Have you ever seen those Magic Eye 3D pictures that look random at first glance but then reveal a hidden picture?
Maybe there’s a group of you looking and someone says, “Wow – look at that! It’s a ship!” Then another person sees it and now they’re both describing the picture to you. But try as you might you just can’t see it. They try to encourage you. “Look – it’s right there. It’s huge!” But still you can’t see it.
You’re starting to think there’s no picture at all and they’re all deluded when suddenly, revelation comes and a ship appears! If you’re like me and you’re usually the last person to see these things, you’ll no doubt embarrass yourself at this point by shouting, “I see it!”
That’s how it was for me with grace.
I knew people who looked into the Bible and saw radical grace but I didn’t. Sure, there were pockets of grace but there was a whole lot of other stuff as well. Then one day, revelation came and I saw Grace! He’s right there on every page and in every book. How can you miss him? He’s huge!
I now find myself reading old scriptures with new eyes and saying, “Look! This is speaking of Jesus. This is all about him. I never saw this before.” Now that I’ve seen him once I see him everywhere.
I was saved decades ago and I have always loved God with my whole heart. But when I got this revelation of his amazing grace, it was like being born again, again.
A friend recently asked me, “How well did you understand grace before you understood grace?” My answer: I thought I understood grace perfectly well. For as long as I can remember I’ve considered myself a testimony of his grace. But when Grace came into focus, I was floored. I realized that I had barely understood grace at all.
Looking back I can identify nine signs that showed I did not fully grasp the grace of God. Maybe you recognize some of these signs as well.
1. I understood that I was saved by grace but not that I was kept by grace
I received Christ by faith, but I was not continuing in him by that same faith (Col 2:6). Although I would never have said it, I had taken out a little works insurance.
Faith is a positive response to what God has done, but I liked to initiate things. My walk became “do, do, do,” rather than it’s “done, done, done.” There was no rest, only performance anxiety. There was always another meeting to lead, another truth to teach, another sheep to gather. I thought this was normal. I could get excited about the idea of being saved and saving others, but I was hardly drawing from the wells of salvation with joy (Is 12:3). I was constantly stressed and I treated grace as grease for my gears.
2. I felt obliged to serve
Jesus had done everything for me, what would I do for him? Of course I didn’t use the word indebted – that would’ve alerted me to the poverty of my theology – but much of what I did was motivated by a sense of obligation. By trying to reimburse him for his priceless gift, I cheapened the exceeding riches of his grace. Instead of being impressed by what he had done, I was trying to impress him with what I was doing.
3. I motivated others using carrots and sticks
Because my own motives were screwed up it was inevitable that I would preach rewards and punishments. Do good, get good; do bad, get bad. At the same time as I was preaching against legalism I was putting people under law!
My gospel was like an ash-tray – full of “buts”! God loves you but… Jesus died for you but… God’s gifts always came with a price. I forgot that grace is free. The moment you start charging for it, you’ve missed it. There’s only one motive in the kingdom and that is love.
I no longer believe that evangelism means scaring the hell out of people. The good news that the world needs to hear is that God is good and he loves us. The new covenant of grace is the formal expression of his unfailing love for us (Is 54:10).
4. I saw myself as a servant rather than a son
My identity was in the things I did rather than in my Father. I saw myself as working for God (a noble cause!) rather than doing the works of God. I would not have said I was justified by what I did for I knew that grace and works don’t mix (Rom 11:6). Yet I was mixing grace with works like there was no tomorrow!
Here’s the strange thing: Even though I preached servanthood more than sonship, whenever there was a crisis I was quick to relate to him as Papa. It was only when I was strong and healthy that I was seduced by the religious need to do something for God. Happily, there were many crises!
5. I kept asking God to provide what he’s already provided
I knew enough about grace to approach God boldly in my hour of need, but I didn’t know that he has already given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). If someone was sick I would ask for healing when I should’ve just healed them (Matt 10:8). I would ask for more faith instead of living by the faith of the Son of God (Gal 2:20).
Like the prodigal’s older brother I felt God would bless me as I did my part. I didn’t realize that I was already blessed, deeply loved, and highly favored. In my ignorance I wasted a whole lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing. I thought I was being active and fruitful but in reality I was passive and faithless. God had already come but there I was face down in prayer asking him to come again. What a waste.
6. I was more sin-conscious than Christ-conscious
Like many Christians I was afraid of sin (keep it out of the camp!) and I was not known as a friend of sinners. I defined sin as bad works and I said the solution to sin was to turn from sin (duh). I had read that the grace of God teaches us to say no to ungodliness (Tit 2:12), but I wasn’t quite sure how that worked. So when preaching against sin I used inferior incentives like fear and punishment that led, at best.
I emphasized what people must do (repent!) more that what God has already done (forgiven us!). I kept the focus on us when it should’ve been on him and my preaching was powerless as a result. If anyone failed to experience victory over sin, I just figured they were unacquainted with God’s transforming grace – even though I had given them none.
7. I always tried to do the right thing
Someone under grace says, “He will lead me in the right path” (Ps 23:3). But in subtle ways I preferred rules to relationship. What I craved were clear Biblical guidelines for living. I thought I was choosing good, but then so did Adam. We both had an independent spirit that led us to eat from the wrong tree.
I felt validated when people came to me for guidance. I thought I was giving them wise principles when really I should have encouraged them to lean on Jesus (John 10:27).
8. I had a stronger relationship with the written word than with the Living Word
I did not read the scriptures to find Jesus but to learn, what should I do? I read indiscriminately and I was often confused by scriptures that seemed to contradict each other. My solution was to go for balance: A little of this, a little of that, for all scripture is profitable. But by failing to filter what I read through the finished work of the cross, I unwittingly poisoned myself. I mixed the death-dealing words of the law with the life-giving words of grace.
Although I was zealous for the Lord, in truth I was lukewarm. I did not submit to either the stone-cold demands of the law or the white-hot heat of his love.
9. I knew I was righteous, but I didn’t feel righteous
When I stumbled I would readily confess my sins to God, but I rarely allowed the Holy Spirit to remind me my righteousness in Christ. I knew I was a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), but in many ways I acted and spoke as if I was merely an improved creation. I thought honesty about my struggles was the key to getting more grace. But I would not have struggled so much if I had just learned to see myself as God sees me – redeemed, righteous, and holy.
I had some sense that Christ was with me and in me, but it never occured to me that our spirits had been fused together in union. Consequently, I never saw myself as one with the Lord. He was up there all shiny and good; I was done here all messy and broken. Occasionally I might be reminded that we are seated in heavenly places with Christ, but I never saw that scripture that says, “As he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).
I am convinced that grace comes by revelation. If you don’t yet see it this article may sound like the ramblings of an unbalanced man. (Thank God I am! I’m done with balance!) If you do see Grace, then right now you will be resonating like a tuning fork. So let me finish with a few words for those of you in the first group. Please be patient with those of us who are leaping for joy. Don’t walk away from the Magic Eye picture scowling, “I can’t see it, there’s nothing there.” Just keep looking!
Grace really is right there in front of you. And he’s huge!
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