I did not know what to expect when I bought tickets for the movie version of Les Miserables. I heard some good things so I was optimistic. But I did not expect to be moved so profoundly.
In case you do not know the story and plan to see the movie I will not be a spoiler. I will just say this is one of the most powerful stories of grace versus law ever written. The movie came to mind again when a song cycled up from Tenth Avenue North called, appropriately, Grace. The lyrics describe the surprising power of grace to change our hearts.
Grace, only grace
Can roll your dead heart’s stone away
Grace, only grace
Can move us to a rhythm that will change our ways
Grace, only grace. I have found that to be so true in my own journey. Yet I fought grace for decades as so many others do. Les Miz is an incredible demonstration of the tension created by grace. Grace makes no sense to us and it is almost incomprehensibly radical. Pastor Tullian Tchividjian wrote this about our “aversion” to the concept of grace in his blog about the movie.
We love the “if/then” proposition: “If” you do this, “then” I will do that. We love “what-goes-around-comes-around” conditionality. It makes us feel safe. It’s easy to comprehend. It makes perfect sense to our grace-shy hearts. It’s makes life formulaic. It breeds a sense of manageability. And best of all, it keeps us in control. We get to keep our ledgers and scorecards.
The logic of grace, on the other hand, is incomprehensible to our law-locked hearts. Grace is thickly counter-intuitive. It feels risky and unfair. It wrestles control out of our hands. It is wild and unsettling. It turns everything that makes sense to us upside-down and inside-out. Law says, “Good people get good stuff; bad people get bad stuff.” Grace says, “The bad get the best; the worst inherit the wealth; the slave becomes a son.” This offends our deepest sense of justice and rightness. We are, by nature, allergic to grace. (from “Give Me Law or Give Me Death”)
I was allergic to grace. Thank God I opened my heart to the compelling truths of grace. I beginning ever so slowly to comprehend the magnitude of Paul’s words to the Ephesians.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) (Ephesians 2, NLT)
Here is what I am discovering in my imperfect pursuit of grace.
Grace compels you to trust others with you. Grace compels you to trust Jesus with your sin because you can’t manage it yourself. Grace compels you to forgive because you have been forgiven. Grace compels you to accept others and not judge them. Grace compels you to move toward the unlovable and not away. Grace compels you to sacrifice when you desire security. Grace compels you to love when your heart is hateful. Grace compels you to trust God when you are afraid and weak.
One other thing that is true. Grace is hard.
But it is the theology that allows us to quit trying to be righteous and actually begin to be righteous. Grace is the theology that allows us to deal with sin instead of trying to manage and rationalize it. Grace is real. It is powerful. And it is not weak. Grace should never be your cover for sin. Instead grace is your only hope to deal with it. Grace makes me tremble when I think of an almighty and powerful God. How could He give such a gift to an unworthy child like me? And how could I be comfortable taking advantage of that amazing grace? I cannot. I pray that I will not. Grace is compelling. I want it to be compelling in my life as well because of one other truth I am discovering. Real grace works. The chorus of “Grace” is my prayer for the New Year.
Grace, grace, come and move me
Oh, come and move me now
Grace, grace, only you can
Lift up what holds me down