You never know when the story of God’s grace will intersect the story of your life. But when it does, you will know!
My Intersection With Grace
For me, it happened in 1991, while living in Boulder, Colorado. I was about to fly home to Mississippi for a few days and was looking for a book to read during the flight. I asked a friend if she had a book I could read. She gave me a book called Classic Christianity by Bob George. Little did I know, because of this book, the story of God’s grace was about to intersect with the story of my life, changing my life forever.
During my three hour flight from Denver to Mobile, I could not put the book down. Page after page expounded on the grace of God given to us in Jesus. When I landed, my life was completely changed. On an airplane from Denver to Mobile, the story of God’s grace had intersected with the story of my life through a book a friend had given me to read. Since this encounter with grace, my life has never been the same.
Before reading Classic Christianity, I did not realize I was missing out on the heart of my relationship with God...grace. I could define grace as God’s unmerited favor, which many people can do, but I did not know the favor that was unmerited. I knew the acronym, G.R.A.C.E., God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, but I did not know the riches of God’s grace. I could sing the song Amazing Grace, but I did not know why grace was so amazing. I knew we are saved by grace, but did not understand the grace that saved us. I was practicing all the spiritual disciplines such as attending church, reading my Bible, having quiet times, and attending Bible studies. I was leading Bible studies, speaking from time to time, and sharing Jesus with others. I was doing all of the “right things” spiritually, but without any understanding of grace.
When I began reading Classic Christianity, I realized even though I was familiar with the word grace, I really didn’t understand it. In reality, I had totally missed the heart of Christianity. I was doing all of the “right things”, but had missed the most important thing, grace. It wasn’t until I read Classic Christianity that I discovered what I had been missing out on for years, the story of God’s grace.
This intersection with God’s grace set me on a biblical journey which I remain on today. I have to admit, even though my heart leapt for joy when I read the biblical truth of grace contained in Classic Christianity, my mind found it difficult to accept. Accepting grace as Biblical truth was difficult because I had never been taught the full truth of God’s grace. The truth I was reading about in Classic Christianity was contrary to much of what I had learned as a Christian, and, for the most part, what I was teaching. So I set off on a journey into the Bible to see what was true, because it is the standard by which all that is taught must be evaluated.
My Journey Into Grace
For my entire life as a Christian, I assumed everything I heard from a Bible teacher, preacher, author, or mentor was true. It never occurred to me to compare their words with God’s word. But after reading Classic Christianity, I decided to compare the words I had heard from men, including the words of Bob George in Classic Christianity, with the word of God. I could no longer accept the words of men as truth, I had made that mistake for far too long. It was time for me to compare the words of men with the truth of God’s word.
As I began to compare the words of Bible teachers, authors, speakers, and mentors with God’s word, it became obvious that I had never been fully taught the truth of God’s grace. The words of men were not aligning with the word of God. It was at this point I had a decision to make, a crisis of faith I guess you could say. Was I going to place my faith in the word of God, or was I going to place my faith in the words of men? I made the decision to place my faith in the word of God.
Making this decision wasn’t easy. This was because my emotions were in tune with what I had previously been taught, so to believe the opposite of what I had been taught just didn’t seem right. Yet, I knew I could not put the words of men above the word of God. Even though the words of men were embedded in my mind, producing the emotions I was currently feeling, I realized I must forgo my feelings and place my faith in God’s word. I understood my feelings were not the measurement of truth, God’s word is. With this in mind, I denied my feelings and placed my faith in God’s word above man’s words.
Living by faith in God’s word was difficult at first. Everyday my feelings screamed at me telling me the word of God was wrong and the words of men were right. However, I continued to live by faith in God’s word everyday. Now, years later, my feelings are aligned with God’s word concerning the truth of grace.
Please hear me out. I am not frustrated with any previous Bible teachers, authors, speakers, or mentors. I believe they made the same mistake I did, assuming and accepting everything they had been taught as truth. Through them, I learned pieces of grace, but not the fullness of grace.
This biblical journey that started in my life after reading Classic Christianity continues today. It has led to years of studying the Bible. In this journey, I have learned to study the Bible in context. By this, I mean the covenant I am reading, old or new, the book I am reading, the chapter I am reading, and the verses before and after the section I am currently reading. I have learned the greatest commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. Even though commentaries are helpful in studying the Bible, they are not the word of God. Commentaries are simply man’s words about God’s word. I remember what Bob George said during one of his radio programs, “The Bible sure will shed a lot of light on those commentaries.” So often, we use commentaries to shed light on God’s word, and many times they do, but not always. When studying the Bible, we should first see if God’s word shines light on his own word before reading commentaries. We should always place our faith in God’s word over man’s word.
