Sometimes people are under the impression that if they can muster up enough faith to live out the sacrificial demands of love, then they can please God and earn their ticket to heaven. While I know of no churches or theologians that actually teach this doctrine, it is a rather common expression of what it takes to be a Christian. Yet nothing could be further from the truth! Asking three questions about grace, faith and love can help us understand what God is seeking to do in our lives.
Why do we receive grace? Wrong answers to this question have produced a lot of mischief in the church over the centuries! Paul told Timothy, “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). This is good news if ever there was any because rather than having to have it all together to receive grace all that is required is ignorance and unbelief – which seems in almost endless supply! Jesus’ prayer from the cross – “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” – seems to corroborate Paul’s claim. Paul also told Timothy, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9) God gives us grace, not because we earn it or deserve it, but simply because he wants to give grace to us! Pure gift!
What does grace do in us? Grace does not come to us because we are exemplary, but it does make us examples once we receive it. Paul tells Timothy, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). The grace working in our lives screams “if Paul can be saved, then everyone can be saved!” You can replace Paul’s name with yours and still get the point! Grace also changes the meaning and purpose of our lives – we no longer live to answer the basic questions, “What will I eat, what will I drink, and what am I going to wear?” Rather, God’s grace has “been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). In God’s grace death is defeated, life is given as a gift, and we are free to live as Jesus lives!
What are the signs that grace is at work in our lives? Only after having gotten straight about why we receive grace and what grace does in our lives are we prepared to correctly answer the question about faith and love. Again Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:14). Grace is not a solo gift, for when it arrives in our lives it is always accompanied by faith and love. Grace creates a fountain of faith and love that is designed to point people to Jesus Christ. So when you are placed in a situation that demands great faith, do not try hard to work it up, rather remember the grace of Jesus that flows through your life and claim the faith he has placed in you. When you face a person who is demanding great love from you, do not try to love them, rather unleash the love that Jesus has already placed in your heart and life and let it flow to them.
If your life is lacking either faith or love, the reason may be because you are not receiving the grace that Jesus is trying to give you. If your life is flowing with faith and love, it is surely the result of God’s grace in your heart.
- Kenny Payne