Grace was mentioned in my Christian upbringing. Mentioned as just one word among many. “We are saved by grace, through faith…” It was one theological term describing God’s action and attitude towards humankind. “Receiving more than we deserve.” Such an understated, simplistic explanation. Grace was simply a word without much meaning, even with knowledge of the definition. Another abstract idea discussed apart from the weight of life and the fire of experience. For as much as I heard the word, I don’t think my heart understood it. Because let’s not forget, along with grace, there is wrath and judgment, justice and holiness. The broad sentiment was: “Let’s not overemphasize or talk too much of grace, or we risk being one-sided, forgetting the holiness of God.” Or the idea of “cheap grace,” discussed as much if not more than grace itself. My Christian expression seemed a little afraid of grace, hesitant to embrace it fully. Why was that? In what was the fear rooted? Give sinners grace and what then? They’ll throw it back in the face of God? This exactly is the outrageous beauty of it. The fact that it’s given so freely and with every opportunity to refuse it or abuse it or misuse it or throw it away. This exactly is what Christ revealed on the cross—complete abandonment of the divine to the actions of humankind; overt condescension to our choices. Whether acceptance or rejection, love or hate, beauty or abuse.
Grace is neither enhanced nor diminished by our response. It simply is. The fear towards embracing grace might be one of control. If we claim our own goodness, performance, activity, service, sacrifice, traditions, disciplines, etc, we maintain control. We feel just a little relieved that we are somehow worthy. The irony is that this is throwing grace back in the face of God just as much if not more than those who use it to justify a selfish existence. And let’s be honest—those who embrace selfishness are often those completely oblivious of this grace in the first place. We who know better are the ones consciously attempting to control one side of it. It makes us feel better about ourselves, as if we played a part in receiving a gift that is free to all.
Yes, there is grace and truth. But what if grace is the door to truth. How many of us know those so insistent on their version of the truth, yet one devoid of grace. And how many of us are guilty of this ourselves. How much truth can one know unless they first walk through the door of grace? And by this I mean divine grace—absolutely, undeniably free, unconditional, unmerited, undeserved. If grace is the door to truth, I want no truth at odds with grace.
And this is why open, honest, self-admitted sinners are those most likely to receive grace. They don’t have years of church indoctrination. They’re under no delusions of self-righteousness and self-goodness. They’re honest about who they really are. They have no one and no God to impress, claim no right to divine goodness. So when eyes are opened and hearts respond, grace is experienced for what it is—absolutely, undeniably free, unconditional, unmerited, undeserved. Without attempts to fool themselves into thinking they have anything to do with it. To a repentant sinner, grace simply is. Not, grace but, grace and, grace if, grace or, just grace.
For some who grew up in the church, grace was a footnote no one bothered to read. We passed grace by on our way to holiness. But it did not pass us by. It’s always been there. Before conception, at our first breath in this blurry world, and still it follows us into this very moment, and the next, and the one after, and—who’s to say?—forever.
(This is not an attempt to define grace. This is an invitation into the experience of it.)