In Christianity, grace is often defined as the unmerited favor of God in Christ. This definition is connected to the notion that the relationship between God and humans is irreparably estranged because of humanity’s intrinsically deficient sin-nature and God’s perfect holiness. And this definition, almost exclusively, is related to the soteriological view that God must “save” us in order that we can to go to a place after death called heaven. So, grace then is the gift of salvation (life after death) given to those who don’t deserve it. Yet, in order to receive this gift, one must “repent” of his or her sins and acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord and Savior of his or her life.
But God’s grace is so much more than that, isn’t it? Isn’t God’s grace more of an experiential reality, rather than an intellectual or metaphysical one? Isn’t God’s grace more than an it? I want to feel God’s grace, to experience God’s grace, to be familiar with God’s grace; not just think about “it.” Theologian Karl Rahner has rightfully expanded the definition of God’s grace as God’s self-communication to all humanity. That is, God is giving and has historically, since time immemorial, been giving grace, God’s self, as a gift to anyone who wanted to receive God in myriad ways.
When I experience God’s grace, I am experiencing so much more than the assurance of what will happen to me when I die. Though God’s grace is greater and more amazing than I can ever express with words, I believe the more real or experiential aspects of my relationship to God in Christ are founded on three immediate realities of grace: Grace as acceptance, grace as forgiveness, and grace as love.
God’s grace accepts me for who I am. I am God’s son. There is nothing I can do to change that, enhance it, or undo it. And because I am God’s fully accepted son, I no longer have to succumb to shame—a shame that often tries to tell me that I am not good enough or that I am somehow deficient in my God-imaged humanity. So, I apply the Gospel of grace to myself, and because I can accept myself, I can accept others as well.
God’s grace completely and always forgives, because I so often know not what I do. My sins, through Christ, are wiped away—past, present, and future. Since, I often think and act selfishly, because I am self-deceived or I allow others to deceive me, I rely on the reality of God’s ever-present grace of forgiveness. And this forgiveness allows me to have a clear conscience and not wallow in guilt. As I appropriate God’s forgiveness, I walk in self-forgiveness. And because I can forgive myself, I can forgive others.
God’s grace also fills me with unimaginable love, and this love brings me into the deepest intimate relationship with God. I will never be alone; I will never be empty; I will never not be satisfied as I drink from the well of God’s never ending love. God’s grace as love makes real relationship possible, and ultimately compels me to love myself, to care for my own being. And because I can love myself, I can love others.
Three scriptures jump out to me: “Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory” (Ro 15:7, NLT). “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ep 4:32, NLT). “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (Jn 13:34, NLT). Christ accepts you and me; Christ forgives you and me; Christ loves you and me. Period. Exclamation point!
In revisiting grace in the here and now, and not just for the future, helps me and should help you to experience the reality that “… now is the time of God’s grace, now is the day of salvation” (2 Co 6:2b).
© Paul Dordal, 2016