Built on Grace

two person holding pinkies

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None of us are immune to brokenness. We are all in need of grace. We all struggle with something. Your struggle may not be my struggle but it is no better or worse – just different. The key word here, is the word “struggle”. If you are struggling then that means you are suffering and are trying like hell to do something about it. If you are struggling then that means you hate your addiction, hangup or affliction just as much, if not more, than those who are closest to you. Some of us struggle with fear, pride, narcissism, broken hearts, mental illness, self-hatred, doubt, addiction, chronic pain, a troubled childhood, anger, depression, weight loss, forgiveness, trust, physical ailments and disease.

But true grace always endures these struggles and even more. The kind of marriages and relationships that stand the test of time, storms and tribulations are those that are built on grace and not performance. A relationship that is built on the expectation of good behavior, image, money, security, stability or appearance will always loom in the shadow of fear, expectation and disappointment because those things will change and go missing at times. Some couples who make it work on performance may stay together but it will either live or die based on performance.

But, those relationships that are built on grace and grace alone will not only endure (as it maybe for a time), but will eventually thrive once those who are in the relationship are able to know for sure that their spouse, friend or parents are not going anywhere. There is not a more beautiful picture of God’s unlimited transforming grace than the ‘parable of the prodigal son‘. The Father waited and waited; looking everyday into the distance to see if His son would return. The Father was not going anywhere.

“Wait a second!”, some of you may say. “I tried giving my spouse (or friend) grace but it did not work. The more grace I gave, the more they abused it.” Sadly, there is not a person on this side of heaven that does not abuse the grace that God gives him or her (thank God that He does not reconsider). I believe that if we all saw clearly just how badly we abuse God’s grace then not one of us would ever refuse to pass it on again.  There is not a believer or unbeliever who, at times, abuses the grace that we receive from others. Some abuse it more than others but grace never ceases to be grace.

But let’s be real. If you have “tried” grace with the intention of limiting it based on someone else’s performance then you have never really given to another what you have received from God. Conditional grace is not grace at all. Scripture makes it clear that we do not receive grace based upon our behavior. It has nothing to do with our works (good or bad).

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The same grace that saved us is the same grace that sustains us. It is also the exact same grace that we must give to others.
“…But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.” Romans 5:20

Now clearly Paul was not advocating that we sin more so that grace would increase. He goes on to say that this kind of thinking would be ridiculous. The message that Paul was trying to convey is that God’s love and His grace is not temporary or limited based on our performance. But scripture says that we can “fall from grace“. We do this by either rejecting it for ourselves because we do not think we deserve it based on our works or we refuse to pass it on to others because we believe that they are not deserving of it either.

I am in no position to take the moral high ground when it comes to granting others true grace. I am just as guilty as any one else at withholding grace at times and doing my part in building relationships based on performance. But, I have experienced the power of transforming grace from a few very close friends and more importantly from God Himself and it is a beautiful thing to experience. It is truly transforming. It has been the only thing that has sustained me over the last year. I do not deserve it, but if I did deserve it then it would not be grace. I seek and pray that God will give me opportunities to be on the giving side of grace.

Dwight Edwards said it best, “Nothing arrests and transforms the soul of man like the power of true grace…While it is true that grace can be abused (Rom.6:1): let us never forget that it turns people’s lives inside out for the glory of God like nothing else… A full dose of grace goes infinitely farther in producing godliness than all the fences and stop signs in the world.”

This is why God never approves of divorce. He makes allowance for it because of the hardness in our hearts (in only two instances) but He never blesses it.  He never blesses it, because in our decision to break up God’s most cherished institution besides the church, we have neglected to pass God’s transforming grace on to our spouse. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that divorce was never the original plan (this, He says, is just as true for unbelievers). When God “divorced” Israel it is was always with the intention of drawing Israel back to Himself and once again showing the Hebrews nation both mercy and grace.

There is not a better picture of God’s grace as it applies to marriage then that observed in Hosea 3:1-5. God used Hosea as an example of the kind of grace that he gives Israel regardless of the fact that Israel was behaving like a prostitute in its relationship with God.

