I’m pretty sure that nearly all church-going Christians know how important grace is to the Christian life. Many New Testament passages indicate this. Passages such as: 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

If asked, most evangelical church members could probably quote this particular passage from memory. But, what I’m not sure of is that enough church members are sufficiently aware that the New Testament also seems to teach us that how we respond to God’s grace, initially and in an ongoing manner, is crucial. According to the New Testament, we can respond to God’s grace by:

     1.   spurning it, insulting the Holy Spirit in the process (Hebrews 10:29);

     2.   receiving it in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1);

     3.   accepting but then abandoning it or setting it aside (Galatians 1:6; 2:21);

     4.   falling away from it (Galatians 5:4);

     5.   missing it, by failing to extend it to others (Hebrews 12:15); and

     6.   perverting it, turning it in to license to sin (Jude 1:4).

On the other hand, the New Testament also teaches that we can respond to God’s grace by:

     7.   seeking to better understand it (Colossians 1:6);

     8.    making sure to continue in it (Acts 13:43);

     9.   being strong in it (2 Timothy 2:1); and

     10. being careful to keep growing in it (2 Peter 3:18).

Based upon my reflection on all the passages referred to here, I’m thinking that a crucial question all church-going Christians need to ask themselves is whether or not they have ever truly embraced grace, and whether they are doing so now.

In chapter six of my book Defeating Pharisaism I include the following story from Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace?  Yancey writes:

A friend of mine riding a bus to work overheard a conversation between the young woman sitting next to him and her neighbor across the aisle. The woman was reading Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, the book that stayed on the The New York Times Best-Sellers list longer than any other.

   “What are you reading?” asked the neighbor.

   “A book a friend gave me. She said it changed her life.”

   “Oh yeah? What’s it about?”

   “I’m not sure. Some sort of guide to life. I haven’t got very far yet.”

   She began flipping through the book. “Here are the chapter titles: ‘Discipline, Love, Grace, . . .’”

   The man stopped her. “What’s grace?”

   [The woman replied] “I don’t know. I haven’t gotten to Grace yet.” 

Yancey goes on to express his concern that too many evangelical church members haven’t really gotten to grace yet. I wrote Defeating Pharisaism because I share Yancey’s concern. In this book I suggest that at the heart of the Pharisaical approach to religious life is an inability or unwillingness to embrace grace. 

You see, in the thirty-two years I spent pastoring three churches, I came across many faithful church-goers who nevertheless found it very difficult to trust God to be good and merciful to them. In other words, they found it very difficult to embrace grace. Instead, their need for psychological and spiritual certitude drove them to make certain their place before God by reducing the religious life to a set of concrete rules and rituals they could master with precision. The problem is that once you start down this road of earning your place before God via religious rule and rituals, you tend to end up bearing many of the earmarks of Pharisaism that Jesus had such a problem with: hypocrisy, judgmentalism, super-spirituality, legalism, dogmatism, pugilism (a fighting spirit), separatism, spiritual myopia, et cetera.

In my book I endeavor to show how that throughout his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used the Pharisees as a negative example of the kind of disciples he had come to make; how an inability to embrace grace would impact such things as a disciple’s ethics, piety, ambitions, ministry effectiveness, and ability to persevere in the faith. In other words, what Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount was making the point of how important it is for his followers to embrace grace if they are going to truly become the kind of people who manifest the traits described in the beatitudes and, as a result, end up functioning as spiritual salt and light, effectively pointing even more people to God!

Now, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be reading this if you were a person who didn’t care at all about functioning effectively as spiritual salt and light. Then again, it’s easy—amazingly easy—for the most sincere Christian to slip into a performance mode before God. I struggle with this myself more often than I care to admit.

Here’s the bottom line: there are many ways we can respond to grace. Have we ever truly embraced it? Are we living out of that embrace right now? It really does make a difference.

Something to think about.