I’ve been reading Jerry Bridges Transforming Grace—a book I once read in college that has collected 7 or 8 years of dust on a bookshelf. Given that God’s word to me for this year was grace, I’ve read countless verses and commentary on verses over the last couple weeks, trying to understand grace as more than the undeserved gift of salvation. My favorite verses and commentary so far—and likely my “theme verses” for this year:
2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
James 4:6: “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says, ‘God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
John 1:16: “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.”
The Greek word charis in these verses is defined in a two-fold manner: 1) the undeserved gift of salvation, the freeness we have in Christ, given by God with no expectation of anything in return (i.e. getting what we don’t deserve); and 2) the joy or gratitude we experience because of this favor or gift.
I feel like I understand—at least in some small, in-my-head kind of way—the saving grace: that I’m a sinner and the wages of sin are death. Not getting what I deserved: mercy. I am saved by grace; I have eternal life; I am made righteous—the wrath for my sin is satisfied. Receiving what I don’t deserve: grace.
One commentary for John 1:16 talks about “grace for grace” being literally “grace upon grace”: “…and that grace for grace is the same with grace upon grace, heaps of grace; and that phraseology is the same with this Jewish one, ‘goodness upon goodness,’ an additional goodness; so here, grace upon grace, an abundance of it, an addition to it, an increase of it” (emphasis mine).
I like that.
But what does it mean to live by grace. What is grace upon grace? And what does it mean that His grace is sufficient? What grace is this?
Grace for the moment. Grace to accomplish. Grace to teach. Grace to love. Grace to grow. And more… Grace to face the challenges. Grace to wait. Grace to heal. Grace to trust and hope.
What I read today was particularly convicting—and enlightening. First, that the Biblical definition of grace is always the same—whether we’re talking about salvation or our daily living (p. 26). And in that vein, we must understand that the Biblical view of grace is not about God supplying grace to make up our deficiencies, as if we needed to fill a 20L bottle of salvation, and we have 5L of our own goodness and only needed his 15L of grace. Bridges writes, “The invitation to come [Isaiah 55:1] is addressed to those who have no money—not to those who don’t have enough money” (p. 27).
So this presupposition is important: that all grace is not only always undeserved but also totally and completely sufficient, separated from anything we could offer.
Later, Bridges notes, “Neither our merits nor our demerits determine how much grace we need because grace does not supplement merits or make up for demerits. Grace does not take into account merits or demerits at all” (p. 32).
For some reason, it seems to be easier to accept this truth when we’re talking about salvation: of course, I’m a sinner; of course, I couldn’t save myself; of course, His gift is not of my works or merit. We know this—and believe it—and say it—because it’s the biblical doctrine that’s in our hearts, which is great—if we’re talking about salvation. But why doesn’t this translate to our daily living by grace? How do we take this truth and incorporate it into our everyday living?
At the end of this chapter, Bridges writes, “To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life” (p. 33).
In the first chapter, he puts it this way: “We are saved by grace, but we are living by performance.” He continues:
Not only are we legalistic by nature, our Christian culture reinforces this attitude in us. We are exhorted to attend church regularly, have a daily quiet time, study our Bibles, pray, memorize scripture, witness to our neighbors, and give to missions—all of which are important Christian activities. Though no one ever comes right out and says so, somehow the vague impression is created in our minds that we’d better do those things or God will not bless us.
Then we turn to the Bible and read that we are to work out our salvation, to pursue holiness, and to be diligent to add to our faith such virtues as goodness, knowledge, self-control, and love. In fact, we find the Bible filled with exhortations to do good works and pursue the disciplines of spiritual growth. Again, because we are legalistic by nature, we assume our performance in these areas earns God’s blessing in our lives. (pp. 17-18)
I know I’ve been told these things—not to be legalistic with a quiet time, not to perform. I’ve even written about them: that His goodness is not conditional to my performance. (Thank God!) So, on some level, I know I know this. But I don’t walk it out—certainly not consistently. I’m so driven, type-A, black-and-white, a “Rules Rule!” kind-of-person that I don’t know how to wipe away my nature and replace it with His grace—with a living by grace, a life that chooses to walk in heaps of favor, chooses to believe I’m immersed in His blessing, regardless of my behavior or performance that day.
Maybe that’s why He gave me the word grace this year. Not just that this would be a year of blessing, of gifts underserved, of heaps and heaps of His goodness for our family (although I pray it’s all those things!), but that I would breathe grace, that it would be on my tongue and in my heart and on my mind—all. day. long.
Jesus come. I have no money—not just that I don’t have enough; I have none. May that concept be so deep in my heart that all I can grasp for is Your fullness—for grace, upon grace, upon grace. Infinitely so. Infinitely forever.