Wrestling with Grace
Dr. Jim Denison
The best picture of grace I have discovered outside Scripture was made powerfully real to me nearly ten years ago, when I attended a Broadway theater production of Les Miserables. I will never forget the emotions of that night.
You remember the central scene from Victor Hugo’s novel, one of the most famous in all of literature. Jean Valjean, the convicted thief, has stolen silver from the bishop who took him in, but he was caught with the pieces in his possession. The gendarmes brought him to the bishop so he might press charges. Instead, the bishop told the soldiers that he had given Jean the pieces. Then he gave him his two silver candlesticks as well, his most valued possessions.
The soldiers freed him. Then the bishop said to him in a low voice, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”
And so it was. Jean Valjean would be a changed man, and he would help to change the world. Changed by the power of grace.
How long has it been since God’s grace changed your life? Since you experienced his grace in a new, empowering, transforming way? Is your Christianity routine and comfortable? Is your God predictable? Then you need to wrestle with grace.
I’ve been in such a match with God all week. Sometimes the sermon flows from the text, but not this time. In this sermon God has been wrestling with my mind and heart all week long. But I now believe I have a message from him for us. A message about the transforming truth of grace.
Admit your need of grace
God’s word for us begins with the invitation of grace: “Come.” The Hebrew word shows that the one calling is concerned for the needs of those he addresses. Think of a doctor calling the next patient into the room, or a benevolence worker calling the next client into the food pantry or the overnight shelter.
Can you “come” to his grace?
Only if you are “thirsty”—the Hebrew word means to be desperate for water. Are you thirsty for living water, for the Spirit of God? The psalmist said, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 46:1-2). How long since you felt this way about your relationship with God?
Only if you “have no money”—the words mean to be so impoverished that you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. Do you know that you are this spiritually poor before God? That your money is no good with him, that you have no merit to earn his favor? Or do you think you deserve his grace?
The Bible says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Are you proud before God? In your own eyes?
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who know their need of God, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3). Do you know your need of God? How long since you knelt before the holy God of the universe in broken humility and admitted your need of his grace?
His “wine and milk” are “without money and without cost.” That which we can buy with the currency of our works and merit is “not bread,” and it “does not satisfy.”
But we are self-sufficient and self-reliant. We are willing to work for God, but we want to be in charge. We’ll donate some of our time to the church, some of our money to pay its bills, some of our energies to spiritual activities like worship, Bible study and prayer. We are willing to help God. We don’t like admitting that he doesn’t need our help, that in fact we need his. Desperately.
Think of recent box office successes: Diane Lane takes matters into her own hands and finds meaning in her life in “Under the Tuscan Sun;” the Rock saves the day and defeats each and every one of the bad guys in “The Rundown;” and on it goes.
The classics are the same theme. “Star Wars” made famous the phrase, “Use the force, Luke.” This “force” is impersonal, something for us to use, in our own decision and initiative. Indiana Jones continually saves the day through courage and pluck. Scarlett O’Hara makes a new life for herself after the Civil War destroys her beloved South and Rhett leaves for good. Remember her defiant vow, fist in the air: “I’ll never go hungry again!” And so on.
In wrestling with this text, God has shown me how much of his grace I have missed by my works. By trying to become a person of significance and value through my efforts and sacrifice. God can give only to those with open hands. The first step to a life of grace is admitting how much we need such grace.
Receive what only grace can give (vs. 2b-5)
What does God want to give to those who will receive? To those of us who will humble ourselves before him and admit that we need his help? What can we have only by grace?
First, grace gives salvation of our souls. When we listen to him and eat what he offers, “your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Then “your soul may live” (v. 3a). We enter “an everlasting covenant,” a relationship which God will never break. And once we become his children we will be his children forever.
But only when we accept the grace of God. If you’re trying to save your own soul, you are lost. No church attendance can remove your sins. No religious acts or traditions can make you right with God. No success or status in the world can purchase a relationship with God. Do you remember the day you received this grace? Or are you still trying to earn it?