Grace? What’s the big deal? (23 Jul 2017)

Philip Yancey likes to call grace as the “last best word”, reminding us that good things do not come from our own efforts, rather by the grace of God. It contains the essence of the gospel as a drop of water can contain the image of the sun.

In our own ways, we also use the word extensively: we “say grace” before meals, many (most HDB) carparks will give a 10-minute “grace” period, and we are to be “gracious” people. etc.

It was said that a veterinarian can learn a lot about a dog owner he has never met by observing the dog. What does the world learn about God by watching us his followers on earth?

The parable of the vineyard workers and the grossly unfair pay checks baffles us. It’s not that the workers hired late in the afternoon worked so hard that the employer, impressed, decides to award them the full pay. It is about grace, which cannot be calculated. Grace is not about finishing first or last; it is not counting. We receive grace as a gift from God, not as something we toil or earn. We must not miss the point: God dispenses gifts, not wages. If we are paid in fairness, we all end up in hell.

So in a similar vein, people look to the church (or Christians) to exercise grace. The world can do almost anything as well as if not better than the church. One need not be a Christian to do good, contribute to society, etc. But it cannot offer grace, which the church is expected to do. Sadly, very often when approached, people run into holier-than-thous. They think of church as a place to go after having cleaned up their acts, not before. Morality, not grace. So, the commonly heard comment: “Church? Why would I go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse”.

There was this case where a troubled soul sought the counsel of some of his supposedly close friends in the church. The reaction of one whom he considered godly stunned him. Without pausing for a moment, with facial expression of agitation he was told: “Out with it! You’re supposed to be a matured Christian! Move on, and don’t waste (my) time.” Mark Twain’s description of people who were “good in the worst sense of the word” seemed to capture the reputation of some Christians today.

Thankfully, God is not like that. As the song goes:

There’s nothing we can do, to make Him love us more,
Nothing we can do , to make Him love us less.     

Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love. I read about a church that has a unique welcome card that captures the love and grace of God for everyone. It says, “If you are a saint, sinner, loser, winner, misfit, hyprocrite…..etc. We welcome you.” God’s grace defies all these labels because it is rooted in His love, not in our self-perception.

As Eugene O’Neil, American playwright and Nobel laureate in Literature wrote:

“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.”

Yes, grace, especially God’s grace is big deal. In the parable of the Lost Sheep, God rejoices not because the problems of the world have been solved, that all pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because there were thousands converted and were praising Him for His goodness. No, God rejoices because one of His children who was lost has been found.


Deacon Henry Leong