It seems like we human beings have an ingrained “too-good-too-be-true” barometer in our systems.
Let’s say I walk into my favorite restaurant, sit down and pick up the menu. Then moments later, my server walks up and says, “Ah, Mr. Owens. You are most welcome! Order anything you like. Today’s meal is on the house.” Most of you, like me, would immediately snap back, “What??” Our hackles would go up. We’d demand to know the catch. The deal must rigged. It’s too good to be true.
After all, nothing is ever free. Everything has a cost. There are limits to all things. The piper always comes piping. And on and on our “too-good-to-be-true” barometers expand, squeezing our spirits us into a squinty-eyed, furrowed brow scrutiny of anything that glows too brightly or tastes too sweet.
It’s no wonder then that we have a hard time accepting something like grace. Grace stands in sharp contrast to the eye-for-an-eye, fair-is-fair, you-get-what-you-pay-for kind of world we live in. That’s because grace says, “No, you don’t deserve this good thing, but you’re getting it anyway, and even more than you would have dreamed to ask.”
For us Christians, grace is at the very center of our faith. We dare to hold this truth that God has reconciled us and the whole world to himself, forgiven us and gives us all an abundant, eternal life through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. It is a freely given gift from God with no strings attached. We can’t earn it, work for it, or otherwise show ourselves worthy to receive it. God has already given us this gift. It’s gratis.
I did a concordance search on the word grace in the Bible, and I was astounded at what I saw. Over and over again, the grace of God was presented as this wildly extravagant thing, uncontainable, unlimited, shockingly expansive, exhaustive and inclusive. Here are a few samples (with a few words I have bolded and italicized):
From [Christ’s] abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. (John 1:16, NLT)
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man,how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! (Romans 5:15)
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. (1 Cor. 15:10)
…in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace,expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 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. (Ephesians 2:7-9)
I just got that “wow” factor again, typing in these verses. This grace of God is huge, uncontainable, almost inexpressively good. Dare I say, it even seems scandalous.
And speaking of scandal, one of the most scandalous stories of the New Testament is the story of the near stoning of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus came to her rescue, ruled out her condemnation on the grounds that no one has a right to condemn her, and forgave her. There was no punishment. She didn’t even ask for forgiveness! God’s grace incarnate forgave the woman, turned away the wall of ungraciousness that demanded her death, and invited this daughter of God into a new life free from sin. (John 8:2-11) By religious rule, she should have died. Grace– grace she did not ask for!– intervened to set her free.
Now here’s what always happens. The moment we see or speak of grace, immediately our “too-good-too-be-true” barometers go off and we race to to put limits and rules to grace. “Well, there may be grace for us, but not for those people.” “Grace is only applicable in these circumstances, but not those.” “There may be grace, but you’ve got to believe in this doctrine, subscribe to this practice, and believe and do x, y, and z to get it.”
Preachers and teachers have been branded heretics for daring to suggest that grace expands beyond our prescribed doctrines, practices, rules and beliefs. Jesus, Paul, and a whole other legion of proclaimers of the good news of God’s grace were vilified for “making it too easy”, “dumbing down the rules” and opening the grace of God’s coming kingdom to too many “undeserving” people.
In other words, too many of us have found self-assured comfort with a squinty-eyed version of grace. And I would say that this squinty-eyed version of grace is no grace at all. True grace evokes a child-like, wide-eyed wonder and even wide-eyed shock at the loving enormity of the grace of our God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is grace!