Sitting on my bookshelf is an inherited copy of Charles Finney’s Revival Lectures. The cover has seen better days, and the edges of the pages are yellowed to nearly orange. I was in the process of researching another project, one that considers how we, as Christians, respond when it feels like God is far away, but I needed a bit of a break so I picked up the book.
I opened it to a sermon on grace, and although I didn’t expect to find anything applicable to my research, what I read could not have been more important. Finney reminded me how when we think about the idea of growing in grace, we often think about it incorrectly.
Growing in grace is not a gradual letting go of sin. It is not what takes place in a slow process as we work to shed the things in our lives that keep us from becoming more like Christ. No. God’s grace is immediate. It is complete. And it is for sinners.
Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus call his followers to gently sluff off the sin in their lives. He calls us to step out of the darkness and into the light. There is no dawn, no dusk. Only the full light of God’s presence. In John 8, When Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery, his words were “…go and sin no more.” Not try not to sin, or if things go well, then stop sinning. It was “…go and sin no more.”
The woman went from a life of sin, of failure, to one in which she stood fully and suddenly in the light of God’s grace. And when she walked away, she walked away at once without condemnation, bathed in the light. Only then would she be concerned with the act of growing in God’s grace.
I began to think about after this happened. When she had already experienced that first moment of grace, and then had to go home. Did she stay without sin? Was she able to make the changes in her life? We don’t know. And I think we don’t know because it really doesn’t matter.
Jesus forgave her, but just like when he forgives us, he knew she, and we, will probably fail again. The miracle of God’s grace is that it isn’t tied to our success. Growing in God’s grace is set apart from the act of grace that separates us from our sinful past.
The grace that we are to grow into is one of relationship with Christ. It is one gained by knowledge and devotion, by study, and by developing a constant willingness to question our own actions and attitudes. It does not demand a sinless life. It only demands that we have the desire to be without sin so that we can better commune with God.
When God feels far away, remember that you stand wholly and completely in the light. And if you fail, you are not further from Him. His light doesn’t fade with our action. He is not diminished by our mistakes. You are a child of the light, and your duty is to step out, to take a breath, and the grow in the favor of God.
We will make mistakes. But we can also rejoice that our mistakes do not change God’s love for us.