Grace. It’s likely one of the best gifts of Christianity, and interestingly, it was (and can still sometimes be), one of the more difficult things for me to fully receive.
For most of my life, I’ve been an “achiever”, as described by the Strengthsfinder assessment. I enjoy the process of giving myself a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) and work diligently and strategically to get there. And, for most of my life, this strength has served me well and has contributed to success in numerous ways.
At the same time, this drive has thrown me into seasons of being performance-focused and motivated to earn praise, accolades and validation. For certain, I loved being a straight A student in school, and still today, I can get a buzz from earning a “gold star” of sorts for my efforts. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with being recognized for hard work done well, I confess that I can sometimes allow the recognition to become part of my identity. I can be duped into believing that my worth is earned, and it can make it that much harder to receive grace.
I still remember the very first time I was confronted with the vastness of God’s grace. It’s both humbling and accurate to say that I was dumbfounded. I could barely comprehend how love could compel God to respond to me with such a lavish and completely undeserved gift. But there it was, a powerful word staring back at me from the letter boxes of a crossword puzzle…
F O R G I V E S
I was in high school, and I had been visiting a church with a friend for several weeks in a row. Each week, we would attend a church service, followed by Sunday school class with students in our same grade. This particular week, our class assignment included a crossword puzzle with clues for words, each of which helped us deepen our understanding of who Jesus is. Students worked on their own, and then the teacher called for the answers and fit them into one large puzzle on the front chalkboard of the classroom.
I bowed my gaze to my paper, believing I would know the correct answers without issue. After all, I had earned the right to receive sacraments at church, and I had attended church sporadically enough for much of my life. Even more, I was a consistent member of the academic honor society. So…”I’ve got this covered,” I mistakenly thought.
As I worked down the list of clues, completing each blank, I arrived at the one that would forever change the course of my life:
God _______________ us when we sin.
“Easy peasy,” I thought. And without hesitation or further reflection, I wrote my answer:
C O N D E M N S
Because… An eye for an eye. Consequences. You pay a price for your wrongdoing. You get what you deserve. Sinners deserve punishment. God is wrathful.
These were all things I believed.
It’s as if I had never truly heard the Good News: God sent His Son, Jesus to die for me; to become a sacrificial Lamb as the payment for all my sins – past, present and future; to wipe my slate clean; to give me the gift of His redeeming grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and to bring me into an intimate relationship with God that will last for eternity.
God created a new covenant through Jesus.
It’s a promise of grace; a guarantee that our ransom, as believers, has been fully paid. There is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). The work is done and complete. We do not need to feel guilty, ashamed, worried, uncertain or burdened. We can replace all of these emotions with the hope of the finished work of Jesus, who, with His final breath, exclaimed exactly that for our benefit, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
We are not condemned, but forgiven in Christ! This is grace, friends!! Truly, amazing grace!!
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
I’ll never forget sitting in that classroom, when the teacher called on a fellow classmate to fill in the blank of that sentence. With such confidence and joy, he shouted, “God forgives us when we sin!”
I watched as my fellow classmates nodded in absolute agreement, while I sat there frozen. “Could it be true, “ I wondered? “Could it be possible that I know Jesus to be the Son of God, but that I don’t really understand why God sent Him? Is it possible that I don’t know really know God’s character, who He is or how much He loves me? How could I be a straight A student, how could I have attended church and how could I have missed this extraordinary message of love and grace?”
But, I had.
Somehow, I had missed it, and somehow (by the grace of God!) He had opened my eyes to it in that moment. In eight letters of a crossword puzzle, I learned that God forgives us when we sin. (And none of us is righteous, whether we did a “bad thing” or not!) We don’t need to get all cleaned up. We don’t need to work off a punishment OR work up to a standard. God, in His great love for us, sent us a Savior while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Grace upon grace upon grace!!
The only appropriate response has 10 letters: ________________.
Hallelujah!! God is good!
Lord, God, I’m so humbled by your love and mercy. That you would offer us such extravagant grace in the midst of our humanity and imperfection is a gift that has no bounds. May each of us receive Your gift of forgiveness and salvation, not only for eternity in Heaven, but for the peace and joy that we can have today. Thank You for drawing us closer to You in both simple and creative ways. Help us to have eyes to see You and Your grace in the puzzles of our lives. In Jesus’ great name, Amen.