Monday, January 10, 2011

Grace and Its Obligations

Once we have experienced grace in the embrace of the family of God and have discovered through grace that we are children of God, we encounter another truth. Relationships cannot be one-sided. You cannot be the member of a family and always be on the taking end of the family experience. At some point you must become a contributing member of the family. The gracious gifts you receive must be reciprocated or returned, not merely out of obligation, but out of love. Being family is not all about me; it is all about “we.” A child in the family, whether in the family by birth or adoption, cannot always be a “dependent.” At some point the child must become a contributing member of the family.

Many have spoken of the gospel as both gift and demand. Grace creates obligation, and that obligation becomes a burden only when the recipients think that grace is the obligation owed to them rather than a love-gift that is undeserved and unmerited. The selfish and self-centered child who receives but never gives, who wants but never contributes, who demands but never volunteers, becomes a tyrant in the family. The tyrant will try to control and manipulate the rest of the family to get his or her own way. The parents in the family and the King in the family of God will become the servant of the child’s whims and ambitions. The first thing we must learn as recipients of grace is that, although grace is freely given and unmerited, grace carries with it expectations. Grace that doesn’t transform us into people of grace will leave us as demanding, self-centered tyrants, always receiving and never giving.

This is the reason that the first step in becoming a disciple is repentance (column 4, row 2 in the “Making Disciples” Chart). Grace is the first experience, but repentance is the first response to grace. Repentance is the change of mind and heart that acknowledges that the self-centered “I” is actually a rejection of grace rather than an acceptance of grace. It acknowledges that grace has embraced us but we have not embraced grace. It recognizes that the grace that was freely given was undergirded with sacrifice. It discovers that all the blessings and gifts we have received were not deserved or earned. It reminds us that the family embraced us when we were mere “nothings” and that a gracious God called each of us “my child” when we were strangers to the Almighty’s purposes and will. Repentance is the first step in becoming teachable. It is turning from the path of self-centeredness and selfish ambition to new way called discipleship. It is opening ourselves to the instruction of God, to the transformation that God expects, and to the invitation to walk in the path of the “perfect Child” who showed us by his life and death what being a disciple really means. Repentance is recognizing a grace whose love is so amazing, so divine, that it demands my soul, my life, my all.

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