“…But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” Romans 5:20b
There are some phrases that are less appreciated with age; “you’ll grow into it” is one of them. When I was young, it wasn’t a bad thing to receive something that, though not a perfect fit at the time, would eventually become something that I would grow into. From bicycles whose pedals were a stretch to reach, to outfits whose sleeves and legs would require a stretch to fill, growing into something simply meant I had something to look forward to. But, as an adult, I can’t say that I embrace the concept of growing into something the way I did as a child. Receiving items I can’t use now…but will have to grow into…is not only unappealing, it’s downright unflattering. Think about it. What is there, for a person who’s on the far side of middle-age, that would be exciting to wait for…to grow into? Cookware? Well, that would just mean I don’t yet have the culinary skills required to use what I’ve just received. Books? Again, if I have to grow into them, I must not have the aptitude to understand them as yet. And, while this is truly the case with many a text, telling me so will not bring accolades of delight from my lips! There’s furniture, that can be a nice gift, but the only furniture one grows into at my age is the lift chair and the Hover-round. And, what about clothing? While I used to like the idea of growing into an outfit, now…um…need I even answer this? Nope, there’s not one gift I can think of that I’d like to receive if it meant I’d have to grow into it.
For whatever reason, I was thinking about this idea of growing into things the other day. I was reading about grace: flexible grace, breathable grace, expandable grace. No matter how much I sin, grace stretches to cover it. There is no “out-growing” God’s grace; it will always be something that not only stretches with us, but is also a little bit larger than we currently need, that we may be able to grow into it. But, when I thought about this, I realized I had looked upon growing into the gift of unmerited grace in much the same way that I had looked upon growing into the gift of unwearable clothing. Simply put, I didn’t think it seemed right to want to grow into grace. After all, didn’t that mean my sin had enlarged to the point that I needed to have my “grace pleats” let out? What could require my need for additional grace except my supply of additional sin? And, as a believer, shouldn’t I be sinning less, and, consequently, needing grace less? That thought seemed logical for about two minutes. That’s how long it took me to “grow into” the truth about sin…and the need for a grace I can grow into.
I will never escape the presence of sin as long as I am on this side of Heaven. And, while I can live in the world and not be of the world, my journey through this life will leave me with sin-splattered clothing that will need replacing on a regular basis. While my desire, as a believer, is to avoid sin and its messiness, God knows I’ll slip; He knows I’ll never be able to keep my clothes clean and that I’ll not only need another outfit, but it will need to be a size larger than the last one because, well, my longevity with a sin free diet is about as lengthy as my longevity with a dessert free diet! And, if I thought I could, over time, need less and less grace, then in reality what I was believing was that, as a growing Christian, I needed less and less of God. Whoa! That thought stopped me dead in my tracks! Had I, unknowingly, allowed legalism to sneak its way into my thinking? Did I really think that, as a growing believer, I was now supposed to rely more on myself than on God? Absolutely not! And yet, that was the message my underlying thoughts were sending.
I didn’t like this truth, but I couldn’t deny its accuracy. To need less grace meant to need less of God, and that thought not only led me further from the truth…but it led me further from The Truth! Though it is right not to seek out sin, it is wrong to seek out self-reliance, and that’s what I would be doing if I tried to keep from “growing into” grace. As always, I tested this thought by examining the lives of people in the Bible. If I could find examples of those who, after putting on the robes of belief that identified them as children of God, still required a change of clothing…and an increase in grace size…then I would know the validity of such a thought.
I let my mind scan my Biblical Rolodex, and I stopped at Abraham’s card. Here was a viable contender. Abraham was called a friend of God by God Himself, so there’s no denying his relationship with God. But Abraham had to change his grace garments a time or two, like when he asked his wife to lie and say he was her brother and when he agreed to the whole Hagar debacle. Next, I stopped at Moses’ card. Here was a man whom God used mightily! Did he too receive grace in a size or two larger than he thought he needed? Absolutely. Striking down an Egyptian and then striking against a rock are but two examples of actions that sent Moses back for another fitting of grace. Then, my mind fell upon David’s card. Here was a man whom God had said was “after His own heart”, yet David, the believer, David, the giant-slayer, David, the psalmist, David, the warrior, David, the king…this same David needed new robes of grace with each season of his life. There are more cards I could go to, but they would all reveal the same truth: those who grow in toward God will still need to grow into grace. We can’t escape it, which is why God established it. Paul knew this to be true, which is why he wrote “where sin abounded, grace abounded still more” (Romans 5:20).
It’s a sobering thought, this “growing into” grace. Having contemplated the truth which underlies it, I now have to recalibrate my thoughts about not wanting gifts I have to grow into! Turns out, I do want this over-sized grace that not only fits at the moment, but also stretches beyond my present circumstances so that, in times of need, it will never fail to cover me.