Moderation in all things, especially moderation. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was talking to a pastor friend of mine a couple weeks ago. He's always talking about grace. Grace this, grace that, grace with bacon, grace and sunshine, grace everywhere. Sometimes I get tired of hearing so much about grace. It feels unbalanced.
I want to balance grace with law.
I want to balance grace with restraint.
I want to balance grace with truth.
I want to balance grace with justice.
I want to balance grace with discipline.
Part of the problem is I'm not exactly sure how to define grace. The Bible uses the term in multiple ways. Grace is often defined as unmerited favor, which means that God has a boundless affection for us that has nothing to do with our good behavior, performance, or effort as in Ephesians 2:8-9. And yet it's more than that. Grace is love that goes first. It is how God express His divine power and influence in our lives, as in 2 Corinthians 8:6-7. It's the expression of God's enjoyment of who are and now what we do. It's all those things. I'm not sure if I'll ever truly get it on this side of heaven.
The other part of the problem is thinking about grace makes me feel guilty. It's ironic I know. Reflecting on grace feels so hyper-spiritual. I feel like I should appreciate grace more. That's a lot of pressure. So I would rather think about what I'm doing rather than what God did. It's much easier to plan my dad and all my activities than feel burdened by having to know God's grace more. The irony is thick.
The last part of the problem is that grace feels like license to do whatever we want. It's as if grace is the Christian YOLO. It's the spiritual way to rationalize doing stupid and irresponsible things. Grace feels so amorphous when we want something that's concrete. It feels too open, too breezy, too free. We want something we can sink our teeth into, something that grounds in reality. And grace doesn't feel like reality. I'm more comfortable with restraint, truth, justice, and discipline as tangible, moral ideals.
I want rules to define the boundaries of grace. But it's actually the other way around. It's grace that defines the boundaries of rules. And I want balance because I'm uncomfortable with too much grace. I don't understand grace enough to built my entire life around it. And I'm more comfortable with law because I like rules. They provide structure to my life. Operating without rules feels like stepping out onto a balcony without handrails. I feel unsafe and that if someone pushes me over, I'll fall and it's a long way down.
Jesus did not balance grace. He came to earth bearing grace and truth. Grace is not a yin and yang thing. There is no cosmic balance of grace in the universe.
We tend to set grace opposed to other things, as if grace and truth are two sides of the same coin. But there's a false dichotomy in there. Grace and truth complement each other and go together. Grace is not opposed to truth, justice, or discipline. It is grace that makes sense of the other virtues. Putting grace against truth, justice, and discipline is a wrong distinction. It is the enemy who wants us to pit one good thing against another. Grace does not oppose truth, justice, or discipline. We can have gracious boundaries but in the end, it all points to the unconditional and relentless love of God.
But I do believe grace opposes law. The law (or rules) ultimately point to the grace of God. The law is not evil but it is insufficient and our evil consciences can make law an evil thing. But we don't balance law vs. grace. Every rule ultimately bows to grace. Grace is the highest virtue. Grace is trans-moral. God loved the world by giving His one and only son out of grace, not law.
If grace is important enough to become the organizing principle of our lives, how can we afford not to be unbalanced about it?
Grace upsets the balance of good and evil. It throws everything off. Jesus blew up the carefully constructed equilibrium of our lives so that everything we are and do is weighted, driven, and hurtling towards grace. In the end, it is grace that wins. Be unbalanced about grace.
And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. - John 1:16