So far, as we make our way through St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, we’ve heard that we are saints—we are holy to God, not because of what we’ve done but because of what God’s done. We’ve heard that it’s God’s good pleasure to bless us with every spiritual blessing heaven has to offer. Paul’s told us that we are chosen by God, not because we’ve earned that choice, but because God delights in us and has always delighted in us. And in that delight we have been adopted into God’s beautiful and diverse family: we’re part of God’s family business now. We’re called to represent God’s way of love and justice and right relationship in the world.
In today’s verse, verse 6, Paul reminds us that all this stuff about us—our holiness, our blessing, our choseness, our adoption—all of it gets worked out in the very particular conditions of grace. All of it is, as Paul puts it, “to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (that is, in Jesus).”
Grace is a word that gets used a lot in churches. It’s an important word. It reminds us that there is nothing we can do to make God love us, and there’s nothing we can do to make God not love us. Because grace is getting something undeserved, unearned, unmerited. The key to diving deep into our relationship with God—receiving the spiritual abundance, putting on the God-family name—is to realize that we’re in on this stuff only because God desires it to be that way. Not just for us but for all people. God wants you and me and—believe it or not—every person we come across to know his grace.
That’s very good news. There’s a reason the hymn “Amazing Grace” is so popular. We should feel a cosmic weight lifted off our shoulders. And yet, it’s kind of a hard word, isn’t it? I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to earn what I get. Most of us have grown up in a culture that loves the myth that hard work and success invariably go hand in hand—in our jobs or schooling, in acquiring more and fancier stuff than our neighbours, in our relationships, even in our churches. We’re always in danger of assuming that it should be the same with God.
Something given in pure grace can be hard to accept. Have you ever had someone, maybe a friend, give you something or do something for you that you cannot repay? Does that make you really happy, or does it make you feel like you better get to work trying to even the score, impossible as it may be? If you’re more inclined towards the latter, or something like that, then you know how hard grace really is.
There’s another danger, which is that we can begin to imagine that God’s grace is a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card. If there’s nothing I can do to make God love me more, and there’s nothing I can do to make God love me less, then what difference does it make what I do at all? God’s grace is unlimited, but if that’s our attitude, then we haven’t really understood what’s going on at all. That’s what the 20th century martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”
God’s grace is costly, not to us, but to God. This gift is given to us, bestowed on us, in the beloved. We have access to it, through Jesus, through is faithfulness to us—in whom we see how far God will go to love us, to have us, to heal us and make us whole.
God’s grace does demand a kind of rearrangement—of our expectations, and our actions. I don’t mean “demand” in a manipulative way. But when we find ourselves in the conditions of God’s grace we receive both freedom from all the stuff that binds and weighs us down, and we can’t help but want to respond in praise. We live for the praise of God’s glorious grace.
And not just Sunday morning praise. Every minute of every day praise. When we experience God’s grace, we want more of God, more of what God wants—we want to be part of the answer to the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray: that God’s kingdom will come on earth as in heaven.
My prayer today is that we might each have a fresh experience of God’s grace—God’s delight and God’s blessing. And that we would have the desire and the courage to let that grace shape us as people eager to love God and the world that God loves with everything we’ve got.
May it be so.