Grace is central to the message of the gospel, but it surprising how few people really understand what it is. I include myself as the “chief of sinners” in this regard since I was a practising and faithful Christian for 17 years before I really got what it meant. And doubtless I’ll keep saying that every year as I learn more about it.
What makes grace so important? Well, firstly, you’re kind of nowhere in the Kingdom of God without it. And I mean nowhere in the sense that you can’t even get in the front door without it. And what’s more, anything else you try to add to grace only makes it even more impossible for you to get in. There is a scripture that tells us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”. (Ephesians 2:8). What does this mean? In order to fully appreciate the key concepts of grace and faith and how they interact with each other I’d like to share something that the Holy Spirit revealed to me at one point, by way of an analogy: Think of a toaster standing on a table with its chord unplugged. On its own, it is a complete appliance with the potential to take some dry bread and to turn it into a satisfying breakfast (with some condiments, of course!). It possess all the electrical and mechanical parts to toast bread, but on its own, it is also fully useless. It needs to be plugged in to a simple wall socket, so that it connect to the vast (and to it, unlimited) resource of the national grid. From there it is able to draw on a vital resource – electricity – to fulfill its function. The toaster (if it was a philosophical toaster and thought about such things) would have little concept of what this national grid might be – a vast network of power stations and high tension cables spanning in a network tens of thousands of miles across the country – but without that vast infrastructure, the toaster would simply not work. The power chord, which is analogous to faith, is the medium over which it receives its power. The power itself, analogous to grace, is what makes the toaster feel all warm and fuzzy inside and more importantly, allows it to fulfill its purpose. Put in other words, we use our faith to connect to the grace of God.
Let’s take this slightly further, because it’s absolutely vital we get this (and this is the fundamental difference between Christianity and any other kind of religion). Consider the vast potential of a nuclear power plant to power an entire city. Unlike a toaster, we are living souls and each one of us has been endowed with our own “nuclear power plant” – our soul. It is from here that world-changing inventions are devised, majestic art is conceived, weapons of mass destruction are created and unspeakable depravity is born. It is for all intents, a self-sustaining ecosystem. Except for one small problem – even with a nuclear power plant, the fuel eventually runs out. For most it takes about 75 years, but for some far less and for a few a little more. But eventually, our lights will go out. Consider now our humble sun. It is 333,000 times more massive than the earth. Canis Majoris, the largest star we’ve discovered (so far) is 1540 times as big as our sun or 512 million times bigger than the earth (see this video to get an idea of what this actually means). If we were now to compare ourselves – you and I – to Canis Majoris, we are talking a difference in mass/energy of about 1,120,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (this is a very big number). The point I am trying to make is, that while humans are like this amazing nuclear power plant – with a lot of potential – God is like Canis Majoris – slightly bigger and with somewhat more potential than us (sorry, it’s hard not to be a little facetious at this point in the light of how some people think of themselves as “little gods” that are the masters of the universe).
To take us back to the verse we started with: God’s grace is as vast as this great star and if we “plug” into that reserve of power, our lights will never go out – we will have just connected to the source of eternal life. Put another way: grace is the power source and our faith is simply the “jumper lead” used to plug into that power source. Each one of us has been given faith (the jumper lead) and God has revealed his grace to us through Christ (the source). To “be saved” simply means plugging the lead into the source. How much did you and I have to do with that? Not much, I’m afraid. Both the grace and the faith are deliberate gifts from God – otherwise it would leave room for someone to boast about their salvation. If anything, perhaps it is left to us to simply connect the two (although I’d be the first to claim that I needed God’s help with even that simple task) and that isn’t something I think we could boast about, given the circumstances, but a rather obvious necessity. What is certain is that we must continually exercise this faith to receive the promised grace of God: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.“ (Ephesians 2:8). In other words, you can’t earn faith or grace and you certainly can’t go around bragging about it.
But wait, there’s more. In the very next verse it states: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” This simply means that every good and noble thing that we do in life has already been prepared (created and stored for use) by God. These “good works” have been completed by God and it is for us to receive them by faith. By “receive” I mean that we should exercise our faith to access what God has created and stored up for our use. This was, next to the above revelation on grace, the biggest eye opener in my spiritual walk: if God has prepared these works already – beforehand in time immemorial before I was even born – how could I ever boast of any good work I’ve ever done? This is so powerfully liberating if you consider it for a moment: it places us all on a level playing field yet it destines each one of us for something great – good – if we will only believe. It gave me new perspective on the Lord’s prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.” This prayer is simply about “calling down” from heaven the good works that God has prepared to make them manifest here on earth. It removes all doubt about what we should ask God for daily. It removes all anxiety about what our purpose is in life and what we should do daily. Believe in God, who, as your Father in heaven, has stored up for you good works and ask Him daily to manifest those in your life. Simple. No more “dead works” (trying to do stuff to impress God or earn Noddy badges to supposedly get you into heaven). Special Hint: Dead works actually have the opposite of the desired effect because they make you proud of your achievements and “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
So, how do you start on this journey of receiving the grace of God? You take that tiny mustard seed of faith that God has given you and you let God know that you desire it: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). It really is as simple as that.