I also learned notes provided in study Bibles may or may not be accurate. They definitely are not all in agreement, since there are so many study Bibles. Study Bibles simply provide someone’s or a group of people’s interpretation of the Bible. I am not saying that study Bible notes aren't helpful, they have been many times to me, but we can’t make the notes infallible. That is what someone did in a class I was teaching. This person commented the notes in his study Bible were different than what I was teaching. He could not accept I would have a different understanding than that of his study Bible notes. To him, his study Bible notes were equal with the Bible itself, and there was no convincing him otherwise. This is a great example of how man’s words can become more important than God’s word. When this happens, we become more consumed with what is traditional than what is biblical.
Traditional Versus Biblical
It is easy for us to become deeply rooted in what is traditional, the words of men, rather than what is biblical, the word of God. Speaking to this common mistake of valuing the words of men above the word of God, Jesus said, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men...You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!...Thus, You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that” (Mark 7:8-13).
Jesus spoke these words to the Pharisees when they asked him why his disciples did not live according to the traditions of their elders. The Pharisees and teachers of the law, the religious leaders during Jesus' time, were also deeply rooted in their religious traditional teachings. Jesus, nor his disciples, followed their traditional teachings. This made them very upset with Jesus. In their anger, they would confront Jesus about his departure from their traditional teachings, which they did in this situation.
What we see in this exchange between Jesus, the Pharisees, and the teachers of the law is what is traditional is often accepted as biblical, when in reality, it is not biblical at all. Yet, what is traditional continues to be passed down and accepted as biblical. When what is traditional is challenged, as in Jesus' time, the biblical teaching is rejected as heresy. Those who reject the biblical teaching become angry at those rejecting the traditional teaching, in the same way the Pharisees became angry toward Jesus. The legalistic performance-based teachings of religious teachers passed down from one generation to the next has become so widespread and accepted that the teaching of grace is automatically rejected by many in the religious crowd.
I think this emphasis on what is traditional over what is biblical is why grace remains a strange, unfamiliar teaching to believers today. The story of grace is so strange to many believers that when it is taught they often reply by saying, "Why has no one ever taught me this before? It is right here in the Bible. It is so clear. It is so obvious. Why is grace not taught in churches?" These are people who have been in church for years, but who have never been taught the good news of God's grace. When they are finally taught the transforming truths of grace, they are amazed that no one ever taught them about grace.
One person, who had been in church for years, told me, “I have sung Amazing Grace a thousand times, but I never knew what grace was until I took your classes.”
In the Bible, Paul was one of the Pharisees extremely zealous for the traditional religious teachings of his forefathers, but it was grace that set him free from religious traditions.
“I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles...”. Galatians 1:14
Because of the revelation of grace, Paul broke free from the religious traditions to which he was once so committed. In breaking free, he became consumed with sharing God's grace with others. I can relate to that.
As you read through the following chapters of this book, remember, these are only my words about God’s word. I would suggest you compare everything I say in this book with the word of God. I do not presume to know all truths. I know there are areas of my understanding about the Bible that may not be accurate. However, I have done my best to study the Bible in context and present to you my understanding of God’s word.
Making Grace Crystal Clear
In 1922, Lewis Sperry Chafer, a highly respected Bible teacher in his time and founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, stated in his book, Grace: An Exposition of God’s Marvelous Gift, said the following:
"The exact and discriminate meaning of the word grace should be crystal clear to every child of God. With such insight only can he feed his own soul on the inexhaustible riches which unfolds, and with such understanding only can he be enabled clearly to pass on to others its marvelous, transforming theme."
Making the message of grace crystal clear to every child of God has become my passion. Since the day the story of God’s grace intersected with the story of my life during a three hour flight from Denver to Mobile, it has been my passion to share the story of his grace with as many people as possible, in as many ways as possible. This *book is just one of the ways I can share the story of his grace. My prayer, as you read this book, is the story of God’s grace intersects with the story of your life, changing your life forever.
You never know when the story of God’s grace will intersect with the story of your life, but when it does, you will know!
*NOTE: This is Chapter One of my upcoming book, "The Story of Grace".