Understanding the Risky Reality of Grace

Romans 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

Back in the summer of 2005, Samantha and I were engaged to be married. Our wedding was only months away. While I knew she was the right person for me, there was a part of me that was incredibly nervous. Up remaining on the relationship agenda was one of the most terrifying things for me.

Samantha knew a lot about my quirky personality. She knew of my shames and failures. She knew pretty much all of the history of my life that I could remember. I had given her every opportunity to dump me. Yet, through all of that she stayed with me. And then there was that last item on the checklist: meeting the family.

I didn’t come from what many people would call a normal family (What I didn’t understand back then is that even “normal” families are not the norm). At that time I would have rather choked on my favorite food than let Samantha meet my family. I would rather have found out I’m allergic to water than introduce Samantha to my siblings. I would rather have hot glued Cheetos to my eyebrows than let my fiancé meet my parents. 

The prospect of sharing my insecurities with Samantha put knots in my stomach. Could Samantha know all about me and still be willing to stick with me? Only Jesus was able to do that. Surely not Samantha. I could not stomach the idea of letting Samantha know that part of me. It was too risky. There is no way she could see my worst and still love me.

But then that moment happened. All my worst fears came true. She met my parents. She met my whole family. I apologized. I said, “It’s OK. We can break up. You definitely don’t have to marry into this!” But despite giving Samantha every opportunity to back out, she did the unthinkable. She said, “Yes, that was hard. But I love you. We aren’t going to break up.”

Suddenly, I thought to myself, “Wow. I thought I was bad. What must be wrong with Samantha that she still wants to marry me despite having experienced my family?” And the rest is history. We finally got married and created our own dysfunctional family in need of its own grace and lived happily ever after!

All kidding aside, my marriage to Samantha has been one of the most instrumental ways that God has taught me about grace throughout the years of my life. Everyone who knows me also knows that I don’t deserve her in my life. I am not entitled to her. By my actions, I certainly don’t qualify to be married to such a high quality and godly woman.

Yes, it is true. Samantha is more than I deserve. But she is not in my life because I deserve her. She is in my life because of one reason, and one reason alone: grace. And she continues to be part of my life for the same reason. She, more than anyone, knows my flaws and imperfections. Yet, she continues to love and accept me.

Throughout life, it is rare to experience grace from other human beings. When you grow up in the church, you might experience grace conceptually from a theological understanding. But what we fail to achieve so often is understanding the riskiness of grace.

Living by grace is risky— even riskier, often times, in the church. With all of our hearts, we want to believe that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8-9). Grace, by definition, is a gift. That means grace is obtained void of any human achievement. Grace can only be distributed freely by its giver alone.

Accepting grace also means that there is a special relationship between the giver and the receiver. The receiver has found favor by the giver, and the receiver must come to terms with the nature of the gift, that it is indeed freely given.

Grace is risky because it means that in order to receive it, we must truly believe that it is for us. Too many times in our life, we can remember the letdown of an unmet promise that someone made for us. We have felt the taunting sting of the broken commitments and the rejection of others, fractured because we did not fit the bill. Grace means that we have to look beyond those pains and believe that despite what we are taught to believe from rejection and letdown—that we aren’t worthy, that we are marred and unlovable, that we are inadequate.

When we accept grace, it means that this time we need to risk the possibility that the giver has looked beyond the failures and shortcomings that we might see in ourselves and still loved us anyway. We must look that risk in the eye and stand at the precipice of another potential letdown or perhaps indeed, the reality that someone has chosen to love us and found something within us that they delighted in, and still has chosen to give us affection, despite who we know we are deep inside. At the heart of the risk wrestling with the question, should I accept this gift? Is it too good to be true?

Then, there is an even greater challenge in accepting God’s grace. If I accept this grace and discover that it too has been offered to other people according to the same terms, then I am on equal par as anyone else who receives God’s favor. It means that I can no longer judge myself based on what I believe is worthy or unworthy. It means that I see my value based upon the gift I have received.

And for Christians, we have received the immeasurable sacrifice of Jesus Christ who redeemed us, “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). That’s quite a gift indeed! Can I risk believing that I am worth enough to the giver that he would give me such a gift? And if I believe that about myself, could I believe the same about others who have received his gift and those who God purposes to give his gift: to other wretched sinners like me?

Can I muster the thought of extending grace to others in the same way that Christ has shown to me? Not just to others, but to other sinners who, according to my standard of righteousness, are miserable wretches worse than me? I’m not sure if I can really stomach that kind of grace. If I accept that grace, knowing that I am truly as miserable and undeserving as anyone else, then how can I withhold that from another person who God loves with the same kind of affection?

To live by grace, yes, that seems risky to me. Because of what it means about what I must believe about the giver. Because of what I must come to believe about myself. Because of how it requires me to live toward others. But not just others, but others who have not treated me the same way. Am I willing to risk this precious and wonderful gift? Should I accept it? And if I do, how can I live by it?