My wife and I once found ourselves stuck in a car that wouldn’t start in a terrible neighborhood in East LA at 2 a.m. The police came by and told us, “It isn’t safe for you to be here—you need to leave.” I explained I would love to, but my car wouldn’t start. They reiterated it wasn’t safe and drove off. I called AAA, and they said it would take 6 hours for them to get there. Now, this was my brother’s car, and he had warned me that sometimes when the steering wheel locks you have to jiggle it and hold in just the right position or the key won’t turn. I kept doing what he had told me, but no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the key to turn. I had been trying for almost an hour when my wife said: “Are you sure you’re using the right key?” I wasn’t sure so I tried some others, and when I found the right one the key turned easily and the car started right up.
Like my brother’s car, in your life there’s a key that will make what has not been working suddenly work smoothy and easily. In the introduction to this book, I argued that God’s law isn’t a list of arbitrary rules, but it’s a description of how things operate. When we live our lives in alignment with those spiritual laws we will flourish, just as we do when we live in alignment with the physical laws He created such as gravity. However, this knowledge is about as useful as a screen door on submarine if you find you can’t follow the guidelines. Many times, our failures aren’t a result of not knowing what’s right, but of our inability to do it. If your exercise routine involves banging your head against a wall, trying to figure out why you keep doing things you know you shouldn’t do, you need a fresh understanding of grace.
When we hear the word ‘grace’ we sometimes think it just means ‘unmerited favor’ or ‘letting someone off the hook’. But grace is so much more. Luke 2:39-41 tells us about what Jesus was like as a child. It says: “When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” (NIV)
Jesus was perfect He didn’t need to be let off the hook for anything, and if anyone deserved favor, it was Him. However, this text says the grace of God was on Him. Clearly there’s a deeper meaning of grace.
John 1:14-16 gives us even more insight into this amazing concept. It says: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” (NIV)
Jesus was full of grace and because He was full of it, we all get a new grace to replace the grace we already had—What? This passage seems a little confusing. How was Jesus full of grace? Why do we need new grace, was there something wrong with the old grace? As I’ve thought deeply about this and asked the Holy Spirit for direction, I’ve come to understand that Jesus’ life showed a new facet of grace that was previously unrevealed. This aspect is really God’s supernatural power to do what we’re incapable of on our own. This aspect of grace helps me understand why the Bible says we’re to live in grace (Galatians 1:6), grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18), and be stewards (managers) of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:10).
Philippians 4:13 says: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (NIV) This aspect of grace gives you the power to do all things. This includes keeping the law of God perfectly. Please understand me; I am not saying to keep God’s laws so you can be saved, that’s legalism. I am saying Jesus saved you from sin, not just from the effects of sin. His grace is powerful enough to wipe away your past, give you a future in heaven and empower you to keep His law in the present. This isn’t something you do by your strength, it’s His grace which does this through you.
This is good news, because it’s living in alignment with God’s laws that allows you to thrive in this life. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 the apostle Paul said: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” Paul says that not only did grace make him who he was, but grace did the work he was called to. The apostle Paul did things which are still very much shaping and forming our world today, because he wrote most of the New Testament and was instrumental in bringing the gospel the non-Jewish world. He accomplished more than most people would ever dream of being able to do, and he credits it all to God’s grace.
Romans 12:6 is another text illustrating the aspect of grace I am describing. It says: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith.” (NIV) According to this verse your spiritual gift is an aspect of God’s grace. It’s His miraculous power that empowers us to do what we’re unable to on our own. Another example of this aspect of grace is found in Acts 4:33-35, which says:
“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (NIV)
In this passage we see God’s grace inspired people to do what they would never ordinarily do. Every communist society has tried and failed to accomplish the lifestyle God’s grace caused to come easily and naturally.
God’s grace takes things that were hard for you, and that you struggled to do — in fact, things impossible for you—and makes them easy. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus said: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (NIV) This is not possible for us, but it’s easy for grace. Grace can do what was impossible.
Where do you need God’s grace right now?