Grace is one of those words that most Christian kids or young Christians end up being taught is special and has a special meaning. That’s great, but in my role as a Bible translator I’m starting to get a little concerned about words like that.
OK, we all know that grace is… (fill in the blank)*
So what about this, that I read on LinkedIn today?
Grace is an awesome feeling — one we can never experience enough. Outstanding athletes exist in a state of grace, a place where calculation and strategy and movement happen almost unconsciously. Great athletes can focus in a way that, to us, is unrecognizable because through skill, training, and experience their ability to focus is nearly effortless.
We’ve all felt a sense of grace, if only for a few precious moments, when we performed better than we ever imagined possible… and realized what we assumed to be limits weren’t really limits at all.
Those moments don’t happen by accident, though. Grace is never given; grace must be earned through discipline and training and sacrifice.
OK, so Christians can retreat into a ghetto and insist that this is a wrong use of the word. But just as Cnut was humble enough to admit he couldn’t hold back the sea, is there room for a little humility here regarding language change. Perhaps this is a warning sign that we may speak about ‘grace’ and mean ‘God’s free, undeserved gift’ but the unchurched world around us may here something quite different. And so we may be in fact misrepresenting God’s message to our neighbours. Can we wean ourselves off the word in order to hang on to the meaning? Or do we find ourselves inexorably letting go of the message of God and holding onto human words?
“He gives us more grace” says a familiar translation of James 4:6. Can we express that without the word ‘grace’ or perhaps even using the meaning our author above seems to have in mind? It’s worth a shot.
Here’s a very quick attempt from me. The Lord Jesus gave and gives us new eternal life beginning now, and not just a feeling of triumph. There may be no public demonstration of success for now. It isn’t skill, training, experience and living life apparently effortlessly. There is much more likely struggle and toil – quite possibly humiliatingly publicly – but God’s free gift to us is to know that we are adopted into his family and will be welcomed fully home one day. This gift doesn’t happen by accident. So we can say that ‘Grace was earned’… but the fruit of the perfect discipline, training and sacrifice of Jesus who died is transferred absolutely for free to those of us who trust him. Do we trust him? Or want to do it all ourselves, to attain that self-achieved ‘grace’ feeling that the writer above talks about?
* NB: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense is a memory aid or a teaching tool, but not a definition.