This year, as I think back on the ways in which my life has changed, and still needs to change, I am most of all, thankful for grace.
God’s justice is his righteous punishment of sinners for their rebellion against him. God’s mercy is his free dismissal of their guilt. But God’s grace goes beyond all these things: it is his unlimited goodness to those who deserve only punishment.
The grace of God has been a constantly resurfacing topic in my mind in the last year. I think that as life goes on, and we grow and mature, we face different phases of learning and maturation. Sometimes the learning is the unveiling of completely new territory that we have never faced in life. Sometimes our circumstances charge us up and challenge us to excel and develop in new areas. Sometimes we make the wrong choice and come back to the right. Sometimes we are simply crushed, and from that too we learn and grow.
This year God has especially worked into my life a deeper and deeper understanding of my own finitude and fallibility. As I start to make the transition from child to adult, from boy to man, I am faced with a whole new set of demands, a whole new set of responsibilities that must be conquered. And over and over again, I have approached these things with a sense of pride and confidence, over-estimating myself and failing to adequately muster up the required characteristics to fully accomplish the task.
I think that if I were to identify the main recurring fault in me this past year it would be over-estimation. I look back on the small collection of success that God has granted into my life, and easily, unknowingly, apply them to myself. This sort of mindset does not last long in glory – sooner or later, it falls flat.
As I have come over and over to face my shortcomings, I was lead over and over to the cross. I am reminded over and over again that by the grace of God I am what I am, and that there isn’t a millisecond in my life where I am able to function independently of that grace.
And over and over again, I understand that I am accepted by God. Not on the basis of anything that I have ever done, but solely on the basis of the mediatory work of Christ. He alone, being perfect and righteous paid the penalty for my sin, and has given me righteousness before God.
Even in my the deepest failures and immaturities, I come to God on the basis of the work of Christ, and am accepted. This is a deeply humbling thing, because it does not take away the fact that my failure is still real. As I come to an understanding of my sin once again, I am reminded once again of the ugliness of sin and what it does to the glory of Christ’s love on the cross. With these realizations there is a deep desire to try to do anything that I can to make it better – and over and over again I am reminded of the fact that I can’t.
But although I am powerless to take the reality of the ugliness of my failure away, Christ still continues to work graciously through his gospel to shape and mold my life. And this is the essence of grace – even when I want to make things better I can’t. My pride is once again crushed, and I come to Christ with empty hands, and by his grace he once again picks me up, gives me the understanding, motivation and ability to live on for his glory.
In times like these I am reminded of the words of John Newton:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Not only is this something that happens when we accept the gospel and are saved; grace is a continuing reality in shaping the life of a continually repentant sinner who, despite his failures, strives on to become more and more like Christ.