“And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” Romans 11 v 6
Almost immediately any attempt to earn grace runs in a problem, and as problems go this is right up there with what to have for breakfast. Grace is defined as the unmerited favour of God to man. It’s pretty easy to see then that if grace could be earned it would cease to become grace and instead become the merited favour of God to man or the ‘wage’ of God to man. As Paul writes in the above verse if there’s work involved in grace then grace ceases to be grace.
Nevertheless, despite the impossibility of earning grace it rarely stops us from trying. Man, naturally, is hard wired to a religion of works, a religion of doing something good to earn something good. Many people rest their security of salvation in the fact that they are ‘good’ people; in other words that they’ve done enough good stuff in their lives to earn a place in heaven.
To put it bluntly: this is madness. As Paul writes: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2v8) Salvation is the unmerited or undeserved favour of God to man. And it’s a jolly good thing it is for the flip side to trying to earn salvation is that we can’t. Our hearts are too evil, even the best of our acts are marred by ego, pride and sin and considering the greatest commandment is ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength’ then who can stand? Even the most cursory of glances through the Ten Commandments show that we fall short and when we consider that we judged on the thoughts we entertain then the idea of being good before God becomes a distant prospect indeed.
Yet even those of us who have ‘got this’, turned to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith for his saving work on the cross where he died in our place that we might have eternal life and then rose again and ascended to heaven where he now reigns over all; often still don’t get grace.
And I think the reason for it occurred to me the other day. Grace, in our minds, is uncertain. That is to say, as grace is unmerited, as there is nothing we can do to earn it then we think that we cannot rely on it. God doesn’t have to pour out grace to us so we fear that he won’t. We can’t stand before God and demand his grace based on our works yet we try because coming to God with an argument is better than coming to God with no argument, or so we think. If we do this then we are trusting ourselves and our own ability to ‘earn grace’ more than God’s delight in giving grace for free.
We think it is easier to come before God saying ‘look at this’ than to come before him with nothing. The root of this attitude is pride: we simply don’t like having no plea of our own or good work we can point to. It galls us on some level that we have nothing we can give that can earn anything from God. We don’t like admitting that our sin is great that we cannot even claim a single atom of grace from God.
We are like the fool who is swimming in an ocean worrying that it will dry up unless he continues to throw five notes into it. We are like the fool who comes to a spring of gushing water and tries to buy a drop of pure water with manure when he could get it for free would he but drink. In both cases we are seeking to earn what is free and because of this attitude we don’t know grace for the gift it is.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3v23-24) Is there any hint of a price in this verse? Are all justified with expensive by Christ’s grace? Or justified with level G of good works by Christ’s grace? No, we are justified freely by Christ’s grace. When we try and earn grace we seek to add to the free gift of grace, it is like we sit Jesus down, thank him for dying for us but then take out the wallet of life and thrust money at him. “This good deed is worth fifty pounds of grace, I’ll do this work for you that’s worth a few quid, if I pray a lot can I get a ten percent reduction?” Ah, what fools we are. Imagine if someone gave you a gift and then you tried to pay them – defeats the whole point of it. In the same way trying to earn grace defeats the whole point of grace: it’s freely given.
And if it’s not the fact that it is free we struggle with then we struggle with the fact that it is given. A gift that is forced is no gift at all and we often fear that God will withhold the gift of grace from us so we seek to force God to give us grace by doing ‘good’ works. But if we take a look at a promise of grace we see how silly this is. As Jesus says: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6v37) Here we have the promise of saving grace to all who the Father has given to the Son, Jesus says he will never drive them away. How much here is dependant on humanity? Not any of it, God freely gives us the grace to come to him and then by his grace will never turn anyone away.
Trying to earn grace despises God’s grace for his grace is a gift, freely given, and trying to earn or pay for it or not trusting to receive it is to imply that God is a mean and hard taskmaster who grudgingly pays us wages for what we do. I would not want to serve such a God. Fortunately God is the God who freely gives, who bountifully and joyfully pours out grace upon grace upon grace to people who deserve it not.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
T'was Grace that taught...
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear...
the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares...
we have already come.
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far...
and Grace will lead us home.
The Lord has promised good to me...
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be...
as long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
a life of joy and peace.
When we've been here ten thousand years...
bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise...
then when we've first begun.