t unmerited favor something you either have or don’t have? Grace is also apportioned in different degrees (Ephesians 4:7, James 4:6), and administered (Ephesians 3:2, 1 Peter 4:10). But beyond these factors complicating our understanding of grace, what is so remarkable about it is how totally divine it is in origin. Grace is not something man would dream up.

Look at other religions. Which of them is truly grace-based? Even those that use the word, when examined closely by their practice, become just another brand of human self-effort trying appease and earn the favor of a reluctant deity. The reality is: any religion man initiates is devoid of true grace and full of human effort.

And sadly, even many professing Christians have gotten themselves into that trap. The apostle Paul spends a lot of time arguing against the error of beginning our salvation based on grace but then trying to earn our sanctification by works. This only shows how deep in human nature the works tendency goes.

Although we will speak of the grace of God, when we stumble we will often distance ourselves from Him for an “appropriate” period until we feel we’ve earned our way back into His favor. How little we understand His unmerited favor and unqualified love for us. As His children, we should be far more moved by the sorrow of having grieved a loving Father and desiring a speedy restoration of relationship than hiding in fear of His displeasure. As Adam and Eve demonstrated, this fleeing from God when we sin is rooted in our fallen human nature.

This struggle is common to man, as we deal with the halting and unsteady journey of sanctification. Despite our best efforts we stumble. That would be bad enough, but then the accuser of the brethren piles on, gleefully pointing out that we have stumbled there before.

Let’s look at Zechariah 3 because it is such a powerful picture of the spiritual battle we face when dealing with our accuser. The high priest Joshua stands in filthy rags—this means he is clothed in his sinfulness—so when Satan starts accusing him, he doesn’t have to make anything up. This scene depicts the verses in the song so well. We can easily use our sanctified imagination and envision ourselves in Joshua’s place before the throne, wanting to crawl away and hide from the perfection and holiness of God, so in contrast to our own unrighteous rags. We are so aware of our sinfulness and unworthiness, and to make it worse, the enemy of our souls is standing beside us loudly pointing them out, lest anyone miss something.

What sin would he accuse you of? What shortcomings blare in your ears? What failure have you faced time and time again so that you despair of ever finding victory? But then the Lord speaks, and this is where the wonders of grace appear: because what Joshua hears, and what we hear, is not condemnation from the Lord, but words of grace, as filthy rags are removed and clean garments provided. The only words of condemnation are for the accuser. It doesn’t matter that his accusations might be true; what matters is that Joshua has been saved: “is he not a smoldering brand plucked from the fire?” If God has saved, who can condemn (Romans 8:34)?

If you go north far enough, you will eventually go south, but if you go east, you will never meet west. That is how far God has removed our sins. David says, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are removed, whose sins are not counted against them.” We are blessed indeed.

Turn to Zechariah 3 and use your sanctified imagination to place yourself in that scene and experience once again the relief and joy that is yours because of God’s great mercy and grace. Then spend some time in grateful worship of the One whose grace is poured out on you in abundance!

by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries