Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A God of Grace

Do we know God to be a giver of grace? Or do we believe Him to be a task master who is never fully pleased with our performance?

Do we feel an underlying pressure to do more or to perform better in an attempt to earn His favor? Or can we enjoy simply being in His presence and believe that He delights in us because of who we are, not because of what we do?

If we know Him to be a God of Grace, we will reflect His grace and extend His grace to others. If we know Him as a hard-to-please God of Performance we will communicate that about Him (whether we mean to or not). I can see a big difference in my life through which God I know! When I realize that I am lacking in grace and communicating performance expectations on others, I need to re-evaluate how I know God and what my relationship with Him is based on. I am striving to be a more consistent giver of grace as I grow in experiencing God's grace in my life.

As our family has been reading through the Gospel of Matthew, I have been struck with how difficult it was for the religious leaders of Jesus' day to let go of their rules. Jesus rebuked them by saying that while they gave the appearance of being righteous, on the inside they were full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matthew 23:28). Their worship of God was not from their hearts but was "done for men to see." (Matthew 23:5)

The self-righteousness of the religious leaders blinded them to seeing that Jesus was the Son of God, the long-awaited for Messiah! Their rigid adherence to the Law of Moses and to their oral traditions held them in bondage. Their hearts, therefore, were not free to rejoice when Jesus spoke a single word that caused the blind to see, the lame to walk, the demon-possessed to be set free. These miracles of Jesus made them angry, instead of causing them to marvel at the work of God.

This morning I noticed in the Parable of the Vineyard Workers that the landowner arranged the salary of the morning workers ahead of time (one denarius), but told the workers he hired later that he would pay them "whatever was right" (Matthew 20:4).

The landowner intentionally chose to give the least tired workers their money first. Can you imagine their delight at receiving an amount equivalent to working a full day when they had only worked part of it? I believe the landowner savored the joy reflected in their faces. They knew they hadn't earned it. He had given them a gift because He was generous (v. 15). And they were grateful.

But the most physically tired workers had an expectation. If the workers who only put in a fraction of their effort got one denarius, how much more should they receive for laboring an entire day? Maybe these workers even started doing some calculations based on percentages and what they felt they deserved.

But the landowner had already agreed to give them one denarius for the day (v. 2) and that's what he did. "It's not fair!" These workers protested. "We didn't all work the same. We deserve more than they do."

Isn't that the attitude of the religious? We've earned it. We've performed well. We've carefully followed the rules and worked hard. What the landowner gives us at the end of the day isn't a gift at all, because there is no grace involved. We don't want the undeserving to be placed on the same level with us. We are angry when God seems to be unfair.

Jesus told other parables that revealed how deep this prideful attitude was rooted in the hearts of the religious.

The unmerciful servant was forgiven of his enormous debt, but he refused to forgive his own servant of a much smaller debt. (Matthew 18). Because he hadn't truly received the forgiveness extended to him, he still wanted to pay off his own debt and to hold others accountable to theirs.

The guests invited to the wedding banquet refused to come, so the king invited the sinners on the streets. (Matthew 21) As the invitation was extended to those who didn't "deserve" it (who hadn't followed all the religious rules), those who felt they had earned their way were indignant. They were incredibly offended by Jesus, and they set out to kill Him.

The message of salvation that Jesus brought was all about grace. He came because it is impossible for even the most religious to earn a right standing with God.

But many still try. Because they don't know the God of Grace.

Which God do we know?

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our trangressions--it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that 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 2:4-9)

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