I think I know why God gave me a crazy story. I think I know why I didn’t grow up within the church, why I spent 20+ years without understanding the cross, why I indulged, carried on and went my own way.
Had I not, I would have been a Pharisee among Pharisees, the legalist of all legalists, toeing the line, following all of the rules and scorning those who didn’t do the same.
I may have wandered far, but somewhere along the way, His grace found me.
Lately I’ve asked God – begged Him – to know His grace more. Somewhere along the way, the woman who was forgiven much, rather than loving much, was beginning to expect much from others and herself. Rather than seeing myself as the sinful woman in Luke 7, I became the Pharisee with a stone in hand. Rather than understanding the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) through the younger brother’s eyes, I started to see it as the older brother did.
As a Christian, I have seen it creep into my heart and my mind slowly over the years. Once embraced by His grace, I’ve exchanged it for discipline. Once able to embrace others in grace, I’ve held expectations of moralism.
When did this slow exchange happen? When did I move from knowing and needing God’s grace to self-discipline and attempting to live righteously on my own?
I remember the Apostle Paul mentioning this to the Galatians; those who accepted grace were starting to fall back into religion, trying to keep rules to earn God’s favor.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. – Galatians 1:6-7
Somehow the gospel of grace gets exchanged for the gospel of doing, achieving and right behavior with wrong motives. I claim the gospel of grace over my life; I proclaim it for others. But do I really mean it? Do I really see Jesus’ perfection in me, or am I still striving to be perfect for Him?
It’s a hard thing, this Christian life, having to repent of my striving, my toeing the line, my attempt at perfectionism, my high expectations, and my heart that wants to pull away instead of enter in and offer grace.
Brennan Manning says in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, “When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games.”
I would add, “I’m forgiving yet I never forget. I love the cross, but I still try to keep all the rules. I can show grace, but will do so selectively.” When I’m honest, my love is conditional. To the stranger, the addict and the one who doesn’t know better: grace, grace, grace. To the one within the church who has slandered me, or the hypocrite, or the one who should know better: I expect more from you.
But that’s not how true grace – gospel grace – works. Grace is not selective; it is not conditional. It does not run out after 13 years.
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? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? – Galatians 3:2-3
Grace, by definition, is getting what you don’t deserve. So my greatest prayer these days is just that: grace.
Lord, help me know your grace.
Help me need your grace.
Help me show your grace.
Help me give your grace.
I want to know the grace and love of God like never before. I remember those beginning days when I understood my sin, my offense to God, and how sweet and amazing grace really was. I knew I didn’t deserve the love of Jesus, could never earn it, and it could never be taken away. I want to know that same grace today.
I want to need grace. I talk about my sin as if it were all in the past. It’s easy to share my testimony; I don’t live like I did 15 years ago. It’s not easy to talk about my pride, my selfishness, my self-righteousness and my hard heart today. Of course I needed God’s grace as a drunken party girl. Do I still see my need for it as a cleaned-up church worker? Oh how GREAT the need for grace!
I want to show grace. I want to truly be able to express the grace I’ve received through word, deed and motives in my heart. I want to extend a hand to the hurting, to show the way to a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.
I want to give grace. And I want to give it impartially and unconditionally. Fellow partaker in the gospel who has hurt me, I want to give you grace. Outsider who has done heinous crimes, I want to give you grace. I want to give what others don’t deserve because I have been given what I don’t deserve.
I want to gaze on the gospel of grace, fix my affections on Jesus and His love, and turn around and give it away. But my heart is rotten, bent toward the law and outward behavior, and I struggle.
I want to live this life over and over in need of His grace. Over and over again, I want to be found by grace. And over and over again, I want to give it away.
 Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel. Multnomah Books. 1990, 2000, 2005.
Originally published on melissadanisi.com. Used with permission.