What do you mean, 'saved by grace'?

If you’ve been around church at all, you might have begun to pick up the language we use there. I like to call it ‘Christianese’, a strange tongue made of strange words and phrases no one else understands.

“Cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb”
“Washed by the Living Water”
etc

Preachers are the worst for it. Sometimes I think they just make things up. Even things which ought to be the simple, basic truths of our faith can sometimes become completely indecipherable.

Basic truths like ‘God loves you’, ‘Jesus died for you’, ‘Nothing can make God love you any more, or any less’. These are some of the most basic parts of the faith. Yet these are the hardest truths to grasp.

These simple statements have become irritating clichés, the worst sort of Christianese.

It rings, loudly and unavoidably, like a fire alarm in my ears. The words of the the Apostle Paul:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I don’t know if you’re anything like me. I mean, yes you have skin, a pulse and two eyes but I can’t be sure if you’re like me. When you read those words, you probably understand them. I, however, don’t.

Here’s how it works:

I don’t go out drinking, I try and avoid swearing too much and don’t plan on having sex until I am married. So I’m a good person. God loves me, God is going to listen to me, God is going to be close to me.

But then! In my heart is contained every kind of evil, anger and hate with envy. A poisonous mix of sin, which must make God repulsed by me! He must take one look at me and avert his eyes. I can’t even be in his presence, lest he would burn me up in an instant!

But I’m sure you don’t think that. You’re probably smarter than me, probably get this whole ‘Christianity’ thing better than I do. Who would be so stupid as to hold an invisible account with God, trying to stay in credit with some cosmic check-book. Because, of course, when I am in credit, when I’ve been a good person, then God will listen to me. That’s how it works.

It’s probably just me, who gets bound up with all this guilt and pride. I know you read things like:

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)

And that tells you that you had absolutely no right to be saved, nothing to offer God and nothing with which you could please him when he came to recuse you.

Well, as I write this perhaps the Gospel has become more real for me. God has been kind to me, even in the midst of my foolish pride, and he has shown me again that my sins will never stop his goodness and my best efforts do not cause me to be in any way righteous.

I didn’t earn this.
How cool is that?

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3 Comments

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  1. I like your honesty and it strikes a chord.
    I also like the way emerging church is bringing out Grace much more and gradually putting to bed a transactional works based salvation.
    If you’ve not red ‘Velvet Elvis’ by Rob Bell, you will really enjoy the journey.
    God bless
    Alex

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  2. I’ve read ‘Elvis, I did enjoy it.

    However I don’t think I want to give the Emerging Church a monopoly on grace! I guess I experience grace even in a Evangelical, Baptist church (Shock, horror) when I can participate in the life of that church fully aware of my sin and struggles, and when others are aware of those sins and struggles.

    I guess it’s been a deeply ingrained accident that goodness has become a prerequisite for participation and not an outcome of it.

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  3. Yeah, I wasn’t intending to ‘give the Emerging Church a monopoly on grace’, sorry.
    I think it’s possibly a culmination of various things I’ve read from various authors, commenting on more trad ‘high-church’ establishments and also my own experiences in my non-denominational lay-church community, which is really only just starting to rediscover what Grace means (and about time too!)
    There’s still a lot of “we don’t want your mess” and “God only loves you when you are behaving in the way we think you should” in some corners and it will take a lot of flushing out. The bigger barrier is that there is almost a complete denial of the work of the spirit so, the flushing is likely to take a looooong time!!
    Anyway, enjoying your musings, and they aren’t foolish words!

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