….and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1: 14-15 NRSV)
These words are the words of the apostle Paul, whose writings probably developed the concept of Salvation by grace more than anyone since. Here’s a little background on Paul if you’re not familiar with him, and a good reminder if you are. In the verses above Paul mentions that he is the foremost of sinners, and he’s not kidding.
In the earliest days of the church after Pentecost, nobody set out to rid the world of this new faith like Paul (who at that time was known as Saul). Now most of the Jewish religious elite weren’t thrilled about the new faith in Jesus, but Saul went after them with a particular zeal. Part of the book of Acts details his work. He was responsible for the imprisonment and torture of many Christians. He was also present at, and supervised, the execution of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:58–8:4).
Then something happened to Saul. On the way to Damascus to hunt down some Christians, he encountered the Risen Jesus. It was so startling that it literally knocked him off his donkey. This encounter changed his entire life and identity. He took the name Paul and spent the rest of his life talking about the grace of the Christ, whose grace was strong enough to redeem even him.
Think about that for a minute. All of the things that Paul had been through in his life, all the horrible things he had done were crucial to him being able to comprehend the depth and power of God’s grace. Those things made him appreciate that grace all the more, and appreciate the fact that there was no way for him to earn it. No deed or work would ever be good enough. Grace comes totally without merit to people who don’t deserve it on merit.
I’ve found that the same is true in my life. Lately I’ve been thinking about my shortcomings and failures as a chain. This is a big, heavy, dominating chain that I have built for myself. I feel that I every time I fail, everything time I screw up, I fashion another link in the chain that I haul around. It’s a very similar idea to Jacob Marley’s chain in “A Christmas Carol.”
And that chain is huge. Trust me, I’ve done a pretty complete job of screwing up my life. I’ve written about this before, but when I think about it…..
My original intention coming out of high school was to be a lawyer. I screwed that up. That’s one new link in the chain.
After that, I intended to be pastor, but my own ego got in my way. I took things personally that I shouldn’t have. Another new link.
I made a dumb decision to marry a young lady, a relationship that neither of us were ready for in any way, shape, or form. We’re both still dealing with the consequences of that. That’s a HUGE link in the chain.
I became so angry at my own failures wrought by my own egotistical personality and poor decision making that I rejected my church, my faith, my friends, my family, and ultimately even God. That accounts for several new links actually.
My anger enveloped me so much that I became a toxic person. Nobody wanted to be around me at home or at work. Add on a couple of more links.
Eventually I let someone whom I cared about very deeply walk out of my life without ever telling this individual how much they meant to me. That has been absolutely soul crushing to deal with.
But something happened in the midst of all of this. I encountered Jesus in a whole new way. I had always known him in my head, but I finally came to know him in my heart. When my soul and spirit were in the worst shape, when I was at my lowest low, when I had been totally and completely defeated, when my chain was so big and so heavy…..
I encountered the grace of the Living God.
And that God, this Jesus, removed that chain from me effortlessly. If you’ve never felt that, I don’t how to describe it. Perhaps it’s like that feeling you get when you tell someone your deepest and darkest secret, and you feel the relief of finally not carrying that burden.
The weight is off. My chains are gone.
That doesn’t mean life is easy though. Sometimes I like to try and build that chain again. I still think about those things I mentioned above from time to time. I’m still dealing with the consequences of a couple of them. When that happens, sometimes I feel guilty and start forging that chain again, fully intending to make it bigger and heavier than last time.
But the difference is that now I know Jesus is there. I know he will take those chains and break them once again, gently calling me back to him, to abide in him. His ability to break chains came at a price, it is not free. You realize that when you see the scars on his hands, feet, and side.
But isn’t that amazing that he went through that for me, and for you? Isn’t it amazing how know matter how much I screw up, he’ll always be there for me? Isn’t it amazing that no matter what wrong I do that he will forgive me? Isn’t it amazing that as good as I try to be, there’s no way to earn his grace?
His grace just is.
His grace is free.
His grace is indeed amazing, and my chains are gone!