“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” –James 4:6
Maybe you are like me?
There are times, if I’m honest, that I struggle to understand the soul-saving, eternity-altering, life-changing grace of God – both in my life and the life of others, including the people who have hurt me the most. I do believe in the gracious grace of God but confess to not remembering it sometimes as passionately and completely as I should. As I read the New Testament, it appears that I am not alone. I have found roughly one dozen instances of various writers “reminding” Christians of the grace of God.
When deeply considered, the grace of God seems to me nearly too good to be true. It reveals that God is unlike any person who has ever lived and unlike any false god invented by any religion. Perhaps this is what the Scriptures mean when they refer to God’s attribute of holiness (which means He is both uniquely different and good) more frequently than any other.
To start with, I am a sinner. For many years I struggled to see myself as a sinner. This was because I was prone, as many sinners are, to compare myself to other sinners rather than to Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I was prone to focus on my “good” qualities and dismiss my sins as mistakes, errors, lapses, and the like. Of course, I was prone not to afford that same kind of license to those who sinned against me. As a result, I was far more aware of the speck in the eyes of other people than the lumberyard full of planks in my own.
In relation to the story of the prodigal son, I was like the older brother. I was the “good guy” who did not go out partying, drinking, and sinning. I was self-disciplined, responsible, and, by all outward appearances, a decent, upright, moral person. Not knowing much Scripture, I basically lived by the pithy statements that are bantered about and that repudiate grace, such as “God helps those who help themselves,” “No pain, no gain,” and “You get what you deserve.” Yet, in my heart I was filled with self-righteousness, pride, condemnation of others, and no real love for God.
Awareness of my own sinfulness hit me in college during a state university philosophy class, of all places. There, God broke through and revealed to me the depth of my sin. We had to read some writings by the church father Augustine, who said that the root of all sin is pride, and that pride is the greatest sin of all and, in effect, the mother sin that births all other sins.
Furthermore, he argued biblically that sin is not just what we do but is, in fact, a far deeper problem of who we are by nature. As I read Augustine’s words and the fact that Satan was the proudest person who ever lived1 and that Jesus was the humblest person who has ever lived2 it was as if my entire world turned upside down.
I was shaken to my core when I heard that pride was the root of my corruption and not the source of my righteousness. I had not sought to merit my salvation but simply assumed that the “good” life I was living was adequate enough for God to be pleased with me and take me to heaven when my “good” life was concluded. It was then that I started to learn about the grace of God which we will be studying together in the next few weeks.
On a scale of 1 (hardly ever aware of God’s grace in your life) to 10 (constantly aware of God’s grace in your life), how would you rate yourself in the past two weeks?
1 Isa. 14:11–22.
2. Phil. 2:1–11.