I have sung of Amazing Grace and Marvelous Grace and Grace Greater than our Sin for as long as I’ve been able to sing. I’ve read about His grace that is sufficient for me for as long as I’ve been able to read. I have been able since a young age to spout off a definition of grace: God giving us what we don’t deserve. I learned and believed the doctrines of grace. Heck, I was so spiritual that I even gave one of my kids Grace as a middle name. But, honestly, I think only now am I really tasting and seeing that God is good through grace.
If you are a Christian and have never read or heard Elyse Fitzpatrick, now is the time you need to go search for her stuff. I have read several of her books and heard her speak at two different conferences over the last couple of years, and God has used her ministry to impact my thinking in a big way. Her message is grace. Her books and conferences apply grace to different situations, but it is grace, all grace. I think for most of my life, going back to my pat definition of grace (God giving us what we don’t deserve) I would have used that definition to apply to the one-time act of justification–God declaring me righteous through Christ, being “born-again”– and then stopped there. I might would have applied grace to certain other specific situations, maybe if you had a big task in front of you and were scared (My grace is sufficient for you, made perfect in weakness), but I definitely wasn’t aware of how grace applies to my whole life.
Thankfully, through His….that’s right, His grace… I am realizing lately, largely through the writings and ministry of Elyse Fitzpatrick, how His grace should cover every part of my life, and how walking in grace will open my eyes to His beauty and goodness in a way I’ve never seen Him before. I’ve been surprised at all that I’ve never seen before, even growing up in church and being a ministry wife, and how just gaining a deeper view of grace will bring freedom from burdens I’ve carried unnecessarily for a long time.
One example: Grace can free me from bitterness against someone who has wronged me. I am seeing it happen in my heart. I have cherished hurt and bitterness for a long time against one person in particular, although there are others to a lesser degree, and it has been eating at me. But one day recently, after being immersed in writings and sermons and teachings about grace, the Lord showed me that the same grace that covers me is covering the person who hurt me, because this person is a believer. Now, the relationship still needs work, there still has not been complete restoration, but I have noticed a difference in my thoughts toward this person. It has been easier for me to pray God’s blessings for them, easier for me to stop the bitter thoughts when they creep in. One step I took a couple years ago when I first heard Elyse speak and read her book Because He Loves Me, was to realize that since I am in Christ, His righteousness has been attributed to me, and therefore God is pleased with me as He is pleased with Christ. That was mind-boggling for me. Now, I’m realizing that God is just as pleased with this person as He is with me as He is with Christ, because this person has also trusted in His righteousness. If God is pleased with them, how do I have any room or right to hold a grudge against them? Grace is freeing me from bitterness, and it feels like a weight is being lifted off of my shoulders.
One more example: Grace can free me from the burden of feeling like God is disgruntled with me because I haven’t done what I should. I mentioned above how I realized before that because Christ’s righteousness covers me, God is pleased with me. The initial lightbulb came on a couple years ago, but I am apparently hard-headed because I am constantly having to go back and remind myself of this glorious truth. I have walked for years as if I have to earn God’s pleasure and blessing. I knew without a doubt that I could never earn my salvation, never be good enough to earn His favor, that it is only by grace through faith in Christ’s righteousness and atoning death that I am saved. But I thought and acted like once I was saved by grace, I had to live by merit. The times we’ve struggled financially, I’ve thought He was withholding blessing/help because of our poor choices, leaving us to struggle out on our own. I never would have said that in those words, but that’s how I’ve behaved. The times that have been hard at this church or that church, I’ve thought He was withholding blessing/help because maybe we shouldn’t have gone to that church, maybe we didn’t wait on His will and He was letting us have the consequences. The times our marriage has been difficult I thought it was because I hadn’t been praying faithfully for my husband. And so on and so on. I’m almost embarrassed to admit these things, “veteran” Christian that I am. But this is how I have operated. I saw grace as for salvation only, and failed to see how it applies for the rest of my life. The truth is, God’s disposition toward me is ever and always favorable. He is pleased with me! There is an old hymn that I have sung often throughout my life in church, and unfortunately it perpetuates this train of thought. “I am satisfied in Jesus…Is He satisfied with me?” The hymn leaves the question hanging, inviting the singer to examine his/her life and make sure Jesus is satisfied with them, leaving the impression–at least to me this was the impression–that you need to fix certain areas of your life so He’ll be satisfied with you. Well, if you have trusted in Christ’s righteousness, then He is satisfied with you! Yes! Hallelujah!
Obviously, this does not mean anything goes, as I’ve written before. It doesn’t mean I should not strive for holiness and righteous living. But I don’t strive for righteous living so that God will be happy with me. Grace means He already is happy with me, because I am in Him. I then strive for righteous living because I love Him and want to be like Him. It also doesn’t mean that I never have to face the consequences of your own sin or foolishness. But even in those consequences, God is not disgruntled with me. He is still looking favorably on me. He would not allow any circumstance in my life, consequence of sin or not, that was not for my good as He fashions me into who He wants me to be. He allows hard things that I may not understand. I may go through times when it feels like He has turned away from me. But, when I am thinking rightly, I will remember grace, and remember that He loves me and is pleased with me, and I will trust in what I remember even when it’s not what I feel.
These concepts may seem like elementary basics of Christianity, and really that’s exactly what they should be. But for whatever reason, my eyes have not seen them until recently. This is where God is working on me these days. He’s showing me His grace in a different area of life every time I turn around. It is sometimes a tearful, agonizing fight to hang onto grace instead of slipping back into my old, wrong thinking. But it is beautiful. The world has brighter colors these days. He is good.