“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark.”
— BRENNAN MANNING
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me… ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
– JOHN NEWTON
“We are worthy of being believed only as we are aware of our unworthiness.”
— KARL BARTH
Running the Race with Grace
Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
One of the greatest movies ever made is Chariots of Fire. It is a real-life story of two British track stars and their quest for an Olympic gold medal. One of these men, Eric Liddell, is a Scottish minister who has the legs of a racehorse and the heart of a champion. His rival competitor is a talented, but embittered runner named Harold Abrahams. Liddell runs with a charismatic passion because he is racing to the glory of God. Abrahams is running to gain a sense of approval and acceptance. He is stuck on the performance treadmill of life.
The contrast throughout the film is stark—one man is running with great joy and ease because he knows the acceptance of his heavenly Father. The other man is running to prove his very existence and worth as a human being. grace of God on a regular basis. But somewhere along the way we get tripped up, and instead of relating to God on the basis of grace, we revert to a performance mentality. We swallow the lie that says, “You are saved by grace, but you earn God’s blessings in your life on a daily basis by your works.” In other words grace is for unbelievers and the law is for believers. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Sometimes I slip back into the performance mentality before I speak at a conference or in church. As I get up to speak, I catch myself checking my spiritual pulse: Let’s see. Did I pray today? Did I read the Bible? Did I witness to the person seated next to me on the plane? On some occasions I’ll think, This is going to be a lousy message. There is no way God could bless this after all the things I did today and the things I didn’t do as well. On other occasions I’ll reason internally, Hmmm. It has been a great day. I read my Bible, prayed (on my knees no less), and even took out the trash. God is certainly going to smile on my message tonight! In both situations I was relating to God on the basis of my performance instead of His grace. In scenario number one, I felt that I had forfeited God’s blessing, and in scenario number two, I felt that I had merited His blessing.
God never intended for you to relate to Him on the basis of your good day–bad day performance. Your performance is never good enough to be acceptable to Him. Jerry Bridges says it so beautifully in his book The Discipline of Grace: “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” Grace is not just for beginners; it is for you and for me. As the old hymn “Amazing Grace” puts it:
Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.