The Giant Maze
Have you ever been in one of those giant mazes – made out of hedges or timber fences or whatever? You pay good money to get lost – it takes you ages to get through all the twists and turns, you make wrong turns and hit dead ends and all that.
So… how would it be if that was what life was all about – making it through the maze and past the obstacles until somehow, more by luck than good management, you make it through and out to freedom?
Maybe that’s the way life feels anyway. Maybe life is confusing and the things that happen, or at least happen to you, seem senseless or maybe ultimately without purpose.
What would be worse than living that way…?
Discovering when you finally get to the end… that life had nothing to do with how well you got through the maze, nothing to do with making all the right choices or even all the wrong ones!
Billions of people are living with this false understanding – how I get through the maze matters – that’s the carrot – doing whatever I can to win the prize! What will they find in the end? According to the Bible, reward is not based on ability or performance, cleverness, strength, goodness, speed, generosity or karma or anything that we can do. The reward of life in God’s kingdom is given based on grace.
Our understanding of Christ and faith can’t be reduced to just one thing. Faith is complex. Being a disciple is complex. Our understanding of what God has done through Christ is complex. But at the heart of Christianity is one, simple, vital thing to understand. Being a disciple is entirely about God’s grace. We struggle coming to grips with belonging to Christ, what it means to become a Christian, what faith is, our feelings of hypocrisy and inadequacy. But at the top of our list should be understanding the simplicity of… accepting the simplicity of… God’s grace in Jesus.
Have you experienced an act of grace from another person? Do you even know what it is, what it looks like, what’s involved? Can you define ‘grace’? How do we get it?
What is Grace?
Grace is an unusual experience.
It’s not our common daily experience – even in the church. The Bible speaks of the church as the community of grace but I suspect that grace is not what we expect to receive in our day-to-day relationships – even inside the church. Even if we did I wonder if we’d recognise it. What is it?
There’s a clever little anagram.
It’s interesting – do an online image search for those words and you get lots of words with beach or sunset scenes. I wonder why we equate grace with those images? Anyway… it’s clever and pithy and memorable. But maybe a little too limiting.
Grace is more basic than that. Grace is undeserved kindness or undeserved gain. It’s not a reward for doing something. It’s not payment for services or faithfulness. If I pay you to finish writing this blog our transaction has nothing to do with grace – it’s a payment for services. If I give you a birthday gift or a wedding present – that’s not grace at work. We may say “there’s no expectation to give a gift” but there is a convention, an agreement rightly or wrongly expected that we will celebrate a birthday with gifts or we will help the happy couple get started by giving them presents. If I give you a gift because of an event that’s not grace at work. Grace is not based on anything to do with us, nor on convention or agreement. Grace is not based on expectation of a return.
It is undeserved kindness. It is kindness towards the undeserving, the criminal, the unlovely, kindness to the person who can least expect to receive it by their own virtue.
Let’s say you rob a bank – your mind goes out to lunch and you rip off the local wealth management establishment. The police catch you… and haul you before the judge and he sentences you. That’s fair! You deserve it. But if the judge handed down the greatest punishment possible… and then took the punishment and set you free to – that would be grace. That would be undeserved, unmerited kindness – given to someone undeserving – based on nothing you have or can do.
That’s what Paul is speaking of in Romans.
Romans 5:1-2 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
A Christian is someone who has been justified through faith – justified means made clean or pardoned – their sins have been wiped from the record book and they are at peace (no longer enemies) with God. A Christian has what was unattainable on their own – access into the grace of God by faith – access to all God’s riches. That in fact is the foundation of our lives. That knowledge – that reality allows us to rejoice in the hope we have of sharing in the glory of God – even when the world makes life tough for us. Because of Jesus – through Jesus we know that we have a new foundation the world can’t demolish – the building of our lives will last into eternity.
Some people say we’re arrogant if we believe we have a guarantee of heaven. But it’s not arrogance but rather acceptance of a truth that we have received from Jesus.
Do you know someone – a solid Christian – a person well known for their faith, who has since died? Where are they – right now? They are home, in heaven. They are sharing in Christ’s inheritance. We can boast in our hope of sharing in the glory of God – and that those who have gone before us are standing before our Father in person right now.
How do we get to that point – how do we earn it? What gives us the ‘right’ to make such an arrogant claim? Acceptance!
Romans 5:6-8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
This is the judge who handed down the awful sentence of death for the crimes committed, coming down from the judgement seat to take the punishment instead of us. How do we earn it? We don’t – we can’t – there is no option to earn God’s grace. But we are given the right to claim these things. Even though…
Romans 6:23 “the wages of sin is death…”
We also know that…
Romans 6:23b “…the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus – God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense – G.R.A.C.E. The gift is given, the judge takes the penalty. Jesus came with the specific purpose of dying in our place – and God raised him from death to demonstrate his obedience, and his power over sin and death – Jesus was born to put into action God’s plan of grace.
The big thing about grace is this – the only true grace is transforming grace.
A friend of mine is working through what he believes. He believes in God, but he’s on the fence and has not decided for Christ – his concern is that whilst it’s easy enough to become a Christian he knows that he can never be good enough and he’s afraid of being a hypocrite. What I love, despite wanting him to get off the fence, is that his understanding is so clear.
God’s grace is transforming grace.
- Once we have accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour God sees us as transformed. When he looks at us he no longer sees our sin but he sees Jesus – pure white as the driven snow. Revelation speaks of us as being – clothed in white and standing before our Father – that is how God sees his people now. He looks at us through the grid of Jesus’ righteousness.
- This is how we will be for eternity. Not just that God sees us as transformed but we will be perfect for all eternity – it’s so hard to imagine that possibility – but my soul will be as white as the driven snow – not simply clothed in white but washed clean by the blood of Jesus the lamb.
Revelation 7:14b “…they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
We have been washed in the blood of Jesus – what an image – made clean – strange but true. [P]
3. Thirdly it is transforming grace because God expects his people, having died to sin and the old way of the sinful life, and having been born again as new people… God expects that we will be being transformed to become the people God sees us as!
Romans 12:1 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The Grace of God is a transforming grace – my friend is right to consider the consequences of becoming a Christian – because God expects that we will be changed to be like Christ – and that that will show up in our relationships and lifestyle and activities and everything that we hold dear. God would have us be transformed in how we respond and act towards each other – that we would treat each other with the grace God has given us, that we would live out underserved kindness to one another.
What would that look like in the church?
What would it look like in the world?
It doesn’t come naturally. It’s much easier to assume that other people are around for my benefit – not that we think that consciously. But God has given each of us to the building of his church and for the benefit of each other – this is the ongoing outworking of his grace.
1 Peter 1:3-5 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time…”
1 Peter 1:8-9 “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”