“Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” 2 Timothy 2:1
Philip Yancey often refers to his having been raised in a strict religious environment. In and of itself that is neutral. The problem was that grace was not a feature of his church or his early Christian thinking. He understands today why some troubled people say “Why would I want to go to church? They only make me feel worse.”
I want to point out here, that there are some legitimate reasons people need to feel some guilt and pain, but the contrast between the way many people regard the typical church and the way sinners regarded Jesus is arresting. Jesus attracted sinners. The typical church does not. Something is missing.
Back to Yancey. In What’s So Amazing About Grace? he relates a very revealing story. He attended a Bible college that was of the same tone as his early church experience. Years after graduation, the president of his college asked him to assess his experience at the school. How was his education? Yancey replied honestly, “some good, some bad. I met many godly people there. In fact, I met God there. Who can place a value on that? And yet I realized later that in four years I learned almost nothing about grace. It may be the most important word in the Bible, the heart of the gospel. How could I have missed that?” (p. 14)
He continues by adding that he spoke in that college’s chapel later and related that conversation, and offended some of the faculty. Some suggested he not be invited back. One professor wrote sensibly asking that perhaps he could have phrased it differently, that maybe he lacked the receptors to hear the message of grace. Yancey thought seriously about the question, but came to the conclusion that he had found at that Christian college campus as much ungrace as he had found anywhere else in life. (ibid)
I am deeply grateful that my pastor through my teenage years, James K. Pierce, helped me to begin learning of the importance of grace. So did my youth minister, Roger Sullivan. Without question in seminary I learned more about the fullness of grace from gifted men and women who were my professors. I have continued to be fascinated by God’s grace and committed to studying and teaching it.
In my experience with many Christians and churches, however, I would say that grace is not well understood or well lived. I agree with David Seamands, a counselor who summed up the challenge in this way: “Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of the most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. . . . We read, we hear, we believe a good theology of grace. But that’s not the way we live.” (ibid, p. 15)
Apparently that was one of the problems Timothy faced. He was a young minister in a tough place. His struggles led him to doubt his own ability, and so Paul wrote to encourage him to be strong. His exhortation to Timothy is summed up in the verse for this week’s GraceWaves: “be strong in the grace of Christ Jesus.”
Some of the personal struggles and doubts that plague you this week are likely related to an inadequate acceptance of God’s grace. You have fallen into the trap of evaluating yourself and others, of comparing yourself, criticizing, and finding fault. Rather than being strong in grace, you have grown strong in doubt, fear, judgment, etc. How’s that working for you?
The problem is not really knowledge. You know what grace is. The problem is trust. You must trust God’s unconditional love for you. This truth is not complicated, but it is a bit difficult to accept. However, if you do accept it as true, stop doubting and questioning, just accept it, then life becomes clearer. You begin to see and sense God’s gracewaves and draw strength from Him. Then, most wonderfully, you discover that you can be both a recipient of grace and an agent of grace.
So be strong in grace today.
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 26, 2015