For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
II Corinthians 8:9
I felt like I had just undergone an MRI of my soul after reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. This book was once the world’s bestseller next to the Bible, and is often the first book translated after missionaries have translated the Bible. Pilgrim’s Progress is a compelling allegory of the Christian life as it tracks Pilgrim’s journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Pilgrim is an Everyman who makes some foolish decisions, chooses questionable traveling mates, and frequently strays from the path. He gets bogged down in the Slough of Despair, diverted by Mr. Worldly Wiseman, waylaid by feigned help from Mr. Legality and his son Civility, and goes under the waters of the River Death. But grace sees Pilgrim through to the end. He falls down, and he gets up, he falls down, and he gets up. All thanks to God’s grace!
I had imagined in reading about Pilgrim that I might find in him a model for the Christian life, but rather found in him a mirror of my journey. Like Pilgrim, I fall down, and I get up, I fall down, and I get up. Reading Pilgrim’s Progress reminds me of these lines from Brennan Manning in The Ragamuffin Gospel:
When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt. I hope and get discouraged. I love and I hate. I feel bad about feeling good. I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and I am suspicious… To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.
God’s amazing grace means to make receiving our default, our go-to position. We come increasingly to see ourselves as we really are, receivers, and receivers only. Faith is not about giving but about receiving. God needs nothing from us, nor would we have anything to give to God that we did not first receive from Him. God did not create us to live independently from Him, but to live each moment receiving from Him life, hope, power, and healing.
When we face problems bigger than we are, we receive from Him. When we are enduring grief so dark that we can’t see our way through, we receive from Him. In our step-by-step journey to the Celestial City we look for grace unearned and undeserved. God always gives grace, based not on who we are, but on who He is. The apostle Paul knew of what he wrote: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Yes, where even sin increases! Is it any wonder that Paul so loved the word “grace”! “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”
- Brennan Manning says that we learn what grace means by admitting our shadow side, and acknowledging our whole life story. How might admitting the bad and the good in your life open you up to more and more of God’s grace and love? Talk to God about what you are thinking and feeling about your life story right now.
- The apostle Paul states, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” What might his words mean for your life story?