Grace all the Way Down

4-5But God, rich in mercy, took action because he loved us so very much. Even though we were dead through the things we had done wrong, he brought us to life in Christ (you were saved by grace!) 6He then raised us up with him and made us sit in heavenly places with [in] Christ Jesus. 7This all took place so that in the ages to come he could show just how rich his grace is by his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith. Even that is not of yourselves—it’s God’s gift! 9It is not the result of works, so nobody can boast. 10For it is his workmanship that we are, created in Christ Jesus for good works. God prepared those works ahead of time so that we could walk in them [live that way]. — Ephesians 2:4-10 [My paraphrase to break up a long Greek sentence!-HN]

There’s a famous story about an old lady who, after hearing a lecture on how the heavenly bodies move, challenged the lecturer and told him he was wrong, that the earth was a flat disk that rode on the back of a tortoise. Cleverly the scientist asked her what the tortoise was standing on.

“You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!” [Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, via Wikipedia].

As humans, we don’t really like that kind of infinite regression, which is the point of the story. We want to find something solid on which to base whatever we’re doing. When it comes to our salvation there is no exception. We want to be able to look at our lives, our birth, our church membership, our good deeds, or just generally how cute we are, and find there a good solid reason why God would accept us. We’d really feel so much safer if we were truly (and of course successfully!) depending on ourselves.

This was called to my attention last night during Bible study at our church (taught by Dr. Wesley Wachob). The text was Romans 1:1, and the phrase was “the gospel of God.” First let’s break out gospel. It’s “good news.” Now you can play with that word “of” quite a bit. God’s good news. The good news that leads to God. The good news that comes from God. The good news that is God.

All of those have some validity. But there is a key point that’s easy to miss. The gospel is not a new invention. God didn’t come up with it at the last moment as a stopgap measure. He wasn’t caught off guard by the plunge of the sin market (or perhaps explosion?) so that he had to bail out the universe with a hastily patched together and compromised infusion of 700 billion units of grace! The gospel is as old as God!

There wasn’t a time when people were saved by works. There is no time coming when people will be saved by works. When Paul searches for support for the gospel he goes back to Abraham. Joshua 24 tells us that Israel’s forefathers worshiped other gods, but then God came and called Abraham. Why? Grace. Period. Abraham obeyed, yes, but that call came by sheer grace. He hadn’t obeyed yet! What’s more, the grace wasn’t just for Abram, as he was called at the time. It was for everyone.

What about the Jewish law, the Torah? I’m glad you asked. That is also God’s gracious gift. That’s how God chose to educate the Israelites and teach them how to live. One of the most profoundly spiritual experiences of my life was studying through Leviticus with Jacob Milgrom’s commentary in the Anchor Bible series. Milgrom is a conservative Rabbi, not a Christian. He finds God’s gracious action in the way that God leads the Israelites through the laws. It’s not the laws and the sacrifices that “do” things—God does them. Our sacrifice doesn’t cause forgiveness. The Israelite worshiper sacrificed in obedience, but it was God who did the forgiving. You’d be amazed at how grace is woven into Leviticus!

God shows us grace in various ways. God graciously leads us in various ways, but no matter how far back, how far forward, how far down, or how far up we go, we never get to a point where it isn’t grace. God created us all. He’s the answer to that ultimate question—why is there something rather than nothing? Quite literally you and I are absolutely, utterly, inconceivably nothing whatsoever without God.

It is not as though we can go most of the way and then God helps us. We can’t start, we can’t continue, we can’t come within sight of our goal without God. We can’t even conceive of the need for the journey without God.

We were dead, kaput, finished, completely and utterly lost and completely and utterly unable to do anything about it, and completely unaware that we needed to do anything. God steps in. “But God . . .”

God won’t leave us a single platform, a single ledge, not even a tiny hook on which to hang our pride. It’s grace all the way down. When we think we’ve finished looking at what grace can do, we’re just going to find more grace below. ALL. THE. WAY!

We have no rights before God. He graciously gives them to us. We have no claim to make. No human being, no finite creature whatsoever has ever had any such claim, nor will they.

Why emphasize this so much? I could say that the Bible does, but to be more honest I find it horribly easy to doubt or forget completely.

When you get desperate, remember that it’s grace all the way. God isn’t surprised by your situation and he has always had a plan!

When you pray, remember that it’s grace all the way. You don’t have to get it right. Just talk to him.

When you fall, remember there is no hard landing when you’re in God’s grace. It’s grace all the way down.

Height, depth, length, width, (Ephesians 3:18) whether space or time, it’s grace all the way.

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