If God Gave Out Grades
I’m not sure where I first heard it, but one of the best analogies for explaining the concept of God’s grace takes place in a classroom.
Imagine the beginning of a school semester. The teacher hands out a course outline, explains the topics of the class, and goes over the expectations. She tells her students if you stick to the outline, work hard, and do all the assignments to the best of your ability you will receive an A in this class.
This is how we usually think God operates. God gives us the Bible as an outline, God gives us assignments (things we should do, things we shouldn’t do), and reminds us that if we follow the outline and do all the right things that we will get an “A” in life and in the after-life. This is a tough game to win.
When we get enough life experience under our belts, we realize that we simply aren’t able to meet all the expectations. We will miss the mark, we will make mistakes, we will sometimes deliberately break the rules or cheat. In the game of life, it is very hard to earn an “A.”
An “A” When We Deserve an “F”
When we first learn of grace, it goes something like this: It’s the end of the term, we haven’t quite tried our hardest, maybe we haven’t quite measured up, or maybe we have royally messed up.
But the teacher invites us up to the desk and instead of a disapproving look, we see a smile, and an eraser comes out. Our “F” or “D” is erased and the teacher says – “I’m giving you another chance.”
As we grow in grace, this quickly becomes our picture of God: a God who erases the record of our wrongs and gives a lot of second chances.
What About Starting With An “A”
But even this view of God’s grace isn’t quite right, or not quite “full” enough. God is more like the teacher that comes into the class on the first day and declares that everyone has already been assigned an “A”.
After that, God gives out the outline, lays out the expectations, and asks for the students to work hard to the best of their ability.
A Grace that comes before
Yes, we still mess up along the way, and God forgives and gives second chances, but God’s grace is not just the response to the mess we make. Grace is the starting point of our relationship with God.
Biblically, we usually start with the banishment from the Garden of Eden and then spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the work it takes for restoration. We instead need to start with walking with God in the garden, or even earlier—God lovingly creating everything and calling it good. God’s grace is always the starting point. The fancy theological term for this is prevenient grace.
Why does this make any difference?
Understanding prevenient grace makes a difference because it effects how we view God. When God’s main function is to forgive our sin, and the starting place for God’s activity is rooted in God’s response to human mess-making, we have a distorted picture of who God is in relation to us, and who we are in relation to God.
Imagine a parent’s starting place with their child being the child’s disobedience (that’s actually hard to imagine). The parent can still be loving and forgiving, but the child’s view of the parent becomes someone with authority who likes to forgive them. Consequently, their view of themselves becomes as one who makes mistakes and needs forgiveness, rather than as a beloved child. Sound familiar?
If the starting place for the relationship is the child’s disobedience, it is far more likely that the parent will be viewed as an angry authority figure, or at the very least, someone who is always disappointed in their child
That probably sounds familiar to you too.
If instead the starting place between parent and child is simply love, we are on the right track.
This love includes the parent looking on the child and being amazed at the child’s goodness (parents, you know what I’m talking about!) It includes forgiveness when the child messes up, but that forgiveness is not the starting place. Rather, it is a re-starting place. Grace was abounding long before the child was ever disobedient. The child ends up seeing a parent who doesn’t just love to forgive them, but a parent who loves them for who they are.
We need to know that God’s grace precedes anything we do or don’t do, that God truly loves us unconditionally.
Otherwise any hope of a relationship with that God of infinite love, caring, and power will be distorted, and ultimately emptied the proper effect it may have on us. We need to claim a love that goes before us, surpasses us, and surprises us with its lack of conditions and lack of limits.
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