The Grace of the Kingdom
As I was praying last Sunday morning this phrase kept on coming into my head: “the grace of the Kingdom”
This was an unfamiliar phrase to me. It isn't in the Scriptures as far as I know, but the Lord kept on impressing it on me. Eventually it came out in the sermon that morning, but here is another attempt to explain something that I believe is desperately important for us to take hold of.
What is this grace?
In the New Testament the Kingdom of God is an expression that describes how the reign of God intersects with human life. It's not about heaven or something in the distant future- it's now and it's concrete. So Jesus describes the kingdom as being like a mustard seed growing, leaven working its way through bread, a farmer sowing, a labourer discovering buried treasure in a field and so on. In each case there is a spiritual truth but it is always related to how people respond to the gospel or about how the gospel works its way through the world.
The grace of the kingdom then means the experience of grace in the lives of believers.
In the Bible the root meaning of grace is “gift.” We receive salvation by grace, that is as a gift. When Paul uses the phrase “gifts of the Holy Spirit” he uses a word derived from grace.
Everything about God's dealings with people revolves around grace. He gives His son to the world, He gives Himself to us, He gives the Holy Spirit. We are justified through grace, we receive eternal life through grace and we are equipped to serve in God's kingdom by grace.
Grace can also be seen as a divinely given power or ability. We can live as God's children, not because we are good but because God grants us the gift of holiness.
In fact I think that much of Jesus' teaching is designed to provoke us to turn to God for more grace.
He tells us not to worry about what to eat or drink, not to lust or get angry, not to strive for recognition. Our immediate response is usually “OK I can do that, I'm good enough!” But our response should be “That's impossible!” He tells us to love our enemies, in the same way that He loves us, and we redefine the commandment to make it possible, we qualify the situations so it doesn't apply to us. He tells us to forgive unreservedly and we demand repentance by the other person.
Jesus is constantly raising the bar of what it means to live the christian life, and we want to lower it again to meet our capabilities.
He is saying, “You can't do this! You can't live a Kingdom life-- except that you turn to me every day and receive my grace for that day.”
When He tells us to take up our cross and die daily to ourselves, He is calling us to die to that ingrained idea that we can ever be good enough.
The Way In Is Repentance
I asked the Lord how this can be possible and the phrase that came to me is “deep repentance.”
Much of our repentance is shallow and childish. We are like little children backed into a corner by our own sin. We've all seen parents demand of their children that they say “Sorry” to someone they have hurt or offended. We know that often there is no genuine remorse and the child is just saying the word to avoid further punishment.
Isn't this how we come to God? We know He requires repentance and we assume that saying “Sorry” will get us off the hook.
Repentance is more than saying “Sorry” or even feeling sorry for something we have done. In both Greek and Hebrew it has the sense of turning our life around. In other words “sorry” is not enough unless it is accompanied by a change of heart and a change of lifestyle.
I want to be better than merely off the hook with God. I want to be living in a dynamic relationship with Him. So my repentance has to go deep.
Deep repentance is not so much a turning away from sin as it is turning towards God. Daily I sense my need for God, my desire is to be near Him and I see that my sin is not about offence or guilt but about separation. My sin takes me away from the God I passionately love and so I will turn away from that and turn to God, because my delight in God is greater than the delight I gain in my sin.
Deep repentance means coming to a place where my heart is so aligned with the Spirit of God that I am as horrified and revolted by my sin as He is.
Deep repentance means that I so love my Lord that it breaks my heart to disappoint Him or to hurt Him
Deep repentance is not just saying a prayer to get forgiven for today's sin. It's the passionate love of God calling me back to Him.
Grace Not Law
The trap in this is of course our tendency to turn even the grace of God back into religion. We must resist the temptation to define how a person must repent or how they must live. We must avoid the trap of turning this passionate pursuit of God into something that can be measured, regulated or codified.
In many churches people put on an image, a mask, an appearance that allows them to fit in with whatever is expected in that group. It might not in any way reflect who they are, but they gain a measure of acceptance by putting on the happy overcomers' smile, or raising their hands with a rapturous expression on their face.
It's all grace.
I cannot love God in this way except that He enables me to do so. I cannot even begin to repent except that He gives me the grace of repentance.
So how do we start? We just offer God the little bit of love for Him that we have and repent the best we can, asking Him to show the next step.
As we take these little steps of faith, He gives more grace for deeper repentance and greater love. All the time we keep our eyes on Him, not on what we are doing for Him. It's about pursuing Him, and along the way He will give us grace to do good things, grace to repent, grace to see Him more clearly.
It's all grace, the grace of the Kingdom.
Father, let your grace abound to us. We have nothing to offer you, nothing to justify ourselves, except the Blood of Jesus and the grace of the Kingdom. Lead us into the deep repentance that releases your grace into our lives. Amen.