The God of Grace
One of the biggest obstacles of growth is our view of God. If we are going to grow in relation to God, then we must know who God is and what he is really like. I have been amazed—in my own life as well as in the lives of others, at how unnatural it is for us to see God as he really is. In fact, one of Jesus’ main emphases was to show people how their concept of God was way out of whack.
Jesus had been on a mission to show people what God was really like. “Immanuel”—one of the names given to Jesus—means “God with us.” And when Jesus walked the earth, he showed us a very different God than we might expect.
A True View of God
People do not grow until they shift from a natural human view of God to a real, biblical view of God. The first aspect of that shift has to be the shift from a God of law to the God of grace. People must discover that God is for them and not against them. This is what it means to have a God of grace.
Many Christians misunderstand grace; even those who are helping people grow. Often people think that grace means forgiveness or the absence of condemnation. And the God of grace is the one who forgives. But while forgiveness is an expression of the grace of God, grace is much bigger than just forgiveness. Theologically, grace is unmerited favor. This definition has two important implications:
- Favor means that God is for us and not against us. He is on our side and desires good for us and not evil.
- His favor cannot be earned, and even if it could be, we do not have the means with which to earn it. We cannot merit it. Therefore, he will freely give us things we cannot provide for ourselves.
Practically, these two implications of grace undergird the entire growth process. To grow, we need things that we do not have and cannot provide, and we need to have a source of those things who looks favorably upon us and who does things for us for our own good.
Grace teaches that God is inclined to help us in our failure and that he sees our inability as part of reality and he is not mad at our weakness. In fact, he calls it a “blessed” state, our being unable to do what we need to do (Matthew 5:3; 2 Corinthians 12:9-12). Imagine that!
Getting to the Need for Grace
To get people to a place of grace they must experience a need first. They must be aware of death. Sometimes we must help people get to a “death experience” for grace to take effect and growth to begin. We must let them (and sometimes help them) reach the end of themselves and find out that things really are bad. This is contrary to what many counselors, groups, and teachers do. We live in an age of people wanting to feel good and avoid pain, and sometimes we construct ministries geared to making people feel good about themselves.
John and I once felt very understood and validated when a man told us, “I think I get it. The ministry I used to go to was into winning, and you guys are into losing!” We laughed but we knew what he was getting at. We had been talking to him about facing the fact that all of his attempts at success and building “self-esteem” were taking him farther away from the answer to his problems. He had to get to a place where he faced how bad things really were; things were not going to get better until he saw that reality. This is what addicts call “hitting bottom.” It is the realization that one has come to the end of himself. Some have called it “ego death.”
In your work with people, you have to be an executioner, showing them that all of their efforts have not worked and they need to die to trying. To get people to give up is very hard, but it must be done so that they can try God instead.
Confrontation is an important tool to get someone to see his inability to change and to see his need for help. Many people are too softhearted; they give encouragement to someone who needs discouragement instead. To encourage a powerless person to try harder is one of the worst things you could possibly do. The best thing you can do is to discourage him from believing that he can do it on his own. People will never get to the end of themselves unless they see themselves as failing.
Putting Grace and Truth Together
In summary, we have seen how a relationship with God affects growth. First for growth to occur, we have to seek. We have heard Jesus’ words to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness so that life could be added to us. Spiritual growth is the foundation of any kind of “life building.”
Second, we need to know the God we seek. In desiring to find God, we often to not have a true view of his grace. We sometimes see him as a religious standard that we must live up to and we fail to see his acceptance for who we truly are. Or, more commonly in the evangelical world, although we see God as the God of grace, the view of grace that guides us is basically one of forgiveness. Grace that leads to true transformation though, is one of unmerited favor—the understanding that God is truly for us and that he will provide what we cannot provide for ourselves. Grace means that we receive the gifts we need for growth to occur. We don’t “will-power” our way there.
Third, grace does not come easily and we do not naturally recognize it. It only comes in the classroom of God’s law. We encounter the law of God, either through realizing our failure to attain his standard and thus our need for his grace. Or, through experiencing the consequences of our lives fall short of the standard. Either way we die to self. We must realize we have failed and we have no hope of reaching the life we desire in and of ourselves. Then after that, the law of God guides us—empowered by grace to structure life as it was created to be. His principals are a “lamp unto our feet.”
Taken from How People Grow, © Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Zondervan 2001
This article is part 5 in a series of Feature Articles adapted from How People Grow.
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