Grace: Unmerited, Unearned and Undeserved
Becky Morrison is a friend of the Johnsons. Becky and her husband Tommy host a party every year at the end of the Families Are Forever conference at their home on Lake Wylie for all the Covenant Keepers who attend the conference. Becky recently did a devotional at the Lake Wylie Community Bible Study (CBS) about grace. This article is taken from her devotional and applicable to how every covenant keeper should live their life, especially in extending grace to their spouse.
Today I feel like I am to share and talk to you all about grace. Not because I feel like I am a person that characterizes grace – not because it is easy for me to extend grace – not because I have learned how to give grace – but only because I have received so much grace and need to learn how to extend it to others.
Grace is what I need most when my guilt is exposed but it is the very thing I am hesitant to extend when I am confronted with the wrongdoings of others. There lies the struggle. When we are on the receiving end grace is refreshing. When it is required it is often disturbing. When correctly applied it can solve just about anything. The opposite of grace is not law. God’s law is actually an extension of grace. The opposite of grace is simply the absence of grace. Grace cannot be earned; it is the offer of exactly what we do not deserve. Unmerited, Unearned, Undeserved, it can only be experienced and received by those who acknowledge they are undeserving.
Last week God brought to me to a story of His grace that confronted me with my own sin. It is within the story of Jonah. I read it differently the other day and God showed me His epic grace and to be honest it kind of overwhelmed me. I had always seen Jonah as a story of obedience/disobedience; running away and trying to hide from God. But what I saw reading it this time was that the story screamed GRACE. I saw that God has a global message of grace and not just within the safe place of CBS, not in my circles of church friends, not just in my safe neighborhood or even in my own Christian family but that His grace is to reach far into drug infested neighborhoods, prisons, college classrooms with atheist professors, ISIS camps, to Muslim families to Buddhist priests.
This is not so much a story about a man who was swallowed by a fish as it is a story about a man who wrestled with the competing implications of grace. Jonah was a man who understood what it meant to need grace but found himself unwilling to extend it. I think that we all know the story of Jonah. God asked him to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against their wickedness. He was not willing just to tell God “NO” but he ran away from the Lord and went exactly in the opposite direction of where God had asked him to go.
I can understand why Jonah didn’t want to go. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire and one of Israel’s most vicious enemies. The Assyrians had turned cruelty into an art. They dismembered and disfigured people, skinned them alive, boiled them in oil, impaled them on stakes. From Jonah’s point of view he did not believe they were worth saving; the last thing he wanted to do was to be God’s emissary of grace. The Ninevites did not deserve grace, they deserved judgement! So he ran. He went to the closest seaport and paid passage to the farthest destination a ship could carry him. During a bad storm, lots were cast to determine the cause of the trouble. The lot fell on Jonah who ended up being thrown off the boat. Here the story gets good as he slips beneath the waves and is swallowed by a large fish. At this point do you think that he may have realized that God had not given up on him just as He had not given up on the people of Nineveh?
God does not stop extending grace. Three days and three nights in the pitch black seaweed filled belly of a fish is a long time. I’m thinking it didn’t take three days and three nights for Jonah to change his mind about going to Nineveh. I bet he was trying to strike a bargain with God about a second chance within the first few minutes. But I think God left him there for three days because it took that long for Jonah to learn his lesson. Later Jonah would write, “Those who regard and follow worthless idols turn away from the living source of mercy and lovingkindness.” (Jonah 2:8) He had learned that just like the pagan Ninevites, he had opted to serve his own selfish interest and in doing so forfeited or lost the full measure of God’s grace.
After Jonah was vomited upon dry land God offered him a second chance. While he did go to Nineveh his heart was still not in it. In his graceless way of thinking, he thought they should get what they had coming. He was caught in the conflict of grace. It was something he was quick to ask for, but not quick to dispense. Yet he was still the man God chose to send and resend. It took him three full days to spread the message of repentance to the city. Despite anything he did, the city repented, they believed Jonah’s message and called on God to save them.
This would be a great place to end the story. God was right, Jonah was wrong. The prophet obeyed and he accomplished the mission with resounding success; but the story continues. When Jonah saw the repentance of the Ninevites and that God would withhold the destruction he had threatened Jonah was not happy- in fact, he was furious. In a tantrum, “He complained to the Lord and said, ‘I knew this would happen. I knew it when I was still in my own country. It is why I quickly ran away to Tarshish. I knew that you are a God who is kind and shows mercy. You don’t become angry quickly. You have great love. I knew you would rather forgive than punish them.’” This is one of the most profound statements about the grace of God recorded in scripture. It is not what you would expect from the mouth of a grumpy Old Testament prophet with an attitude like Jonah’s. Jonah’s view of God was spot-on but his application was completely wrong.
Jonah reached back into the archives of his experience with God and concluded that God looks for opportunities to extend grace and compassion and it takes a long time to make Him mad. He overflows with love; He often chooses not to give sinners what they deserve. Jonah was fine with all of this when it was directed towards him and the nation of Israel. But for the Ninevites he wanted justice; God insisted on mercy. He wanted judgment; God opted for compassion. Jonah was so distraught over God’s grace toward Nineveh that he was ready to throw himself back into the sea.
Shortly after telling God he would rather die than see the Ninevites saved, Jonah found a place east of the city and erected a temporary shelter to wait to see what would happen. While he waited and watched, the Lord provided a fast growing vine to shade him from the hot sun. This made Jonah happy but the next day God provided a worm to eat the shade plant and to make matters worse he sent a scorching east wind. The story of Jonah ends abruptly with Jonah entangled in a dilemma of sorts, a dilemma of grace.
Listen to God’s words in the last two verses of the book:
Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry for yourself when your shelter is destroyed, though you did no work to put it there, and it is, at best, short-lived. And why shouldn’t I feel sorry for a great city like Nineveh with its 120,000 people in utter spiritual darkness?” (Jonah 4:10-11)
Odd ending isn’t it? But as we unpack this final exchange you may find it to be more convicting than odd. God challenges Jonah with the focus of his concern. Essentially He says you’ve been concerned about and had compassion for a plant that brought you comfort. I on the other hand am concerned about a city full of people I created. The plant represented God’s grace to Jonah. The withholding of judgement represented God’s grace to the Ninevites. Jonah was all about one but not the other. Jonah’s sin was that his religion was really all about him.
For me, I struggle with extending grace when my own comfort is disturbed. I really only want to love when it is easy and give when I have extra. My critical and judgmental attitude towards others at times stinks of the sin of graceless-ness. I struggle extending grace to those I see as evil wondering if they deserve to hear the gospel. I have a hard time extending grace to my brother-in-law who has struggles associated with mental illness. I even have a hard time extending grace to the person in front of me in line that is having trouble with their credit card or giving the cashier coupons. I have been faced with the question of who are the Ninevites in my life and I am repenting, asking the Lord to forgive me for the times that I have not extended grace and made it about me and not about Him.