Is Grace a “gift” or is it Earned ?
Grace, as I have been taught and also believed, is “God’s Redemptive Gift” to let us back into His Kingdom and His World. But before the Lord lets us come back in, we too must become “vessels of grace” and we must distribute grace among ourselves. So, how do we become “vessels of grace?” While you think about it, let me share how I became a member of the “grace distribution team.” It did take me ninety years to understand my own ”journey of grace.” The French philosopher Auguste Comte can and has been helpful with his concept “tabula rasa”. The mind is a blank tablet and is being filled with experience and learning by ourselves.
When did I become aware of the “need for Grace?”
It began when my mother had dropped the hot steel cover from our stove and I sat on it. My yelling and my mother’s embrace and treatment were my first encounter with grace. Grace was in my mother’s care and love for me. Actually, it began when my parents were married. When I joined the family, I was being taught and began to experience good and bad, right and wrong. Therefore, I began to collect and store this new information into my own head and tried to use it. When I did something good, I was rewarded and when I did something bad, I was punished. And the more good things I did, the more good things I received from others. My parents and teachers even insisted that I be good to people who were not good to me. This was humiliating and troubling, but that is how I was able to learn what “grace” was really about. For me, “grace or gracing” was a natural growing process, without even being aware of it. Grace was inherent in my human nature to “grow in grace, in truth, and in knowledge.” Grace in me matured like fruit, and much of it I ate while it was yet green.
Luke reported that Jesus had a similar experience in growth (Luke 2:52). In the Prologue of the Gospel of John (1:17), Jesus was the “One” who brought grace to earth. Jesus may have been the “author of grace” before He came to earth; however on earth, He had the mission of “restoring grace” into the heartless Law of Moses, which had been replaced by the traditions of the fathers (Matthew 5:17-18; Mark 7:9-13). The Jewish tradition did not allow their people to share any “grace” with the Samaritans, or any other Gentiles (Luke 19:31-32). Jesus, Himself, could only go to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). The Ten Commandments Yahweh gave to Moses for Israel make no mention of love (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5); however, in the application in their living, the word “love” was added (Deuteronomy 6:5). The Law protected the neighbor and the stranger. And Yahweh commanded the Israelites to love the neighbor, as well as the stranger, just as much as they loved themselves (Leviticus 19:18; 19:33-34; 18:26; Exodus 12:49). To Jesus, the love for myself must equal the love for God, for the neighbor, and for the stranger (Matthew 22:36-40).
I learned to love by doing things for others and for myself. And therefore, what I did became “deeds of grace” for those whom I served and also for myself. The simplest way for me, to understand what grace and love were, was by doing the things that meant something good for others and for myself. So, I began to collect and store good things in my heart, which I could use to gain favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). Unfortunately, I began to follow and copy people who were not doing what was right or true, and I too went off the straight and narrow road. I, even while I was a youngster, let bad thoughts and words into my heart and mind, for which I had to atone and apologize. Unfortunately, I did not and now I cannot make things right with people who have passed on. I, too, have put my failures into the hands of Christ our Lord; yet sometimes, the evil spirit keeps me humble by ratling my conscience with guilt (II Corinthians 12:7). I shall write about my conscience in this journey. Jesus had similar things on His mind regarding the storing of lasting values in our hearts that can help us be “useful vessels” in God’s Kingdom.
“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! how can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:33-37).
And when Jesus had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man” (Mark 7:17-23).
Jesus told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. For good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:39-45).
Now the parable (of the sower) is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience (Luke 8:11-15).
What did I learn from Jesus’ Teachings?
I do dress myself in Jesus’ instructions to his disciples: “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:8-12).
The first virtuous quality of grace is “humility.” For me, humility was the hardest and the most enduring life-long discipline. It was a grooming process of my whole self. It was a delousing of critters that were damaging my image and impair my usefulness to man and God. I had more than just a chip on my shoulder. If I were to compare myself with any of Jesus’ obnoxious men, it would be the Pharisee, who went up to the temple to pray and looked down on the tax collector.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but he beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:10-13).
My life has been like a tree, which had not enough pruning and trimming to keep the bugs from spoiling the fruit. My heart was not as open as it should have been, and my mouth did not restrain my tongue. I have much to regret and be disciplined for it, even at ninety years of age. I neglected to guard against things that tried to pervert my mind and my desire for forbidden deeds. Many times, I too was tempted and pondered how it would feel when one yields? Like Cain of Genesis 4:7, sin was couching at my door, and I did resist the devil and he did not have any power over me. James, the brother of Jesus has been very helpful in my life.
“Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit which He has made to dwell in us ?’ But He gives more grace to the humble. Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you” (James 4:4-10).
Humiliation is not an abasement or a demotion for public showing. Genuine humility is self-love and not self-praise. It made me aware of being a “son of God,” who is made in His image and in His likeness, fit to house the Spirit of God, and capable of doing the Lord’s work on earth. Demeaning myself is an insult to God, my heavenly Father, who loved me so much that He sent His Son Jesus to save me, and employ me as his “vessel of grace.” I must be cautious whom I follow, avoid looking for faults in others, and resist those who try to keep the “Word of Truth” from me. In the world, I am a spiritual tree:
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:43-45).