Grace: Training vs Performance

I think grace has been misunderstood for a very long time in American Christianity. Either people feel that one must earn his way to heaven (grace =  God taking up the slack of what we miss) or they feel it doesn’t matter how one lives her life at all (grace = free pass).

From my perspective, grace is God coming down to where I am and offering me relationship based on his love rather than upon my performance. I am not good enough and I never will be good enough to receive one iota of this unselfish love. He gives it just because he is the definition of love: it’s his nature.

However, while his love is not contingent upon my performance, his love is not content to leave me where I am.

To use a very poor metaphor, it is a coach who selects the most unlikely, clumsy, and out-of-shape couch potato and says “You are on my team. I want you to be on my team and you are on my team as long as you want to stay.” However, for the coach to allow said couch potato to remain in this condition would be the height of irresponsibility to the team and a lack of love toward the man.

So what does he do? He begins to put this out of shape man through training. He runs him through drills, he conditions him, he pushes him to his limits–all because he wants this person to become an effective team player. Because you see, God loves this man, but he also loves the team. The training then becomes a demonstration of his love for both the man and the team. Beyond that there is an ultimate goal: to play the game well.

Character and virtue–developing the mind of Christ–is about training. Anyone who is saved, is saved by grace. No one saves herself, no one is good enough–everyone is messed up and incapable of rescuing himself. As the great theologian Odd Thomas says, “We’re broken and a broken thing can’t fix itself.”

But God expects us to develop the mind of Christ. He expects us to grow in character and in virtue. So, through his guidance, we begin to practice the disciplines. Not to earn heaven, not to make God happy or proud of us, but because his will is central and his goal–bringing his will on earth as it is in heaven–becomes our goal.

And what are these disciplines? Common sense things like honesty, integrity, love, peace, joy, unselfish service to the broken, and patience. We train in the outward disciplines of community, service, and forgiveness along with the inward disciplines of prayer, meditation, and study. All of this so we get into shape to live as citizens of the kingdom. (Or as N. T. Wright describes it, “learning the language” of the kingdom.)

We are saved by grace, we are sustained by grace. We earn nothing. But we train in godly virtue and character to live as God’s people.

So what do you think? Does this make sense? How would you describe the dynamic between grace and virtue/character development?

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About Darryl Willis

Darryl has been working for non-profits for over 36 years. His current work takes him to Ukraine several times a year. He has fallen in love with the country and the people. Darryl writes poetry and his work has appeared in several online and print journals.
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5 Responses to Grace: Training vs Performance

  1. Nancy says:

    I like the metaphor in this post. For me it is saying God takes you in at any stage and if a person connects and believes then the study and work follows. Jesus is a great example and people must see him for his teachings and character, and not a religion.
    No matter which religion because each say it is about Peace, so why do people do something totally different once they put down the book. I guess we continually try under God’s grace, and hope one by one we understand and do better.

  2. Nancy, thanks for dropping by the post! it’s always a pleasure to read your comments.

    I agree. I think the hymn “Just As I Am” is essentially correct. As you say, he takes us at whatever stage we are in. Like the crippled man and the woman caught in adultery, though, he is not content to let us stay in the state where we were when called. He loves us too much for that.

    Another metaphor I find compelling is that of a journey. The Jesus-way involves movement toward him. I would rather be a person who is far from Jesus but moving toward him than being a person near him who is moving away form him.

    • Nancy says:

      Do you find Darryl that the hatred people have created toward diffferent religions have made it hard to share Jesus’-way? Being close to Jesus would a person instead work with Jesus to assist people at any stage to understand and be in God’s presence.

  3. I certainly think so.

    Isn’t it interesting how Jesus tells the story of a man beat up on the road to Jericho and makes the hero a despised religion and race (Samaritan)? We often miss the point of this story. The Levi and Priest are traveling down the road which means they are leaving Jerusalem (“down” in the sense of elevation). So it is not as if they fear getting ceremonially unclean and become prevented in serving in the temple (in fact the Priest would have been wealthy and be traveling with a retinue for protection). But they do not prove to be neighbors–they do not understand God’s command to love.

    Jesus says a neighbor is anyone who demonstrates mercy toward someone else–the man being assisted was not a Samaritan.

    In today’s terms, for the Patriotic American Evangelical, the “good Samaritan” could be a Jihadist who shows compassion on the American soldier–even though he is a “bad” person–in that moment he demonstrates what it means to be a neighbor–to demonstrate the fulfillment of the law: “to love your neighbor.” The Jihadist would actually show the love of Jesus in such a situation. (So the issue is not to find a neighbor, but to be a neighbor.

    Jesus calls us to be “peace makers” and people who sow seeds of peace. The closer we are to Jesus, the more we will demonstrate his love toward outsiders. Isn’t that what so much of the Sermon on the Mount is about?

  4. To answer the second part of your question: yes. Being close to Jesus is to be accepting of the most outcast and socially unacceptable person you can think of. Isn’t it interesting how Jesus never seems to be offended by sinners? The people who offend him are those who claim they are not sinners.

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