Why Grace Makes Me Nervous [Part 2]
In the last post, "Am I Free To Sin?" we learned that the law of God has no power to change the human heart, only the grace of God in the gospel has the power to change us. Now if you read the last paragraph of that blog, you may have wondered why grace "makes me nervous." I would argue that if grace makes sense to you, you don't actually know what grace is. So let me press the issue by looking at how God saves people.
How does someone become a Christian?
It is true that in order to become a Christian you must believe in the Lord Jesus, I would be fair in responding the way Paul responded to the Phillipian jailer in Acts 16:31: “'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." BUT, believing in the Lord Jesus is impossible to do without the Holy Spirit regenerating our hearts. Regeneration is a big theological word for being born [generated] again [re-]. Regeneration is an act of God to make us alive. Only after we have been given a new heart are we able to put our faith in Christ. You cannot choose to be born again!
Jesus says that in order to see the kingdom (become a Christian), you must be born again (John 3).
"Okay...well how do I get born again?" someone asks.
The short answer to this question is: grace.
When we say that we are saved by grace, we are saying that God made us alive before we had any faith in Him. Grace always precedes our faith. God is the initiator, we are the respondent. God is the giver, we are the receiver. Think back to your physical birth. Did you choose to be born? Of course not! You cannot boast about being born because you had absolutely nothing to do with it. You didn't do anything good to prove to your parents that they should have you. How silly a thought. This is how grace works. The only one responsible for you being born again is God.
You cannot choose to be born again.
One of the clearest passages on how this happens is Ephesians 2:4-10. Read it closely.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
The essence of grace is that "even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive." This is why grace is scary. Grace is terrifying because God is the one who chooses to give it, not us. Grace freaks us out because we see that if God had not intervened, if God had not caused me to be born again, I would spend eternity in hell apart from Him. Woah. Grace trips us up because we are not in control. We love control, it makes us feel secure. This is why we love when preachers give us "5 ways to improve our marriage" or "3 keys to unlocking God's vault of provision." We love to be told that if we just obey God's commands, we will gain God's favor. If we could just behave, God will love us. This is reasonable, this makes sense. Living according to God's law is a safe way to live. But without a new heart, it's only safe like a prison cell is safe. We are so used to sitting in our 6X8 cell of self-justifcation ("but I really am a good person...") that we don't know what to do when the chains come off, the stone walls melt away, and suddenly we find ourselves in a wide open space at the wellspring of everlasting life.
You can only buy grace for free.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of salvation in a way that I can understand; he talks about it in terms of eating and drinking. As a church that does BBQ & Baptisms regularly, I think you will relate as well.
"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Isaiah 55:1). You see, the grace of God can only be had for free. You cannot buy it with money or effort or good works. Only thirsty people can drink from these waters. Only hungry people can have this manna. Jesus will give you drink so that you will never thirst again (John 4:14). Jesus will give you food that is eternal life (John 6:54). Jesus is that food and drink. Jesus is throwing a wedding banquet and all are invited! Grace makes the pious Christians get up and dance at the reception (Ps. 149:3), and when we dance we dance in faith. Selah.