Grace cannot be earned. It is free.
This letter is for Glenn House, a true elder of Westwinds.
You have worked hard, in hard circumstances, teaching people to love. You’ve taught them to love one another, to forgive, to overlook offenses, to cultivate civility, and to draw deeply on God’s love. You have poured out your life for others, and the very reason you have had so much to give is that you have received so much from God. You have endured much in your life, and by God’s grace you have been able to help much as a result.
This, I think, is what most people don’t understand about the difference between following Christ and following any other god, real or fictional. Whether some deity from a pagan pantheon, or Money, Sex, or Power, people fail to realize the relationship between them and their gods is always reciprocal. They do something, in hopes of getting something.
Only with Christ is that relationship changed from reciprocity to grace. He gives us himself, and all that comes with him, because he loves us. That’s it. We haven’t earned it. We don’t deserve it. God enriches his children because he is a loving father, not because we are especially pleasant tots.
The benefits of knowing Jesus often spill over into blessings, but I’m convinced those blessings are more result than reward. God instructs us to love our neighbor, and thus our relationships with our neighbors improve. But—and this is key—he doesn’t compel our neighbors to like us. He doesn’t make them do anything for us. He doesn’t control them, as though they were puppets made of meat and sinew. God simply knows how people work and how people work best together, and he instructs us in wisdom and knowledge so we can benefit others as well as ourselves. That relationship is still fundamentally different than the person who prays to the altar of self-help and beauty in hopes of overpowering her peers with charm and sensuality.
The truth is that the relationship most people have with the invisible powers of this world is that of a consumer. We try to buy everything and are disappointed when we learn there are some things for which we cannot barter. We’re angry when we realize some circumstances cannot be improved just because we want them to be more favorable or because we’re nice, or because we’ve behaved.
Any spirituality that promises “if, then” blessing will be exposed as bankrupt. Our worship of things or fame or false gods cannot but disappoint while we remain poor, unknown, and unfulfilled.
Our relationship with the true God cannot make us rich, loved, and full of meaning while we persist in holding him to a bargain he never made. God isn’t interested in our purchasing power. He’s not going to dominate the will of others because we’ve been tithing. He’s not going to disrupt the character of others because we’ve begun to feel victimized. We think we’ll give something to God in order to get something from God, but we have nothing to give that will force him to act contrary to his nature. He has already given us everything we need, and until we embrace him and accept him in his fullness, we’ll continue looking for additional handouts.
Scripture metaphorically refers to the people of God as the City of God. We, together, are the place where God lives. We live in this world, but we are citizens of Heaven.
Thing is, some cities have vagrants, vagabonds, and tourists. Vagrants are violent, agitated wanderers in a city that holds no promise. Vagabonds are homeless, without any connection or peace. Tourists are happy but detached, without any sense of responsibility.
Are we not sometimes like this? Aren’t we sometime-vagrants, wandering around the City of God without realizing every moment is golden, every second rings full of God’s chorus of angelic hope? Aren’t we sometime-vagabonds, forgetting our home is not our job or our lawn or our golf league? Aren’t we sometime-tourists, enjoying the good things of God but forgetting God intends to heal the world though his people?
Not everyone has the power to be a consumer, and that’s good news. Only when we realize God cannot be bought, blessing cannot be earned, and happiness is not for sale will we experience the joy of free grace.