Through my research, I stumbled upon the catholic teaching of grace. According to their teaching, there is both common grace ("For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike."-Matt 5:45) and actual, or saving, grace ("For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."- Eph 2:8), which is unique to those who (through the conviction of the Holy Spirit) come to a place that they receive it personally.
Their claims lead into some teachings that I personally do not agree with, but I can agree with the idea that we are each always being extended some measure of grace, even if we do not choose to abide in it.
But let me back up a little bit:
What is grace, exactly?
I received many excellent definitions recently when I asked this question on facebook. Many said "Grace is God's unmerited favor toward us." And that is what I have always been taught, as well. A few answers were very beautiful and personal examples of God's grace shown to that individual.
But one answer stuck out.
Grace is getting what we don't deserve.
G.od's, R.iches, A.t, C.hrist's, E.xpense.
Now, Bill is a friend of the family, but he is also a pastor, so I'm sure that he actually stole this from someone else! ;) Seriously, though...I appreciate his and all of the answers that were provided. Back to Bill's take on grace, I normally find acronyms like this to be terribly cliche and bordering on Velveeta, but in this case...I believe it accurately and appropriately sums up how most define grace.-Bill Sparks
Our pastor spoke on Sunday about leaders who warn the church against "abusing" grace, as if it were something we could run out of--its source depleted as we draw from our "grace account" until nothing remains. He challenged our church to stop looking at grace as if it were something that we withdraw from only when we are bankrupt, but instead see it as something that God adds to our lives no matter where we stand or what we have done or how much we have already been given. No matter how many times we have received grace, we will continue to receive it.
If we are breathing, we're being shown grace.
So how can grace be abused? If we are living our lives by grace, we are living in God's Riches At Christ's Expense. His riches fulfill our every need. His riches are good, perfect, healthy, and bring glory and honor to His name! We can't abuse that! If we are seeking to fulfill our needs outside of that, then we are not living by grace. If we say, "God will forgive me if I...", that is not living by grace!
That is religion.
Think about it. If I walk in grace, my focus is on Christ's expense and example. I am motivated by the price that He. Already. Paid. I can do nothing to acquire that grace, because it is mine if I am His. So the blessings flow and my motivation is to live out of a heart of gratitude for what He has done for me--apart from what I have done to myself. It is truly unconditional.
But if I choose to sin, believing that God will forgive me afterward and all will be well, I do not believe that God's riches are mine already. I believe that what I want or need in that moment must come from what I think is best and that it will fulfill me. And ultimately, I believe that He will not.
Um...doubt, unbelief, mistrust, anxiety, self-sufficiency, idolatry, entitlement. These are not the basis for a healthy relationship.
And yet...grace keeps on giving.
Imagine the possibilities if we were to spend our energy enjoying that grace and extending that grace to others instead of seeking out riches through inadequate means.
We were made for relationship with God. Again and again, He extends His hand to us. Within that hand He holds riches and wonders beyond anything we could imagine. But like a prince who abdicates his throne to buy a ship and become a pirate, we look at God's hand, then look back down and continue digging around in the dirt, looking for something--anything-- to satisfy our longings.
And yet...He continues to extend that hand until we choose to take it.
Going back to the beginning of the blog. Do you really want to settle for a grace that is "common" to all? Or do you want grace that is personal, relational...meeting your needs above and beyond what you could have hoped for?
"For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." --John 1:16