Rounding a bend in the road, I instantly knew two things: First, this was a marsh. Second, I hadn’t actually known what a marsh is. I’d known the word and the constituent parts (mud, grasses, water), I’d seen them in movies. I thought I knew exactly what a marsh is, but in reality I knew about as much as an entry in an elementary school encyclopedia. My nostrils had not smelled the smell (presumably due to the dead Syndarin Elves); my eyes had had not seen the full-color sight. Before my bike pedals could complete a turn, I knew and I knew that I had not known.
Half a mile down the road, my assumption was confirmed. In case you can’t make out the sign, there are over 17,000 acres of marshland in New England and 2/3 of the fish and shellfish in the ocean somehow depend (I’m assuming if not directly, indirectly) on them at some point in their lives. You may laugh, first of all, because you think you know what a marsh is. If that’s the case, come next August and I’ll take you on this bike ride. Moreover, you may scoff because all I’ve only discovered some smelly terrain. In a sense, you’re right; the thrill has waned 16 hours later.
However, my unknowing unawareness reminds me of a conversation I had with a student. Walking through the church building, we discussed strategies for faithfulness at a new school. “But what if you do mess up?” I asked, a dozen different ways. No matter how I phrased it, this earnest, life-long, intelligent youth group kid could not produce, from his own heart, “grace.” There were strategies for accountability, Bible study, personal holiness, spiritual disciplines, and more, but there was no conviction that there is mercy and forgiveness in Jesus.
I share that story because I was the exact same way. I was, in many ways (including the literal sense), the poster boy for our youth group. I genuinely wanted to understand, obey, and contribute, but it wasn’t until the day that God’s favor and my actions were divorced in my mind that I could say, with Job, “I had heard of you by the hearing f the ear, but now my eye sees you.”
I wonder, do you truly know grace?
If not, don’t think you’re the first. Paul entreats the Galatians:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? (3:1)…Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Have begun by the Spirit, are you now perfected by the flesh? (3:2-3)…You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace (5:4)…But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God (6:14-16).
Too often, we think of grace like a big, stretchy net under our moral trapeze, for conversions, outliers, and other people, but that is not nearly all that God intends grace to be in our lives. Grace is more free, complete, and daily than we usually believe. Maybe you don’t know if you know grace–consider these questions:
1. Do you believe that, because of Jesus, God is not angry with you anymore, nor will he be (Romans 5:9)?
2. Do you believe that if you died today, with all your projects unfinished, God would count you as righteous because of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21)?
3. Do you believe that Jesus enjoys working in you to make up for the fact that you neither do nor want to do what you should (Philippians 2:13)?
4. Do you believe that God is not waiting to see whether you “pan out” or prove to be a good investment, but because of his own goodness chose you for adoption before you remotely deserved to come anywhere near his family (Ephesians 1:5-6)?
5. Do you believe that God chose to make you alive when you were dead, that forgiveness and restoration are not rewards for believing, but gifts given to a corpse along with life (Ephesians 2:4-7)
If you have never truly beheld these truths or have let them fall by the wayside, repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.