And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”2So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley.3And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” 

We seek results in America. We love to win and we want to show the world how blessed we are. We live in a performance driven society that awards selfish ambition, personal victories and winning. We want more and this mind frame is just as evident within the walls of the church (if not more) as it is in corporate America. If you do not believe me then just scroll down your Facebook page and you will see Christians showing off how God has “blessed” them with a winning victorious life. Born out of this way of thinking has become what many know as the “prosperity gospel“.

An excerpt I found in   boldly claims “...the prosperity gospel is a spiritualization of the American Dream. Quite what the American Dream is precisely is a moot point, but this definition from the relevant Wiki page seems helpful enough:

The package of beliefs, assumptions, and action patterns that social scientists have labelled the American Dream has always been a fragile agglomeration of (1) individual freedom of choice in life styles, (2) equal access to economic abundance, and (3) the pursuit of shared objectives mutually advantageous to the individual and society[1]

When you start saying not only that this is available to you, but that it is precisely what God wants for you, you have the lethal cocktail of a Prosperity Gospel. No wonder it sounds like good news! No wonder it is attractive!”

I read a recent article of a well-known T.V. evangelist who advised a man to leave his wife because her Alzheimer’s was getting in his way of having the life, that he knew, God had intended for him to have. This man was not winning by the worlds definition and neither was his wife. He believed (and so did the T.V evangelist) that God wanted him to have more – a winning marriage and a quality life. In other words, if your marriage is not winning and your spouse is not experiencing victory in their struggles then you deserve better. Like the Nike Ad says, “Just do It”.

I am absolutely certain that if we applied the same kind of unconditional transforming grace that God provides for us that there would be NO divorces among believers. I have read testimony after testimony of marriages that were completely doomed and irreconcilable (rocked with infidelity and abuse) that were transformed and made whole because of true unconditional grace. And it is these grace-filled relationships that are the greatest testimonies to God’s power and love. Just a simple google search of these kinds of testimonies should be convincing enough. In fact, more can be said of God’s amazing love and power in a transformed marriage healed by God’s all empowering grace than any other miraculous healing or gifts of the spirit that we are able to access.

Why do you think that Satan goes after marriages at a level of intensity like nothing else? Why do you think that Christian marriages have just as high a divorce rate as secular marriages? This is why I would never advise a friend of mine or even a family member to get a divorce. That is just playing God. It would certainly bring judgement upon myself because “what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:9. Church pastors who remarry a couple who have divorced their previous spouses are just as guilty before God. I would certainly suggest separation in situations that could cause harm, but grace has the power to heal every person, every situation and every marriage and every true believer and pastor should know this.

Some relationships are just messy. But isn’t our relationship with God just as messy, if not more? Anyone can love someone when they are at their best. Where do you go when your loved one is at their worst? Do you come along side of them? Do you stay and fight? I believe Eric Church captures the essence of a relationship built on grace in his new song; “Like Jesus Does“.

Like Jesus Does
I’m a long-gone Waylon song on vinyl
I’m a back row sinner at a tent revival
But she believes in me like she believes her Bible
And loves me like Jesus does
I’m a lead foot leaning on a souped-up Chevy
I’m a good old boy, drinking whiskey and rye on the levee
But she carries me when my sins make me heavy
And loves me like Jesus does
All the crazy in my dreams
Both my broken wings
Every single piece of everything I am
Yeah, she knows the man I ain’t
She forgives me when I can’t
The devil, man, no, he don’t stand a chance
‘Cause she loves me like Jesus does
I always thought she’d give up on me one day
Wash her hands of me, leave me staring down some runway
But I thank God each night, and twice on Sunday
That she loves me like Jesus does
All the crazy in my dreams
And both my broken wings
Every single piece of who I am
Yeah, she knows the man I ain’t
She forgives me when I can’t
And the devil, man, no, he don’t have a prayer
‘Cause she loves me like Jesus does
Yes, she knows the man I ain’t
She forgives me when I can’t
That devil, man, he don’t stand a chance
She loves me like Jesus does
I’m a long-gone Waylon song on vinyl
God does expect us to give to others what we so graciously received from Him as this parable strongly suggest:
Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor

21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone[a]who sins against me? Seven times?”

22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven![b]

23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.[c] 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars.[d] He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters[e] from your heart.”

God please help me to see the magnitude of the grace that you have given me so that I never question passing this grace on to others. Help me to never question the unconditionality of grace ever again. 

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