“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
-Ephesians 2:8 (KJV)
If you had asked me a couple of weeks ago to play a word association game and then presented me with the word “grace”, my response would probably have included words like delicate, gentle, beautiful, tender, and maybe even soft. In my head, grace had become this really clean concept that involves all these beautiful ideas like love and hope and reconciliation.
It’s not. I mean, it does involve love, hope, and reconciliation. But, it’s not clean. The reality is this: Grace is dirty.
Grace is hard work. Grace is the kind of work that requires you to roll up your sleeves, and dig in – I mean really dig in. Grace is the kind of work that leaves mud on your face where the grime on your hands mixes with your sweat as you move to wipe it your forehead. Grace is the kind of work that blinds you as that sweat and grime concoction drips from your eyebrow and burns as it makes its way into your eyes. Grace is the kind of work that leaves your muscles sore and your skin sensitive from the sun.
Grace is dirty because in order to truly extend grace, it requires us to be aware of our own need for grace. And, our need for grace is hard to face. That’s an understatement. Our need for grace is perhaps the most painful realization we’ll ever come to. It requires that we peel away the façade that we present to our friends and family, and really look at our imperfections.
For me, it’s not hard to admit that I need grace. I know I’m not perfect. That’s easy. The hard part is really examining my need for grace. The hard part is looking in the mirror and forcing myself to see my heart. When I look at myself and truly examine my nature, I’m seldom impressed. To borrow from the Apostle Paul, “Oh, wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24a). That’s hard. It’s hard to look at, and it’s even harder to deal with.
Grace is like a revolving door – in order to let it in, you have to be willing to give it out. You can’t truly accept grace without also extending it. And, let’s be honest, this constant receiving and extension of grace can be exhausting!
Obviously, no discussion of grace would be complete without considering the grace of God. And, what beautiful grace it is! Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” It’s obvious that there’s nothing we can do that will make us good enough to be saved – that’s why God’s grace is so beautiful. But, even the grace of God isn’t beautiful because it’s clean. It’s dirty. It’s beautiful because it’s dirty. God sent His own Son into this world, and paid the ultimate price for us. When Jesus robed himself in flesh, He didn’t just put on our humanity, He assumed our brokenness. Jesus died on the cross – not as punishment for His sins, but as restitution for our sins. That’s beautiful. But, grace doesn’t stop at saving us. Grace also refines us. Titus 2:11-12 says in The Message, “God’s readiness to give and forgive (that’s grace!) is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone! We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life.” That’s where the hard work comes in. That’s where it gets dirty.
You know what really burns me up? You know what the hardest thing about grace is for me? I’ll tell you. It’s extending grace to people who don’t even recognize that they need it. Man! That frustrates me! In my life, this typically involves churched people who unwittingly mistreat me, a loved one, or even an “unchurched” person that they don’t even know. It’s easier for me to extend grace to an “unchurched” person that asks for it, because I can easily identify with their brokenness – their need. What I can’t identify with is someone who thinks they’ve got their lives together and that they’re somehow better than the rest of the world. I just don’t get that. Still, if I only give grace to folks I identify with, that’s not true grace. I have to recognize that their shortcomings aren’t any worse than my own. I mean, if I refuse to extend grace to them, aren’t I guilty of the same faults that I see in them? How can I expect God’s grace to cover my faults if I’m stingy with it? It’s difficult, but if I want to accept God’s grace, I have to allow it to refine me!
So, now that I realize that my ideas about grace have been misguided at the least, where do I go from here? How do I continue to grow in grace? How do I allow grace to refine me? I think the answer has a lot to do with you, with my community. I’m encouraged to be a part of a community that helps me to look at myself honestly, and is willing to offer me grace when I need it. I want to be that in my community too. I want to learn to be the first person to offer grace when I see someone in need.
Will you help me to do that? Will you help each other to do that? It’s not by works that we’re saved, it’s by grace. Sometimes, though, grace is hard work. So, let’s get to work.