Most of the time, I don’t get grace. I mean, I understand it in an intellectual, theological way. I could probably give you a well-nuanced, theologically accurate, biblical description of God’s grace. I can sing about “amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.” I can direct you to the grace chapter in Grudem’s Systematic Theology. But I’m learning that there’s a long way between my head and heart. There’s a massive difference between knowing about grace and being transformed by grace.
How do I know when I’m starting to truly, fully grasp grace? Here’s how…
I’M STARTING TO TRULY UNDERSTAND GRACE WHEN GRACE SURPRISES ME
The grace of God runs counter to every impulse in me. The desire to earn, merit, and purchase God’s grace is woven into my DNA. I instinctively try to push my way into God’s presence by law-keeping. Yeah, I’m saved by grace, but after being saved, I go into salvation-maintenance mode, which, according to my thinking, hinges on my good works.
This is why God’s grace is so befuddling to me. God doesn’t give me grace because I’ve earned it; he gives me grace because he is gracious. Here is the brain-busting reality: God’s grace has absolutely ZERO correlation with earning. I know, I know, this kind of talk seems reckless, even a little dangerous. If this is really true, I might take advantage of God’s grace. I might start backsliding. I might go all apostate on God. Surely a little bit of earning is good, right? WRONG!
If I don’t get pound this fact into my head, I’ll never truly understand grace.
Jesus makes this crystal clear in his parable about the workers in the vineyard. Those who worked from the beginning of the day assumed they would receive higher pay than those who worked only one hour at the end of the day. They assumed that the master operated according to principles of “fairness”. They had worked harder than those who only worked one hour, therefore the “fair” thing to do would be for the master to pay them more.
But the master paid everyone the same amount, which caused a fair amount of grumbling among the workers. The master then said:
Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matthew 20:15-16)
Everyone was surprised by the master’s pay scale. Those who had worked all day were surprised that they had only received one denarius. Those who had only worked one hour were surprised that they had received one denarius.
Grace is wonderfully, surprisingly, delightfully not fair! Fairness has nothing to do with God’s grace! Today, God will give me a lavish, ridiculous, completely unfair, completely surprising amount of grace. Today, God will give me a surprising, unexpected, wonderful amount of grace. Today God will give me way more grace than I’ve “earned” (as if I could ever earn God’s grace). Today, God will surprise me with grace.
If I’m not suprised by grace, there’s a good chance I don’t understand it.