CHRISTIAN LIFE & GROWTH
Good and Faithful Servant, Part 5
Growing in Grace
By Christopher Schwinger
Part 1: Evangelizing the Lost and Helping the Disadvantaged
Part 2: Forgiveness and the Balance between Contentment and Responsibility
Part 3: Knowing God and Generosity
Part 4: Courage and Humility
Part 5: Growing in Grace
There is a fine balance between working hard in God's service and trying to win His approval. Duty is a good motivation when it comes out of a devoted relationship, but becomes legalistic when it's attempting to win God's favor, as if a relationship can be earned. Paradoxically, the desperate attempt to please God becomes a barrier to fellowship. On the contrary, pleasing God becomes natural and spontaneous, instead of forced, when we begin with an understanding of God's character and then grow from there. When the path starts with our attempts, it leads to bondage, but when it starts with God's revelation of His kindness, it leads to a healthy kind of duty.
This is the fifth in a series on how being a good and faithful servant starts in the heart.
Grace transforms our definitions of politeness and rudeness. Grace doesn't do stuff by a fixed formula that says, "I'm supposed to do this in this situation." The reason manners/politeness turns into rudeness so very easily is because of a lack of grace. People consider things rude and consequently don't associate with others who don't share their total set of rules, thereby being rude themselves. Where there is grace, one becomes better and better at meeting other people where they are at, and doesn't rely on a set of rules to tell what courtesy is, but on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which is cultivated through prayer. People who do good only because they are "supposed to" cannot live by grace, and their relationships are more forced, because they do not have the internal motivation from their own nature. Kindness is something they feel they have to "try" to do, not a part of their nature. Even if pet peeves don't go away, grace helps us become better at not overreacting to what is perceived as impoliteness. A person who's growing in grace is able to reevaluate what makes something polite or impolite in a given situation, rather than quickly judging the person as rude and someone he/she has no time for.
Grace also initiates kindness to others to a degree which the world finds unnatural. It leads us to go out of our way to help people who don't even have that much personal impact on our lives. Even though charity and philanthropy are done by unbelievers just as much, their personal responses tend to be much more self-centered when someone pressures or inconveniences them. With grace as the motivation, a person is able to think about what motivates the other person and where the other person is at with God, but not view it as his/her responsibility to "fix" the other person, or make kindness conditional on whether the other person accepts Christ. Grace gives us a proper perspective on how everyone is on a journey, which, in my case, has led me to a deeper kind of friendliness. Instead of doing good deeds for them to try to prove to them what a Christian is like, I've found myself no longer thinking about that, instead doing things because it is my nature in Christ. There have been occasions where I reflect on how I handled a situation with a stranger in public just moments earlier, and wondered, "Wow, I was sure kind to that person," and knew it was Christ working in me. I had no ulterior motive of converting them to Christ in order to win points with God for another soul saved, and indeed haven't ever won anyone to Christ. I hardly ever have found opportunity to talk about God in those situations and am not suited toward confrontational conversation either. But there is a depth of kindness in my nature which God has produced, causing me to not even think selfishly when I'm in encounters.
While Christians are called by God to share Christ with others — at times specifically talking about Him instead of just expecting them to ask us, "What makes you so different?" — genuine friendliness does not come from a duty to convert others. "Friendly," as I am using the word, does not mean "chatty" but respectful, kind, and patient. Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons are known to be active proselytizers, but they have less warmth for you when they find out you are not interested in joining their faith. Because of how I have grown in grace, I care about people whom I know I will only be talking to for a brief exchange in public, and this continues to the same degree, by God's power, even though I have become more pessimistic over time about people/humanity as a whole. There is no selfish motivation whatsoever in the friendliness that comes out of grace.
Grace also provides the wisdom to expend the right amount of energy to help others without wearing oneself out. If someone finds himself/herself later resenting doing so much, it is a sign of being partly motivated by insecurity — a desire to prove something. Grace, on the other hand, is reasonable and not only helps others, but preserves the self. It keeps self-preservation and exertion on behalf of others in perfect balance. Jesus, too, did this when He went away from the crowds to pray.
As I have grown in grace, I worry less about whether I make the right or wrong impression on people, less concerned about what other people think of me, less anxious and over-analytical about whether I handled a situation "just right." Additionally, though it's not possible to feel equally warm towards others all the time, I know that grace enables me to more consistently handle situations without taking out my stress on others, because Christ's inner peace produces self-control, patience, and contentment. Selfishness, which I think of as a preoccupation with emotional and physical gratification, becomes easier to discern in the light of grace, because not all self-preservation is selfish. Grace-based wisdom makes the line between self-preservation and a selfish usurpation of others' rights much clearer.
Life essentially becomes more integrated, for all virtues are interrelated, and grace makes virtue more authentic and less effort-based. Honesty takes on a new meaning because one can express his/her inner being better to others without as much fear of what they will think. Truly every virtue gets redefined by grace, which is what Jesus was pointing towards in the Sermon on the Mount as He said the attitude of the heart is more important than whether you actually committed an act of murder or adultery.
Every use of the word "love" in 1 Corinthians 13, such as "love does not seek its own," could be replaced with the word "grace," and 1 Corinthians 13, combined with the ideas I have given above, gives a very powerful understanding of love. "Grace," "love," and "compassion" are all interchangeable for the most part, and are so much more important than trying hard to be a good person, because they are what make you a good person. Jesus said love for God and love for other people are a summary of the entire Law and Prophets. This means so much more than is generally understood, and I wish we had more teachings of Jesus and recorded examples of how He handled inconveniences and pressures with patience and gentleness. Since God has done these things in me to make my grace more authentic, I can conclude that Jesus was like me but better. It is an interesting way to understand God, by starting with our own morality, and seems counterintuitive when we're supposed to start from His written word about morality, except if we know that God is producing the growth in us. The qualities I have expounded on above all make the word "gracious" more meaningful to me, and far from making me glory in myself, they elevate my view of God.
Image Credit: Peter Pawlowski; "albatross"; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Personal-Relationships
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Published on 9-9-15