Confession #16: I am sometimes afraid of grace
I’m currently drinking a non-fact white choc macadamian nut mocha. My hunch is that it’s not non-fat at all because it tastes so delicious. You can taste the fat.
I wasn’t sure what confession to write on next. I had coffee with a friend this weekend, and she kind of confessed something to me. I wanted to use hers, because I could see so clearly the pieces of pharisee or prodigal floating in her words, but I felt weird about confessing something that isn’t mine. I tried to categorize what the struggle might be and I came up with ‘fear of grace’.
I was sitting on the couch later, trying to think of a way to confess on her behalf when I stumbled across a document I created several months ago to help me keep track of all my unwritten confessions: those things I wanted to blog about some day. At the top of the list was ‘I’m afraid of grace’. Ironically, I am such a pharisee that I even managed to point out someone else’s struggle while conveniently forgetting that I struggle with the same thing.
The way my friend expressed this struggle is that she sometimes feels guilty enjoying or resting in grace. She’s worried that she’s supposed to be looking at her sin, and that feeling the peace of grace is too good for a sinner like her. She’s right. And wrong.
For us Pharisees, there’s this really weird thing time line we walk through. Tim Keller describes it as a pendulum swing. We find ourselves absolutely confident when we are doing well. But in this confidence we are a little lacking in humility; we don’t rest on Christ but on ourselves. As we stumble, we find ourselves totally getting the humility thing, but suddenly terrified for our salvation: no confidence or assurance at all. We are either confident but not humble, or humble but not confident.
We feel guilty enjoying grace for the same reason we feel so despairing when we fail and for the same reason we feel so confident when we are doing ‘well’. Because our righteousness is based on nothing less than our own righteousness. Grace makes us uncomfortable because it would mean owning the truth that we cannot earn God’s approval or blessings. And if that’s the case, then all our works – all our ‘prayers’ and ‘quiet times’ don’t guarantee us anything. Grace means we are no longer in control.
When we look at our failures we feel so guilty. As pharisees, our solution is to find someone who will tell us it’s not as bad as we think. Our solution is that we shouldn’t look at our sin so much. Our solution is that we should forget how bad we really are. However, that’s not the solution I see in Scripture. In Scripture the solution seems to be pressing into the truth that we are in fact a lot worse than we think. Weird. How could Jesus think that is helpful?
Because if we rest in the true Gospel, looking at our sin will only help us see grace. We will not see guilt or pain we will see love in the face of all our failures.
When looking at our sin produces helplessness or despair or guilt, it should not be an catalyst to look away – it should be an indicator that we do not believe in the truth of the Gospel. These emotions should become red flags that we are finding our hope in our own behavior. Which is why it feels like our hope is lacking when we fail, and is why our hope feels secure when we succeed. We are actually our hope.
We will always fear grace as long as we believe that we have something to bring to the table. We will always hate the truth of grace for as long as we want God to work for us; for as long as we need Him to be in our debt. Grace means that nothing is on our terms. Grace means that He is fully in control of us – we have been bought. He doesn’t work for us. He doesn’t owe us. Instead – He freely gives – in the way that He wants.
This would be frightening if we didn’t believe that He alone is just and good. But we do. We forget that we do, but we do. There is no one better to be in control; there is none better to give me what I need.
By your grace – I will trust in you.