As I was studying for last week’s message, I was reminded of this Tim Keller quote from The Reason for God (a must read, by the way). He talks about an interaction that he had with someone in his congregation that I think draws out the reason that so many people are uncomfortable with the idea of grace. Here is what he wrote.
Some years ago I met with a woman who began coming to church at Redeemer and had never before heard a distinction drawn between the gospel and religion [i.e. the distinction between grace and what is often a works-based righteousness]. She had always heard that God accepts us only if we are good enough. She said that the new message was scary. I asked why it was scary and she replied: If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with “rights”—I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by grace—then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.”
She understood the dynamic of grace and gratitude. If when you have lost all fear of punishment you also lose all incentive to live a good, unselfish life, then the only incentive you ever had to live a decent life was fear. This woman could see immediately that the wonderful-beyond-belief teaching of salvation by sheer grace had an edge to it. She knew that if she was a sinner saved by grace, she was (if anything) more subject to the sovereign Lordship of God. She knew that if Jesus really had done all this for her, she would not be her own. She would joyfully, gratefully belong to Jesus, who provided all this for her at infinite cost to himself.
– Timothy Keller, The Reason for God
I think this very intuitive woman was 100% right! Grace threatens because it provides all and therefore demands all! That’s why it makes us uncomfortable… but, this is the gospel! Once we step inside of it; what at one time was frightening, becomes our greatest comfort. What we once thought stripped us of all identity, gives us a deeper meaning of self than we could have ever come up with on our own. What once was endless striving, becomes comforted assurance.
Grace: it provides all… but demands all in return. It’s a (the, according to Martin Luther) great exchange!