Christian Life, Theology

What Makes God’s Grace So Great?

Sometimes things that you learned as a kid, even true things, can somehow get skewed in your mind and lead you to believe something false as you’re growing up or even as an adult. I think that’s why I didn’t understand grace very well for most of my life.

 

My Misunderstanding

As a kid, I learned that if you do the right things in life, life will go well with you. If you do the wrong things, things won’t go so well. There is some truth in that. If you make wise and good choices, generally you will get wise and good results. The harvest you reap matches the seed you sow. That’s a common sense, life principle that is generally, though not always, true.

 

Somehow this generally true-life principle was weaved into my theology, how I thought about God. In my understanding, God’s grace was simply that He allowed good Christians to go to heaven, even though everyone really deserves to go to hell. However, with the exception of heaven, I thought that the sowing principle applied to God as much as it did anything else.

 

The evidence of this can be seen in my middle school, high school, and college years. I was terrified of doing the wrong thing. I didn’t want to date because I might do something I shouldn’t and mess up my (hopefully) future marriage. Fears that I might pick the wrong career or the wrong college and thereby ruin my life haunted me. In my mind, everything was dependent on my behavior.

 

Problems with My Understanding of Grace

The problem with that was twofold:

1) That’s not how God works. That not even how God says he works. He gives us good things despite our bad behavior. He sent His son to die for us when we were still wallowing in our own mire and sin. None of the good gifts that God gives us are earned. They are gifts. I totally missed this.

 

2) Sometimes even if you do all the right things, you don’t get the good results you desire or think you deserve. As an example, despite not dating anyone for all of high school for the sake of “being good” and “remaining pure”, I was not rewarded with a relationship in college. I found that my supposed “good behavior” was not rewarded as I thought it would be. This left me disillusioned and mad at God.

 

The Results of My Misunderstanding

This led to a beginning of adult life crisis. After I graduated from college, I kind of gave up on being good the first chance I had. However, I didn’t do anything too drastic because I was still afraid of wrecking eternal havoc on my life by behaving badly.

 

Here’s a great example of how screwed up this was: I was messing around a bit with a guy friend just because we could and we both, I think, had an unmet desire for a relationship. At one point, I started to get freaked out about the consequences this action could have on the rest of my life. I started saying out loud and almost involuntarily, “We’re going to hell. We’re going to hell.” That was a mood killer to say the least. It also illustrates well the awkward and cautiously rebellious place I found myself in.

 

Nothing was how I imagined my life would be. I had no job, no significant other, and no idea what my purpose in life was. I found myself in this unwanted place despite praying and trying my very hardest to do the good things to earn God’s favor. So I turned away, to an extent. Did I still believe in God? Yes, but I didn’t think he loved me at all and I really didn’t see what good he was doing in the world. So I made several dumb decisions that I knew would not please him, almost as a dare. I practically expected my life to completely fall apart.

 

Surprised by Grace

That’s not what happened though. Instead, God slowly and carefully wooed me back. It didn’t happen overnight. It actually took a couple years. During that time, I was in a Bible study on Acts and Paul’s letters. Grace is kind of a big deal in Paul’s life and writings. It hit me that I didn’t really know what grace was or why is was amazing or even good.

 

I realized, based on Paul’s story and his writings, that grace is more than just getting into heaven. Grace is God intervening in your life, like he did in Paul’s, even though you are on the complete wrong path. It’s God giving you things you don’t deserve, whether that’s salvation, a second chance, a job, a relationship, or anything else.

 

Grace in Real Life

I felt like I had never really experienced grace though. I started asking God to show me some, to let me experience grace firsthand. And He did. Despite my rebellious thinking and even rebellious actions, God gave me several gifts of grace while I was still in the midst of my cautious rebellion: a job I enjoyed where I worked with really awesome people, a chance to do online classes and explore what I wanted to do with my life, and a relationship.

 

The relationship was the biggest one for me, especially since the way it came about was slightly less than ideal (that’s another story for another place). That had been the biggest desire of my heart, the thing I had been trying to earn. Yet it was when I was at my worst that God decided to give it to me. That was grace at its finest and most obvious. I felt like I finally beginning to understand what grace was all about.

Grace in Pain?

Then it got real. The relationship, which I thought was going to end in marriage, came to a more abrupt end. I knew I had a choice then. I could get mad at God again for stealing away one of my grace gifts or I could trust Him, believing that He had something better coming for me and that His grace would continue through my pain. It was kind of a hard choice.

 

Honestly, the cautious rebellion thing had not been all that fun, so I decided to trust Him. Things were hard after that for about a year, but they did work out. In that time, I grew closer to God and my relationship with Him deepened in ways I never could have imagined. I’m not saying that it was a particularly pleasant period of my life (there was a lot of crying involved), but it’s not something I would ever want to erase.

 

While I was working on trusting God, I ended up reconnecting with the man who is now my husband. Looking back, I can actually see that my break up was actually a gift of grace in disguise. If I hadn’t gone through that break up, I wouldn’t have married Zach and I think my life would have been more complicated and a lot different than it is today.

 

30 Days of Grace

It was also during that time that I wrote the material that is now 30 Days of Grace. I was writing devotional curriculum for a short-term missions organization that I had worked for after graduating college. That year I felt that my theme and my message was very clear. I had to share what I had learned and what God had taught me.

 

I’d love to share that with you too. I think the lessons that you’ll learn in working through the materials are important ones. Grace is probably one of the most important concepts in the Bible and if you don’t have some understanding of it, you’ll misunderstand God’s plan for humanity.

 

Even though I wrote this book, I’m not saying that I understand everything about grace. However, I want to share what I’ve learned thus far. I don’t want you to be like I was, trying to earn God’s favor and terrified of messing up God’s plan. You don’t have to live like that. That’s not what God wants for you. He wants so much more. He wants to shower his grace upon you. So join me for a 30 day journey to really discover what grace is all about. Remember, you can get a sneak peek of the first week free if you sign up here.

 

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

2 Comments

  1. Hi Ashleigh, I loved this post. So heartfelt and well-written. I really like the illustration you shared on Paul too. I’ve felt like you many times, and stumbled many times too, but by God’s grace I have been redeemed. Would love to join you on your 30 days of grace journey!

    1. Ashleigh Rich

      Hi Izzy! Thanks for reading! The older I get, the more I appreciate Paul and what a great example he is in so many ways. I would love to have you try out 30 Days of Grace. Make sure you sign up for the free trial if you’re interested in checking it out.

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