Grace is not what you think (part 3)

Posted: November 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

For the past several weeks I have challenged the ever popular definition we all have for grace.  Today I will give you a better definition…a definition that does not strip grace of its magnificence and grandeur. 

Most of you may remember the apostle Paul’s struggle with his “thorn in the flesh” found in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.  Paul writes, “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.” Just what was this “thorn in the flesh?” Some think it is Paul’s inner struggles or grief over this former persecution of the church.  Others think it may be some of Paul’s opponents who continue to persecute him.  Still others think it was some kind of physical affliction such as poor eyesight or headaches.  Some even think it may me some type of demonic oppression.  For me, I am somewhat glad that the “thorn in the flesh” is ambiguous.  We can all relate to it!  If we are honest, we all have a “thorn in the flesh” of our own and, like Paul, we plead with God for it to be removed.  What does this have to with “grace?”  Keep reading…

Paul then says in verses 8-9, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’…”  Most people stop here when quoting this verse, but it is important to understand that there is a comma here, not a period.  The verse goes on to say, “’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. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  I am not sure Paul fully understood what God meant at first, but after three times of hearing Him repeat these words, suddenly the truth shot into his spirit like a bolt of lightning. At this moment, Paul saw that grace was much more than a kindness shown toward an undeserving inferior…it was more than simply unmerited favor!  In that moment, Paul understood that God’s grace was His power made available to him so that he could be who God created him to be, and do what God was calling him to do.  Paul learns here that the thorn will not hamper his calling. He can make do with the grace he has already received, and the power of Christ will become more visible as it works through his weakness.

This answer from the Lord helps Paul to regard the thorn no longer as the vexing mischief of Satan; instead, he recognizes that through it the grace of God operates more effectively. Paul now reveals why he is so willing to boast in his weakness rather than to pray for its removal. His weakness becomes the vehicle by which God’s grace and Christ’s power is most fully manifested to himself and to others. If Paul boasted in his own strength, thinking that by himself he was equal to any task or any calamity, he would then cancel out the power of God in his life. He is therefore most powerful when he is least reliant on his own resources.

We learn from the message given to Paul that God’s grace is not just the unmerited favor that saves us but a force that also sustains us throughout our lives. I would therefore say that a better definition of grace would be that it is the empowering presence of God – enabling you to be and to do all He has called you to do right where you are!

It is interesting to note that Paul never mentions the thorn in the flesh after this passage of scripture.  You see, the Damascus road changed Paul’s life, but God’s answer about the thorn in the flesh changed his living.  As you read Paul’s letters, take some time to replace the word ‘grace’ with the this new definition,  ‘the power of Christ to do God’s will’ – it will change everything for you, too!

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