If you examine scripture very much, you will soon discover one of the most frequented topics is that of grace. There are also themes of justice, purity, and such things as undivided attention. Through all the themes in scripture you will find this thought of grace interwoven. In justice (right conduct, moral decisions) we find grace - unmerited favor - for not all our conduct is right, nor are all our decisions solid in a moral sense. In purity or righteousness (the state of being good, honest, fair and right) we recognize the prominence of grace, for not all our thoughts will be good, words honest, actions fair, or behaviors right. God's grace is undeserved - but nothing is more needed in our lives than what grace brings and does within our hearts, minds, and souls.
Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. (Romans 12:3 MSG)
As we explore our passage, it is good to look at it in context. Paul has just outlined several key points:
- With God's help, we can take our everyday (ordinary) lives and place it before him as an offering. To those of us not growing up in the times this scripture was written, we don't understand the significance of being able to bring something to God as an offering. Offerings had very specific guidelines associated with them. For example, they were to be the first of the harvest, suggesting the most tender and desirous. They were to be the animals without spot or blemish, no flaws, suggesting the best which could have been used to gain the most profit or breed the next line. God wanted the best and the first. Paul reminds us that God wants our "ordinary" - not because it is our best or purest - but because if we present it as an offering, he will accept it as though it were!
- We embrace what God does FOR us, not what it is we do for him. A tough one for us to actually "get" because we are all about associating someone's good actions toward us as a direct result of some good action on our part. Although God relishes our right or good actions, they are not what "qualifies" us, nor what gives us "right standing" before him. It is 100% his action on our behalf which both makes us able to stand and which "sanctifies" (cleans us up). Embracing this sole fact can be the most important thing we do in our walk with Jesus - for it is there we find rest from "doing" things for ourselves and finally begin to trust what has already been "done" for us!
To this truth, Paul summarizes that we will be "transformed" or "renewed" - made to be something we are not naturally. From the "inside" to the "outside", we are made new. Not because of any goodness on our part, or work we perform, but because of his grace extended and his grace embraced. Now, he adds an additional truth we need to lay hold of in our passage above. We live "IN" pure grace - undeserved favor and forgiveness. What we choose to live "IN" determines a lot about "HOW" we will live out our day. For example, if we consistently live in filth, we cannot help but carry that filth out into the world with us. Live in trust and you find yourself taking steps you'd not thought possible. Live in hope and you find you are not bound by what others say is impossible. Live in freedom and you find you rise above the habits and "pulls" which once had you bound.
I hear people say, "I wish I could figure out why I am this way", meaning they don't understand why it is they do something, or respond a certain way. I think God may want us to understand something quite different, though - not who WE are, but who HE is and what HE has done FOR us and is doing IN us. To some, this may not seem very significant, but read it again - it isn't about what WE are! WE are not ever going to get things right all the time - but with God's help (him living IN us, doing FOR us what we cannot do for ourselves), we can get one step closer each day to living as we are called to live. So many times we focus on what WE are, do, have, need, etc. - God asks us to redirect our focus toward him. When we make this change of focus, grace is able to bring us from where we are into where he designed for us to be.
Grace embraced is what makes for life-change. Pure and simple - God IN us means we don't DO for ourselves what he has already DONE FOR US. Just sayin!