The Problem of Grace

I’ve been thinking a lot about grace lately and one verse has been stuck in my head the whole time. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

amazing-graceThere is no salvation without grace. Grace is God’s un-earned favor. It’s to receive something that you didn’t deserve. Most of us are familiar with the concept, but I think it’s important to make sure the familiar concepts don’t become stale in our minds.

Imagine a guy who skips a whole week of work. Thirty hours a week at Starbucks was really stressing him out—all that standing, moving, barista-ing, and whatnot—so he decides to turn off his alarm clock and sleep in every morning. At the end of the week, the guy’s boss still shows up on his doorstep and hands him a pay check for a full week worked.

The guy definitely did not deserve to be paid at all. In fact, he should’ve been fired. But instead of receiving the penalty he deserved, he got a reward. But that’s not how the world operates—that’s grace.

I have to be honest, grace is the hardest thing for me to accept in Christianity, even after having been saved for almost twenty years. Not miracles. Not God’s existence. Not the “Old Testament God.” Not hell. I actually haven’t struggled too much with those things. But grace I struggle with every single day.

I think as sinful humans we naturally don’t accept grace. It’s completely counter to how anything else in the world works. If I study hard, I pass the test. If I work hard, I get paid. If I don’t do those things, I receive the due consequences. Only when God comes crashing into the world does grace appear. And when it does, we run from it.

While I was attending the University of Oregon, I took a history class on the Reformation. For those of you unfamiliar with the time period, before the Reformation there really was just the Catholic Church and it preached a salvation of works. The church arrived at this conclusion after hundreds and hundreds of years worth of tradition, veiled corruption, and misinterpretation of the Bible had been heaped upon itself. They said, if you make these pilgrimages, say this many Hail Mary’s, and pay for these indulgences, then you might get to heaven or at least not spend too long in Purgatory. But there were some men, starting with Martin Luther, who looked at the Bible and saw that it preached a salvation by grace through faith. In fact, as Ephesians 2:8-9 shows, salvation is explicitly not by works.

The teacher in the class (himself a special blend of neo-Lutheran and New Age agnosticism) actually did a great job of objectively showing both viewpoints. Near the end of the semester, the teacher asked the class, “Now that you understand the different viewpoints—that the Catholic Church taught a salvation by works and the Reformation taught a salvation by grace—which one would you choose?” 98% of the class raised their hands for salvation by works. Only my wife, another guy who went to my hometown church, and I raised our hands for salvation by grace. Seeing the disparity, the teacher asked why so many chose the Catholic viewpoint. They answered, “I cannot accept the fact that my personal salvation is outside of my hands.” None of them wanted grace.

Why do we naturally reject grace? It’s because of pride. It’s all about me. We want to hold our fate in our hands. I want to do it all on my own steam. I want people to know I was strong enough. I want to be sufficient. I want to be independent. I don’t want to need anyone. Ultimately, what I’m saying is, I want to be my own god—my own savior.

It’s Genesis 3, Adam and Eve trying to make themselves “like God,” forgetting about the Tree of Life and what it was like to walk with God. It’s Romans 1, all of mankind exchanging the “truth about God for a lie.” It’s Matthew 19, and the rich young man walking away from Jesus because discipleship means choosing Christ above everything.

We cannot earn a right standing before God. Grace forces us to admit that we’re not sufficient. That we’re not strong or good enough. That we’re sinners. That we need someone else to save us.

It’s the problem of grace. We all need it but won’t accept it. And yet, Jesus pursues us anyway.


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