2 Corinthians 12:9. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Grace can sometimes seem so abstract can’t it? What does it even mean when God tells Paul my grace is sufficient for you? We talk about grace all the time in this blog, but what does it actually look like? Are we just blowing smoke? Is it just some sort of pop psychology? The opiate of the masses to keep us all from complaining?
The problem for many of us as Christians is that we use the word grace so much that it can just become white noise after a while. Even in writing this blog sometimes if I can’t think of what to write next I just think “throw the word grace in, it covers everything.” Hey, I’m just being honest.
Paul’s problem, like ours, was pride. Conceit.
2 Corinthians 12:7. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
Conceit is rooted in the concept of deservedness. “I deserve success, blessing, comfort” – conceit. “I don’t deserve anything, freedom, love, acceptance” – also conceit. Grace comes to destroy deservedness. To humble us out of our pride, and lift us out of our self-loathing.
What is grace exactly? In the words of theologian Paul Zahl:
“What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. The cliché definition of grace is ‘unconditional love’. It is a true cliché, for it is a good description of the thing…Let’s go a little further. Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called ‘gifts’ (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is love, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold…Grace is one-way love.”
So how does grace work? Is it just a subjective feeling? Or is it an objective reality?
We know grace is an objective truth because it has to begin from outside of us. It is not self-manufactured. This is the very nature of grace, that the one offended (yes, our conceit offends the holiness and supremacy of God) responds to us with a grace that forgives and accepts us regardless of our sin. When the grace leaves God and travels toward us it becomes objective. It becomes a reality.
But for grace to be objective, it must also have a physical manifestation as part of it. Grace can’t just be meaningless words or thoughts. It can’t just be words on the page of a holy book. Grace must also be put into practice. Therefore, Grace is an actual objective reaction manifested in the life and death of Christ. The cross is grace in practice. The indwelling Christ is the manifestation of the work of the cross. We know the gospel worked because the Spirit indwells us giving us the crucified yet resurrected life of Christ.
What about subjective? Is grace also subjective? Yes. We experience it subjectively in our spirit, in our life, our heart and mind. We feel grace. We rest in grace. We rejoice in grace. The ancient truth of Christ’s death and resurrection, and our union with that death and resurrection become our ever present source of power. This is objectively true, but also subjectively true as we trust in it more and more. The subjective flows from the objective.
For Paul grace was enough. Enough to end the prayer for thorn removal. Enough to cause him to boast in weakness. Enough for him to have the strength to move forward in this ministry. It was enough to know that God loved him. That he was accepted in Christ. That he had a future with the Trinity. He needed no other proof. No other answered prayer. Grace was sufficient.
“To live is Christ” is to live daily relying on the reality of grace. The objective truth of Christ’s death and resurrection and your union with him. And the subjective truth of your experience of that grace in Christ by your faith in your union with Christ.
Are you relying on grace today? Do you believe that God loves you no matter what? Do you believe that everything he allows, he allows for your benefit and his glory? That this is also his grace?