Recently, a friend emailed me asking for help because his girlfriend has been having trouble accepting God’s grace. Over my short time as a Christian, I have met many guilty souls who struggle with grace. I spent the greater portion of the last year trying to figure out grace. Most of the time, I failed miserably.
At times, I preferred perishing to receiving grace. I wrote:
Righteous and wickedness can have no common ground.
In Heaven, you and I, oh Lord, ought never to be bound.
So send me to the depths of immeasurable despair
That Thy perfection may forever reign in holiness most fair.
It seemed like I couldn’t fully acknowledge how horrible all of my sin was without being terrified and mystified by grace.
But our Father is “full of grace and truth” (cf. John 1:14). He does not give us grace because he was blinking and didn’t see our sin. He knows everything that we’ve done – He knows our sin better than we do – but he still redeems us. Why? How? Because He loves us. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
This was another idea that I couldn’t wrap my head around for a long time. I only fully grasped it when a friend wept over my lap, repeating the words “I’m sorry” over and over again. Even my saying, “I forgive you,” could not stop my friend’s refrain. Yet I did not want tears or weeping; I just wanted to enjoy time together. Yet it hit me that I was doing precisely the same thing with God: sobbing during all of our time together and constantly apologizing in prayer. But God’s love is infinitely greater than my feelings for my friends. How much more, then, must He be tired of my resistance to His forgiveness? God’s plan for us is not guilt, but repentance and salvation and freedom.
We are in a terrible situation when we cannot accept God’s grace. It leaves us disheartened and demotivated. If we don’t appreciate how much we have been redeemed, we cannot fully feel God’s unending love. We do not feel moved to serve Him or to flee our life of sin. It becomes easier and easier to be ungrateful and unloving in all of the other areas of our life.
We must accept God’s grace if we ever hope to live out a Christian life of love, forgiveness, and peace. You can see the difference between the man who has accepted grace and the man who has not: one is calm and peaceful, feeling loved by God, while the other one frets and worries, trying to earn his salvation.
Yet receiving grace is dangerous: we may easily forget the seriousness of the sin we commit. It is just as bad, if not worse, to feel loved simply because we do not grasp the horror of sin’s disgusting fetters. That is not accepting grace, but ignoring the Truth.
It is pride to think we are good enough on our own – to ignore our need to be set free from slavery to sin. It is also pride to think that our sin is so horrific that God cannot break the chains. As St. Bernard puts it, “The rivers of Grace cannot flow uphill, up the steep cliff of the proud man’s heart.” But the humble man will both acknowledge his sin and accept God’s solution. “That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6).
So we are engaged in a constant balancing act: realizing the truth about ourselves while fully accepting God’s grace. It may not be easy, but it is the only way to maintain the drive to finish the race. It is our only hope if we seek to keep ourselves on the narrow path. Sometimes we will err on one side or the other. After many months of being too guilt-ridden, I have perhaps begun to focus too heavily on grace. Yet I can’t help but think that if we seek the balance humbly, with a childlike faith, God will not punish us for falling sometimes. He knows – most of all – that we are imperfect. The question is not “will we fall?” but “will we get back on the beam?” We are lucky enough to know that God’s got a little safety net known as Grace under there when we do fall.
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.