By the end of what would have been my second year of college, I had earned a D average. I was a total slacker in high school, and college served as a rude awakening for me.
Fortunately, one of my sisters offered to tutor me. However, this wasn’t going to be the average kind of tutoring one experiences. If I was willing to meet her demands, she would mold me into a competent college student. I would learn the skills I failed to develop in middle and high school – how to take notes, study for tests, compile research for papers and become organized.
Here were her stipulations: 1) Each course's syllabi had to be submitted to her at the beginning of the semester. 2) I must come to her apartment once a week for tutoring throughout the entire school year. 3) All class notes must be submitted at the beginning of the week. 4) All graded assignments must be submitted at the beginning of the week. 5) If at any time I refused to comply with the stipulations, she would rescind her offer of help.
It was humiliating at first, but I’m so glad I accepted her offer of help. I made all A’s that year for the first time in my life, and was able to transfer to Houston Baptist University where I began making the Dean’s list.
This story illustrates a theme repeated over and over in Scripture. “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).”
Do you believe that, though? Do you believe that choosing to humble yourself under God’s hand will bring more of God’s grace into your life? Can grace sometimes be, in a sense, merited? The early Christians did.
Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and appalling pride. “For God,” says [the Scripture], “resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with unity and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking. … Let us cleave then to His blessing, and consider what are the means of possessing it. – Clement of Rome 95CE, Volume 1, p. 24-25.
You may be thinking that the early Christians didn’t quite grasp the concept of grace. Bless their little hearts.
Before you go down that road, first consider that this guy named Clement of Rome was the Clement who Paul wrote about in Philippians 4:3. Paul said Clement was a fellow worker of his who struggled in the cause of the gospel and whose name is in the book of life. Clement was a personal disciple of the Apostle Paul, so it’s safe to say he understood the doctrine of grace better than a modern American Christian.
Second, I’d like you to consider why you have the definition of grace that you do. I was taught by pastors and professors that grace simply means unmerited favor. There’s a problem with that definition, though.
If you look up grace in Strong’s Concordance, the idea of grace being ‘unmerited’ is only one of many ways grace is used in the New Testament. Here are some ways that grace (charis) is translated: grace, thanks, credit, favor, blessing, kindness.
Maybe you’ve heard grace taught as: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Take that definition of grace (charis) and the definition of unmerited favor and tell me what to do with this verse:
The Child (Jesus) continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. – Luke 2:40
Was God’s unmerited favor upon Jesus? Did Jesus need God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense? Absurd questions, I know.
What definition of charis would you give to this verse?
“Charis be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25)!” Does God need God’s unmerited favor? Does God need God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense? Ridiculous. Verses like these show why we can’t keep using acronyms to define a rich and multifaceted word like grace. Clearly, the appropriate translation in Luke 2:40 is simply ‘favor’ and in Romans 7:25 is ‘thanks’.
Do you read the Bible with humility or pride? Do you exalt your feelings above the scriptures, or do you bring your feelings under submission to the scriptures?
Our culture says adultery is fine. Our culture says divorce is fine. Our culture says homosexuality is fine. Our culture says greed is fine. Our culture says abortion is fine. Our culture says war and violence are fine. Our culture says unforgiveness is fine. Our culture says materialism is fine.
Do you bring any of those feelings with you when you read the simple words of Christ? Do any of those feelings cause you to not take Jesus and the Apostles at their word?
God opposes the proud. That means He comes against them like two armies lining up on a field to do battle. Do you believe that?
God also gives special grace to the humble. That means He gives extra divine help to those people who depend on the Lord rather than themselves. People who depend on the Lord’s understanding rather than their own, and obey His counsel. Do you believe that?