This is a true story.
When I became a Christian, I wasn’t very familiar with the Bible at all. As I set out to read Paul’s letters, I found myself continually bumping into this particular word again and again – “grace.” It was a new one to me and so, over the course of several week, I asked several Bible class teachers and preachers what this word meant and what it was about. To a person, they gave me the exact same response: “Grace is unmerited favor.”
Now if “grace” wasn’t a word in my vocabulary at the time, neither was “unmerited” or “favor.” So, when I asked them what “unmerited favor” meant, imagine my surprise how I again received a unanimous response, namely, a “deer in headlights” look and no real answer to my question!
That was more than thirty years ago. Looking back across the years, I know a number of factors were at work. To a person, all the people I asked had been “raised up in church;” they were lacking in experience in dealing with folks like me who did not have that background. They spoke with “church words” and defined than in “church speak.” That didn’t always communicate very well. To a person, they also had all been trained in pretty much the same circles religiously, a heritage that, at that time, very, very rarely used the word “grace.”
But most of all, I know strongly suspect that few of them had ever spent any real time contemplating the meaning of “grace” for themselves. You can only share what you know, so if you don’t know much about something, woe to you if someone asks you about it! They had parroted what they had been taught (grace = “unmerited favor”), but they had not made the teaching their own by internalizing it and living it out.
Since those days I’ve spent some serious time thinking about grace. I’ve read what Scripture has to say about it again and again. I wouldn’t miss the point at all to say that the entire Bible is a commentary on the grace of God.
So what is grace? It is “unmerited favor.” But what does that mean? Grace is God giving you, out of his perfect holiness, fantastic goodness, unfathomable kindness and eternal love, what you in no way deserve. And here in this passage (Romans 11:1-10), that is Paul’s entire point. Humankind (Israel in particular, Paul has in mind here) is remarkably skilled and practiced at refusing to submit to God’s goodness and guidance. Consequently, if anyone – anyone at all – is not rejected by God and finds it within themselves to kneel before him and worship him and serve with their life, his acceptance of them is a matter of grace – pure, undiluted grace.
“… at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (vs.5-6)
Our heritage cannot save us. Our training doesn’t make us right with God. Keeping company with people that know Jesus Christ doesn’t mean we truly know him, too. No, if we have a relationship with God, it’s because he chose to give that to us; it’s certainly not anything we deserve.
God my Father in heaven, by grace you saved me, and are saving me still. In Jesus’ name, may I never forget it! Amen.