Here’s something that I have found most humans have in common: at some point, we have tried to cut a deal with God. We’ve missed the curfew set by mom and dad, and we’re coming home way late, so we try this: “God, if you will just let them be asleep when I get home, I promise I will go to church.” Maybe it’s that formula, “God, If you will, I will. . .” Or, maybe it’s the “God, if will, I won’t or I’ll stop. . . “ Even atheists I have known, when at the end of their rope, will throw up a “To Whom It May Concern, just in case there’s anybody out there, I could sure use some help here.”
But here’s something else I know. We rarely keep our end of the bargain. If the parents are asleep, what do we say? “Yeah, what great luck—they were in bed when i finally got home!” Now, for those of us who tried to bargain, negotiate, or cut a deal with God, that process shows that we’ve got a lot of faith rattling around in us. For example, the only way that kind of offer from us makes sense is if you believe God exists. And more than that, you believe that he knows you exist, and that he knows your circumstances, and, here’s the kicker, that he gives a rip. You also believe something else—that you have something God wants. You’re trying for a win-win situation, aren’t ya? You and God each getting something you want.
But, as you ponder Christianity, we have to come face to face with this truth—God doesn’t really want anything from us. Instead, he wants something for us. And in Christian parlance, what we’re talking about here is grace. Chances are you’ve experienced pure grace somewhere in your life. Someone pays for your meal at the restaurant, or the car in front of you pays for you at the toll plaza. They’re not paying you back.They did it just because they wanted to. Grace—undeserved favor or unmerited favor. And when grace is handed out, the cost is paid, and the credit goes to, the person dispensing it. We don’t think how awesome we are when someone pays for our meal, but how awesome they are for having paid for us. And it wasn’t something you earned or deserved. It is handed out just because they wanted to. Grace is like getting something you don’t really deserve. It’s the flip side to mercy, which is not getting something you do deserve.
We see in a passage from the book of Ephesians this idea of God’s grace explained by the Apostle Paul. Here are the essential portions in the 2nd chapter, written to a group of Christians in the city of Ephesus
Eph. 2:1-9 - As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, but God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. . . 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.”
So, we who are Christians once were dead, or separated from God, because of our sin. But, good news for us, God has enough mercy that if he used all he wanted to, he’d still have more left over. He’s rich in mercy! And the reason he has so much mercy is that he has this incredible love for you and me. I know a lot of people who think God just sits around being mad at us, not realizing that God is madly in love with us. And this is why we don’t have to bargain with God. He already loves us and is wanting to shower us with something good—just because he wants to. What he wants for us is to make us alive, to restore that relationship with him that our sin broke. And his mechanism for this is Jesus Christ. God did it all for us through Christ, through that cross thing.
And we get this grace, not by doing something, not by earning it, not by bargaining for it, but through faith. Now, we’ve already discovered that faith is simply hearing what God says and believing that it is true and that God will do exactly what he says he will. So, our part of receiving God’s grace is as simple as accepting the gift someone gave us by paying for our toll. “Hey, I believe someone paid for my toll. I’ll accept that gift and keep on driving. Thanks a ton, whoever you are!!”
Now, the practical part of all this for us is revolves around how we determine we end up in a good place with God. Is it what Paul just said—grace, a gift of God we didn’t deserve, through faith. Or, is somehow our behavior rolled into this equation? And here’s what I’ve found. Most people have concluded that our behavior it tied into it somehow. Maybe we think we’ve got to keep the 10 Commandments or follow the guidelines laid down by Jesus. We’re not sure where we got this idea, but we think it’s in the bible somewhere.
Here’s the problem—the bible is the last place we should look to try to find a list of behaviors we can keep to be on good terms with God. That list isn’t there. From front to back, what the bible proclaims is that if our behavior is involved, we are doomed, doomed, and—have I mentioned this before?—doomed! The 10 Commandments were given to God’s people AFTER they had a good relationship with Him, not BEFORE. And Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament had everyone muttering, “Man, if what Jesus is saying is true, there’s no hope for any of us. No way we can behave our way to a good place with God.” Yeah, they were right.
But the reality is that every religion out there, except Christianity, demands we keep some list of rule and regulations and behaviors to get into a relationship with God. Only Christianity offers that relationship as a free gift. The simple truth is that all of the "to-do’s" we have as Christians are given to us after we have a good relationship with God. And we learn that even accomplishing the “to do’s” is empowered by God himself, through another gift, that of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit encourages us and empowers us to grow up and act more and more like God would. You know why genuine Christians forgive, or give, or serve, or are kind, or put others first? Because God first forgave us, and gave to us, and served us, and was kind to us, and put us first. And his Spirit given to us loves to forgive, give, serve, be kind, and put others first. And he encourages and empowers followers of Christ to do the same.
See, even when Christians end up doing the right things, it’s all wrapped up in God’s gift of grace to us in Jesus and through His Spirit. God just says, “Quit already with trying to be good enough. Quit trying to bargain. Just accept the gift I’m handing out. It’s grace from me to you, just because. And it’s yours for the taking—just believe it.”
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At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.