In the Gospels, people who are healed by Jesus are overjoyed. Their enthusiasm about what Jesus did for them leads them to tell others, even in instances when he commands them not to tell anyone.
Encountering Jesus should lead to excitement over his grace.
But I have often struggled to feel the excitement about the forgiveness of sins. When I heard preachers explaining the gospel and passionately reminding me that my sins have been forgiven, my heart did not leap for joy. I rarely experienced any emotion.
Maybe that made me a bad Christian. From what others tell me, though, I am not alone in this.
Maybe this is a particular problem for those of us who grew up Christians and never strayed from the faith. We learned about grace and forgiveness at the same time (maybe even before) that we learned about sin and its punishment. Grace did not seem surprising or amazing, because we always assumed it.
Discovering Forgiveness of Sins
I’ve also noticed that many lifelong Christians, years after becoming a Christian, come to an inner realization of the forgiveness of their sins. Their faith is reinvigorated. The experience is so powerful that it feels like a conversion.
For example, C. S. Lewis had this type of experience. After being a Christian for many years, C. S. Lewis wrote to a correspondent:
For a long time I believed that I believed in the forgiveness of sins. But suddenly (on St. Mark’s Day) this truth appeared in my mind in so clear a light that I perceived that never before (and that after many confessions and absolutions) had I believed it with my whole heart. . . . Jesus has cancelled the handwriting that was against us. Lift up our hearts! (Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:151-52)
Years after conversion, the inner knowledge of the forgiveness of sins comes.
Three Reasons We “Discover” Grace Later in Our Christian
Why is this wonderment at God grace delayed? Why do Christians need to grow into the grace of God to leave the clumsiness of the early Christian walk?
Since I read C. S. Lewis’ remarks about discovering the grace of God later in the Christian life, I’ve been thinking about the reasons we often later “discover” grace in our lives.
First, we grow in your knowledge of the Holiness of God. We can never fully grasp the holiness of God. Yet, as we mature in our faith, we come to better understand the holiness of God. One way this happens is that, regarding the holiness of God, we begin to connect our heads with our hearts.
God’s holiness, though, leads to an increase awareness of the distance between God and ourselves. How can we commune with a holy God when we are so sinful? This question, which would seem to be more pressing before one is converted, doesn’t seem to strike us until later in our Christian lives. Of course, since we are Christians, we already commune with a holy God by the grace of our Lord Jesus. So we are overwhelmed with grace.
Second, we grow in the awareness of our own sinfulness. We see that, outside of God’s graces, our hearts are sinful, constantly pulling us away from God. The more Christlike we become, the more clearly we see our own brokenness. A growing awareness of the our unholiness makes us more aware of our need for grace.
Third, as time passes, we see the negative effects of sin. The Biblical picture of sin is that it is destructive to human flourishing. Often this destructiveness unfolds over years or even decades. It takes time to see the truly destructive nature of sin. Sin appears abhorrent. The lust and greed and pride that seemed fairly harmless when younger now manifests its harm.
And when we see the true nature of sin, we become more thankful that God has saved us from it.
Growing Into Grace
Part of maturing in the Christian faith is more fully understanding what has happened to us. We have been forgiven; we know it, but we clumsily try to live that way. It takes time to come to know God’s grace.
“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6-7 NIV)
In the coming ages we will still be show His grace. We will be growing into our awareness of our need for that grace––and our true need for it––for all eternity.
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