Sunday, April 14, 2013

Grace and Peace to You

You must first know that I am a competitive and driven person who also happens to be an empathetic, compassionate people-pleaser.  (Confused much?  Yeah, so is my husband).  Being 16 months younger than my older sister, our relationship is naturally competitive, so growing up we drove each other to excel, and excellence became the standard I set for myself. 

Until Bear.  My husband and I had our first born four years ago, and twelve days after his birth we learned he had Down syndrome (you can read the rest of my story here).  Both my husband and I had been athletes and were high achievers in many areas of life, so you can imagine how difficult it was to receive the news that we had been given a child whose involvement and inclusion would be limited in so many things in life.  But slowly, fear and worry gave way to fierce and incredible love as we got to know our Bear, and excellence and achievement were redefined.  

And though we have no trouble accepting Bear exactly as he is, we sometimes forget that outside the safety of home, there’s a harsh world that is often ignorant of his needs and abilities.  And in those moments when someone poses a ridiculous question or makes a rude remark, I’m reminded to extend grace.  Grace defined is “unmerited favor, mercy, clemency, pardon.”   I’ve been wrestling with that word a lot lately.  I make snap judgments, criticize without knowing all the facts, and am often harsh and unfair in my assessment of people or situations.  I’m quicker to handout condemnation than grace and find that I often shut myself off to people or situations rather than extend grace and allow myself to be vulnerable.  But the real reason I’ve been wrestling with this is that I feel that I’m finally beginning to grasp what God’s grace truly means.  Grace is one of the most commonly used words in the New Testament, so obviously it’s a big deal.  

While recently listening to a podcast on Ephesians, I was struck by what the pastor said about Ephesians 1:2.  “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I don’t know about you, but I typically find myself skimming over verses like this one to get to the “meat” of the chapter.  But the pastor pointed out that the writer (Paul) was not wishing this as a prayer or a hope for the future.  Rather, he is declaring what IS ours because of what Christ has done.   

Did you catch that?  Grace and peace ARE ours if we are in Christ.  What does that mean?  What does it mean that grace is ours?  What it means is that I alone cannot do a single thing to earn God’s favor.   

And please pause and rest on this next thought: I cannot "be" a good enough person to earn God's grace. 

It does not matter how kind I've been to others, how generous I've been, whether I've spent hours pouring over the Bible and in prayer, and whether I've confessed every sinful thought and action.  Surely God cares about those things but they do not EARN his favor.  That kind of thinking leaves me enslaved to my behavior and performance and abolishes the amazing work that was accomplished by Christ on the Cross.  That kind of thinking focuses on ME and what I can do to draw closer to God, when grace teaches that he’s already done it all.  That kind of thinking is not grace-based; it’s works-based.  If I think I have to add anything, it is no longer grace.    

What is also beautiful about grace being ours is that we are free to extend it to others, too.  I’m free to extend grace to my husband if I feel he’s wronged me, to my children when they’re little heathens, to the hurtful people who don’t love Bear the way I do.

And what does it mean that peace is ours?  Simply put, without the cross, we are at war with God.  But when we come through the Gospel and the grace of Jesus, we are at PEACE.  We no longer have to war within ourselves or with God to try to measure up.  God’s wrath toward us is gone.  See, we are free from this insidious fear that keeps us in its grasp, telling us that our God is a just God, a wrathful God, an angry God and that we have to constantly work to earn his favor.  Just as my children often mess up, NOTHING can stand in the way of my love for them.  YES, our Father is just.  Yes, he is storing up wrath.  And yes, he has a righteous anger toward sin.  But it is a beautiful thing to be in Christ, an heir to the kingdom, received in love by the Father. 

That’s grace.  That’s peace.    
And all we have to do is claim what’s ours.  

Do you struggle accepting God’s grace?  Why?  What specifically keeps you from claiming the grace and peace that are yours?

Disclaimer:  I am in no way a theologian.  I have no formal training in doctrine, theology, Greek, seminary, or anything of the sort.  I'm just a normal girl who's responding to what God's word is doing in my heart as it renews and refines me.  If you would like to learn more, the podcast I referred to is Greg Pinkner at Crossroad Fellowship Church in Knoxville, TN.  You can access his podcasts here or via iTunes.
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