Recently I was asked to convey five great theological themes presented squarely in the Scriptures and to explain and display them in such a way that an ordinary person might exclaim, "hey, I understand that"!
The first of these great theological themes is 'Grace' as it conveys a most alarming idea. This is an idea that is contrary to everything that we would normally consider as fair and just. This next sentence might shock many tried and true Christians, as Grace is not something one can touch or feel, rather it's a personal attitude.
The world's greatest of all theologians down through the centuries have grappled with the essence of 'Grace' and have recognised it as a personal attitude. Martin Luther realised it's full 'moment' when on one occasion he re-read Romans 1: 16-17 – "The Just shall live by faith". A light went on!
Grace, explained as a personal attitude, is central to Christian theology in measuring the extent of God's love and generosity to allow each person to find their true meaning of life in God – the measurement is like the saying: "How long is a piece of string?"
The answer to that question is the extent to which God's love for each person is overwhelming, and this is not a simple equation for which theology provides a pat formula. It's simple and yet completely unfathomable. It's the classic dichotomy. It's a personal attitude.
All this has been the subject of innumerable theology text books that seminary students have studied and researched since the early church. It was the well spring which inspired the Protestant Reformation.
'Grace' challenges every sinew of our being. A cursory glimpse of its dynamism demonstrates how it will change the way we view "everything around us." Once grasped, our world view is never the same. This is the reason I describe it as a personal attitude.
It can never be 'What is Grace?" without first comprehending the opposite to Grace, and herein lies a great delusion and confusion for many. The English language does not help as confusion surrounds the English translation of both the Hebrew and Greek in trying to convey the meaning of "following the Lord Jesus".
Confusion over 'obedience'
There are two important ideas here - (1) our response to God's generosity to us, and (2) The Lord's instructions are for our benefit and well-being in every area of our lives.
The English syntax conveys these thoughts with the words "obey" "obedient" "obedience". In my view these words convey a misleading idea and this is why -
The Hebrew and Greek doesn't read in the same way as the English, as the reader gets the essence of its meaning as they read along. In the English, the translators makes this decision for the reader with, (in their collective view) what is the best word, or the closet word that conveys the idea.
'Grace' conveys the idea that nothing we can do such as "being better than we were yesterday" or "obeying more of God's laws this week than last" earns Salvation or God's favour - those ideas suggest we are "earning" .... whereas Grace conveys that God's Salvation and His favour is a gift.
This can neither be earned or bought. It's not a saleable item.
'Grace' carries with it the splendid idea that God loves (Mark Tronson) so much with all my sin and wickedness and bundled it all up and placed with it with Christ on the Cross of Calvary. I am washed clean each and every moment (continuous), so there can be no guilt of sin, as it constantly decamps to the Cross.
This is the response that the Apostle Paul gives in his letter to the congregation at Rome in Chapter 6 verse 1 - "Shall we continue to sin that Grace may abound? Certainly not ..."
A problem discussed
As a Christian theologian, trying to convey this idea of Grace, imagine if perfect human achievement was the condition of Salvation. Only those of the calibre of people like Edmund Hillary (the first man to climb Mount Everest) would be acceptable; or the current 100 metre sprinter man and woman world record holders; or the current richest man or woman.
It doesn't make any sense at all, as it doesn't leave room for the rest of us.
Grace says that God Himself in Jesus Christ, died for our sin and salvation. There it is. Salvation is not based on anything or any achievement of ours, rather on what Jesus did on the Cross by taking our sin upon himself.
Guilt has been taken from anyone who places their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and its placed in the rubbish bin. Our thankful response is to follow Jesus in all that we engage in, as continuous love flows between the believer and the Lord. It is a life of trust in the Lord.
Once the English language idea of "obey, obedient, obedience" takes charge, the difficulty is that our response is one of something we do, something we're earned, a work in which we engage in, to somehow fulfil that requirement.
It is unwittingly a misconception, the very opposite to Christ's Salvation offered at Calvary. The idea of 'having to obey' simply carries additional guilt.
Perceiving the idea of Grace therefore is like a thunderbolt – it's all of Christ, nothing of us, but that of living a life of continuous faith in Him.
What therefore is our response to Grace – "following the Lord (1) in response to God's generosity and (2) the Lord's instructions are for our benefit and well-being in every area of our lives".
Grace is a wonderful release from guilt. It's a personal attitude!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html