A recent breakfast with my friend Bruce McNicol continues to mess with my mind. Bruce asked me a couple of thought provoking questions and they continue to bounce around my cranium. Yeah, I know there is lots of room. I was sitting there innocently enjoying my oatmeal and catching up on mutual friends when he dropped one of the questions on me.
“If grace based theology as the way to live out the Christian life is true then why is it not more popular in the church?”
That may be a paraphrase but that is the essence of his query. That is a great question. I have been swept away by grace. My life, my ministry, my marriage and my relationship with Jesus have been transformed. Yep…it has been that dramatic. So why aren’t there more revelers on the grace train? And why are so many afraid to even board that train and take a ride? I think part of the answer is control. When you lean on grace you surrender control and hopping on a train that you are not exactly sure where it is going is not real appealing to many Christians. I will address that thought in another post.
One of the first analogies I thought about when Bruce asked that question came from football. Perhaps that is because I am a television director and college football is the current gig. Perhaps it is simply because my brain is not wired to factory specs. But this idea popped in my mind. A lot of football teams play a defense that is called the prevent defense. That style of defense is designed to allow the opponent short yardage gains as it tries to prevent big plays and long touchdowns. The theory is that if you can force the other team to settle for short gains they will eventually make a mistake, get called for a penalty or simply fail to get the yardage needed.
I thought about the opponent we line up against as followers of Christ. It occurred to me that Satan played a kind of “prevent” defense in my spiritual journey for many years. It was almost like the Enemy was willing to give up short gains of spiritual growth and ministry as long as I focused on my own efforts to keep grinding out more gains. Satan, like a good defensive coordinator, believed that I would make a mistake and then he could pounce on my miscue and cause a costly turnover. My failure would cause me to doubt myself, my commitment and my worth. When I made a mistake Satan’s play by play announcer would broadcast loudly in my head.
“You have failed again. Jesus must be really disappointed with this effort but He certainly is not surprised. Dave, you have been a disappointing member of the team since you joined.”
Or my past performances might cause me to be tentative and fearful. The announcer always chimed in.
“Certainly no reason to expect victory from Dave this time. He has failed over and over in this very situation. To be honest, I am not sure why Jesus even keeps him around.”
The goal line of joy and freedom and peace seemed more and more difficult to reach. Finally I was happy just to make a short gain now and then. I seldom sustained a lengthy drive of positive spiritual gains.
But then I discovered a new offense. A game plan that Satan can’t defend. When I lined up with grace there was no way for the Enemy to keep me from the goal of freedom and joy. Instead of grinding out each painful yard with begrudging self-effort I simply followed the lead block of the Spirit and ran with confidence. I remembered my team identity and the power that was promised from that association. I believed that I would be victorious not because of my skill but because of Christ.
Maybe the analogy is a stretch. But I think there is something to consider in the idea that Satan “gives” us little gains and tries really hard to stop the big ones. I believe that grace scares the Enemy more that anything we do because grace relies on surrender and trust. My self-effort against the ruler of this world is a long shot. My surrendered life to Jesus is a sure shot. Jesus has fought this battle and won. Why we would we not depend on His gameplan to reach the goal?
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4, NLT)