Grace is one of the most beautiful things we could ever experience in life, but it is also one of the hardest things for us, as humans, to comprehend. As a Christian, you can study it, you can read about it, and you can experience it for yourself, but to fully express what grace is to a non-believer is a very difficult thing to do. To accurately and fully articulate it in such a way that they grasp the overwhelming power of grace is almost impossible.
You will often hear grace referred to as “getting something you don’t deserve and not getting something, you do deserve.” That it is unmerited favor or unconditional love. That it’s receiving forgiveness when we should have been condemned. But Grace, in its most profound form, is Jesus standing up for us on Judgment Day and proclaiming that we are innocent, because he has already paid the price. Ephesians 1:7 tells us that our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus, that we are forgiven, and that it’s all because of God’s grace.
I grew up not really understanding grace at all. I knew the law and was quite versed in the wrath of God, but I didn’t really understand how very deep God’s love is for me. The pastor at my little country church was one of those fire and brimstone preachers who hooped and hollered from the pulpit, and who even occasionally became so worked up that his spit would fly across the podium and fall onto those seated in the first few pews.
Although he spoke words of truth, his delivery was not very inviting. In fact, it scared me. And because he scared me, I am pretty sure he scared others, too.
Listening to him, each week, I believed God was a God who sat on a high and mighty throne, and who was watching me with absolute disgust all day, every day. I imagined God being way, way up there in the sky looking down at me and judging Every. Single. Thing. I did.
So I wonder sometimes, do people come to know Christ through fear tactics and condemnation or through acts of kindness and love and grace?
Many people have, like I had, a faulty view of God. I would venture to say even many Christians view him as someone who is out to judge us and condemn us and to make us live these not-so-fun, stuffy lives.
And unfortunately, unless they get to know who God really is, unless they get to know the heart of God, and unless they have a true relationship with Jesus Christ, that is all they may ever know. How they experience God, or what they believe about him, will determine the type of relationship they have with him or if they will even have a relationship with him at all. If they believe he is that cruel, mean God many portray him as, they will approach him as such.
I suppose you could say that my experience represents the transformation that happens when you move from living under the law to the place of freedom that only comes through God’s grace. Thankfully, I know now that God is a God of love and kindness and mercy and grace. The same grace he gives me was extended way back in the beginning.
Think back to the Garden of Eden and the two trees: 1) the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and 2) the Tree of Life.
“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:8-9 (NIV).
From this, we know that there were all different kinds of trees in Eden. Different varieties that served different purposes.
The Bible tells us there were trees that were “pleasing to the eye,” so I imagine there could have been some trees with pretty flowers, like dogwoods or crepe myrtles or even some lovely, pink cherry trees. Perhaps there were big, beautiful trees like the live oaks at the Avenue of Oaks in Charleston, South Carolina. In addition to being beautiful, could they have provided shade for Adam and Eve?
We also know there were trees that produced food. Were there pecan trees, orange trees, or peach, pear, and apple trees? The Bible doesn’t say, specifically.
But what it does say is that God specifically told Adam and Eve that they could eat from any of those trees except for one. That one being the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
I’m sure there were a number of reasons God did not want them to eat from that one tree. And that one simple command could be used to teach any number of topics – from boundaries, to obedience, to protection and more. But one thing we do know is that although Adam and Eve sinned and were essentially evicted from the Garden of Eden, God continued to look after them and to provide for them. When they were naked and ashamed, “the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” Genesis 3:21 (NIV)
This was the first act of grace God showed towards mankind.
The Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, represent two very different approaches. One demonstrates how we can choose to view God as a graceful and merciful God, while the other demonstrates how we can choose to view him as a harsh and unpleasable God.
Eating from the Tree of the Knowledge brings death and destruction. Although, it doesn’t bring a literal death, it represents the death that can happen to us through our sin – failed marriages, broken families, certain diseases, and so forth. This “tree” tells us that we must work and do and be and perform. It tells us we have to do all of these things in an attempt to gain God’s approval. That we have to earn his love. That we have a duty to obey him. That all of those rules must be followed to receive his love. Essentially, we have to be perfect.
On the other hand, the Tree of Life tell us that God loves us. Period.
We don’t have to earn his love, and in fact, we can’t do anything to earn his love. Because God already loves us, we can choose to approach life through absolute freedom, and we can approach God as the sweet, kind, loving daddy he is.
Although he has set some boundaries for us – just as we set boundaries and have rules for our own children – he is actually a loving, merciful, gracious father. He only wants the absolute best for us.
The Tree of Life also tells us that we obey, not because we have to, but because we want to. Because we love our heavenly father, we want to please him. We want to honor him. We want to grow in our relationship with him.
With my husband Larry, if I were to love him from a place of duty (the Tree of Knowledge), it would look something like restraining from extramarital affairs because the Bible says, “thou shalt not commit adultery.” When you flip that same boundary – thou shalt not commit adultery – and look at it through the lens of the Tree of Life, you could easily say, “I love my husband, I respect my husband, and I want to honor him and our marriage. And because I love my husband, I choose not to even entertain the thought of an extramarital affair.”
Do you see the difference? The difference is the approach you choose – the Tree of Knowledge or the Tree of Life.*
Consider that the Tree of Knowledge represents living under the law, whereas The Tree of Life represents living under grace. Because of what Jesus did at Calvary, we are no longer under the law, but instead we are saved by grace.
One of the first Bible verses many kids memorize is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Now, if that news isn’t powerful enough, read on to verse 17. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
God didn’t want us to stay locked up in fear of this harsh, future judgement. He didn’t send Jesus to condemn us or to judge us. He sent Jesus to save us. He sent Jesus to pay for our sins.
He sent Jesus to fulfill the law, because he knew it is impossible for man to live a blameless life. By sending Jesus, he proved that he is that loving, kind God who is full of grace. He loves us so much more than we could possibly fathom or imagine. And he wants nothing but the absolute best for us.
He loves us so much that he does not give us what we do deserve – to be pronounced guilty on judgement day – but instead gives us what we don’t deserve – to be found innocent.
All we have to do is to accept this free gift. To accept the gracious gift of salvation by admitting we are sinners, asking for forgiveness, and inviting Jesus into our hearts. From there, we take it one day at a time and allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.
Because when you give your life to Christ, things begin happening.
We are transformed, when we enter into a relationship with Christ. Sometimes, our entire lives change. Things we liked, before, we may not like anymore. Things we used to watch or listen to may no longer interest us. Things we did may no longer excite us. And a very real change may end up happening in our hearts.
We may become more loving, we may speak more gently to others, and we may change our views on things the world tells us are good. We may even begin extending grace to those who have hurt us or to those who have wronged us. Can you imagine? That’s very different from what the world tells us to do, so for some people, this may be a foreign concept.
Ever heard of karma? The world tells us that karma will get those who do us wrong. But grace is the exact opposite of karma.
And grace tells us what?
Next time, we will explore what it looks like when we, in turn, begin to extend grace to others.
*For a deeper study on the power of the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, I recommend searching for and joining a “Freedom Group” that is offered at a number of churches across the country, such as the one I attended at Heartland Church in the Dallas, Texas, area. Reach out to me, if you’d like more information.