61 – The Brutality of Grace
Recently I have said a number of things to God in my prayers that I really mean. Let me explain. For example, one morning I was thinking about all of God’s blessings. I found myself saying with great feeling, “Lord, I don’t need any of this. You are my identity. You are my purpose. All I really need is you.”
I have also said other things like, “I don’t want to operate as though I have power.” And, “My life’s ambition is to master one book and be mastered by one book.” I’m sure you have said similar things and really meant them.
Since saying these things seven weeks ago I have had nothing but trial, test, and trouble.
I feel like I have been mugged by God.
But what I’ve come to realize is this: When we make statements to God that we really mean, He will make us mean them.
When we say things to God we mean, we often don’t really understand what we are saying. We only see the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that God wants us to know. So he must intervene and “perfect” our faith. He is not just the author of our faith, but its perfecter (Hebrews 12:2). This is huge. God is on a mission. He is sanctifying us, transforming us, and conforming us to the image of His Son.
So, when we open ourselves up to God, He will open us up to Him in ways we could never conceive.
There is a certain brutality to grace.
A man said, “I love being pruned!” I say, “He who sayeth that he loves being pruned is not now being prunethed.”
I am being pruned. It hurts. I don’t love it. But I do appreciate it more because I understand it.
Since I’m in the middle of God’s “disciplining” grace – the pruning – I feel like screaming, “Okay, God, I get the message. Can we now take a short coffee break?”
In the famous passage in John 15 Jesus describes himself as the vine, us as branches, and God as the gardener. Jesus says these astonishing words, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2).
Here is a great irony. If you are an unbeliever you get cut off; but if you are a believer you still get cut. So it doesn’t make any difference if you believe or don’t believe – you’re going to get cut!
I’ll bet nobody told you that when they suggested you give your life to Christ! Instead, you probably heard something like, “Just pray this prayer and everything will turn out all right.” Well, it hasn’t turned out all right, has it? Why is that?
Sometimes the cure hurts more than the disease. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy create a lot of pain, but it is worth it to remove the cancer. In the same way, God’s scalpel is painful, but it is worth it to get rid of the sin.
God is so generous, kind, gracious, and good that He wants to give us the gift of becoming holy.
The problem is that we are much more captured by sin than we could ever imagine. Once we, by grace, conquer the big sins, we have the tendency to think the little sins will simply go away. They don’t. When the big, ugly branches get pruned away, the little shriveled up ones suddenly get light and start to grow. Those, too, must be pruned away.
The trouble with what we call “little” sins is that they are so deceitful. The little sins are often sins of piety like spiritual smugness, self-righteousness, and turning service for God into an idol. The flesh is most deceitful, most wicked, and most weak when it’s disguised as piety.
THE EXPECTATION OF REWARD
God does promise us a reward. In fact, the Scriptures say that anyone who would come after God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6).
What is this reward, though? If you are an American reading this, then like me you probably grew up thinking cause and effect. I do “this” and “that” happens. It’s the American Dream.
But the reward of God is the kingdom. There is no one to one correlation between action and expectation. In fact, many times when we do right, we suffer for it. The reward of the kingdom is both a present and future reality, but in the present it is like a shadow of the full future reality. Yes, there is a linkage between obedience and abundance, but it is not something you can count on as a direct correlation. We cannot tell God how to bless us.
This was certainly the experience of the great heroes of our faith.
Speaking about Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and other ancients, the writer of Hebrews said, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
Notice what is says: “They did not receive the things promised.”
He said of Moses, “He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:25-27).
Notice what is says – “He was looking forward to his reward” and “he persevered.”
Also, “Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:35-38).
And in response, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Heb. 11:39-40).
Again, notice what it says, “None of them receive what had been promised.”
I think it is quite clear that our expectation is to be a future “reward,” while our hope can be for a present “blessing.”
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Ironically, the brutality of God’s grace is also the generosity of God’s grace. When the pain of the scalpel subsides, the body heals. When the leggy branches are pruned off, the bush is healthier than before – more fruitful.
James 1:2-4 exhorts us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
When we hang in there and don’t give up, we taste the reward.
God is pruning us through tests and trials to perfect our faith to increase our perseverance so that we become like His son – which is the essence of the reward. He does this because He loves us (Hebrews 12:6).
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Grace can be brutal, but God is always good. He is our perfecter. So, persevere. Consider Jesus. Do not lose heart. We can be grateful that God makes us mean what we say we mean.
How is God pruning you? Are you feeling the brutality of God’s grace? Be honest with God about how you feel, but also thank him for making you mean what you say you mean.
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men to think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world.
© 1998. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved.