Christina Fox received her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey Through the Psalms of Lament (Christian Focus, 2016). You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and www.Facebook.com/
I started blogging about twelve years ago. If you don't already know, blogging and writing can be a lonely venture. At that time, I didn't know any bloggers. So I explored around online and joined a few blogging communities. Some of those communities had hundreds of bloggers!
As I read blogs and got to know other bloggers, I thought I had found my place. After all, I heard familiar words I had grown up with in the church: words like grace, mercy, love, and redemption. It's kind of like when you go somewhere new and you meet someone who knows someone you know. You start sharing stories about that person and you smile and laugh over the shared connection. It started out like that for me, but the more I participated in some of these communities, the more I realized we didn't actually know the same grace that people wrote about. It was like talking to someone about Susie Smith from high school and then realizing there were two Susie Smith's and we were each talking about a different Susie.
What I discovered was, though we used the same word, our definitions of grace were very different.
In Christianity these days, and even outside of Christianity, many people use the word grace. Everyone knows the hymn Amazing Grace and even popular musicians sing it. But not everyone knows the grace of the Bible.
There are multiple ways I've heard grace misused and misunderstood. Sometimes it is nuanced in a way that leads to misunderstanding. Sometimes people emphasize grace in one area of faith but not in others. Sometimes they use it interchangeably with words like patience or forbearance. But the definition that concerns me the most is when it is used to mean overlooking something (most often sin) as in "This is who I am and God accepts me that way. He gives me grace to be myself."
God's grace is bigger, greater, deeper, and more amazing than many people realize. It is important that we understand the grace of the Bible so that when we hear people talk about it or read it in a blog, article, or book, we know what the writer is talking about. Because believing in a grace that is different from the Bible is not only misleading, it is also dangerous to our faith.
There is much to learn from God's word about his grace, but here are few things to start:
A FEW THINGS ABOUT GOD'S GRACE
God's grace provides all things; all is grace: Everything we have, even the very breath we breathe is a gift of God's grace. "Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:25). Even those who are not saved benefit from this grace, which we call God's "common grace." "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45).
God's grace awakens us from death to life: Grace is God's unmerited favor toward us as sinners. It is love and kindness that we don't deserve. It began in eternity past when he chose us in Christ to be adopted into the family of God (Ephesians 1:4-5). By his grace, he awakens us from spiritual death and gives us new life, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked...But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:1-6).
God's grace saves us: We can't save ourselves; salvation is God's work. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8). "Unless we are born of the Spirit of God, unless God sheds His holy love in our hearts, unless He stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him. He is the One who takes the initiative to restore our souls." (From: The Holiness of God, p. 180).
God's grace trains us: Upon salvation, God does not leave us in our sin. He forgives our sin because of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf and accepts Christ's perfect and righteous life lived for us. But he doesn't leave us there to continue in our sin. He doesn't overlook our sin and say it's all okay with him. Rather, he trains us by his grace to put off sin and put on obedience. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:11-14).
God's grace sanctifies us: By his grace, God changes and transforms us into the likeness of his Son. "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10, emphasis mine). "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13, emphasis mine).
God's grace completes us: God will finish the work he began in us. "He will sustain you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:8-9). "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
Grace is a beautiful word that is essential to our faith. It is the ground on which we stand. Because it is so important, we need to know what it means so that we are not drawn away or misled by false teaching. And the more we learn, understand, and consider God's grace—the depth and breadth of it—the more we are able to sing "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!"
I called my husband in tears, "I just don't know what to do." I had run out of ideas and didn't know what to do with our child.
It was a deja vu experience because I had said the same thing with the same tears multiple times since becoming a mother. It's just that I assumed that as my children got older I would grow in wisdom and understanding and things would be smoother than they were when everything was all new and confusing and exhausting—when they were babies, then toddlers, then preschoolers. But no, I still feel just as helpless as I did the first day I held my oldest son at the hospital.
Helplessness in Motherhood
The hurricane had knocked out power everywhere. The hospital was damaged and people recovering from surgery were in the maternity ward along with lots of other women who went into labor as a result of the storm, including me. I had complications after the birth and had to stay a few days longer. Everything was chaos around me as exhausted doctors and nurses worked overtime, all the while wondering about the state of their homes following the category three storm. I wasn't allowed to sit up in bed and had to lie still for three days, making it hard to handle a newborn. The feeling of helplessness was birthed there in that hospital room and followed me home, never to leave my side.
I don't like feeling helpless; I like to know what to do. I like to be equipped, prepared, and ready. I like to have plans in place to prevent chaos. I like to control the unexpected. But as I quickly learned, there's no controlling motherhood.
The helpless feeling continued as first my oldest and then my youngest battled asthma as babies and then chronic infections. They were sick most of early childhood which meant middle of the night breathing treatments and visits to specialists until they both ended up having sinus surgery. Every moment, I felt helpless.
Today, as I navigate the struggles and challenges of elementary and middle school years, I continue to feel helpless. I still don't know what to do. I'm still powerless. Every day is still a journey into the unknown.
But the truth is, while I am helpless, I am never hopeless. Never.
Helpless but Not Hopeless
While helplessness is a condition I resist, it's exactly where Christ has called me to be. He didn't come for those who have it all together, who know everything, and who don't need any help. He came to rescue and redeem those just like me—the helpless. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
As wisdom incarnate, Christ knows just what to do all the time and in all circumstances. He is never helpless, lost, or confused. He rules and reigns over all things, including our helpless circumstances. For those who are helpless, with Christ is exactly where we need to be.
"And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:37-41)
The disciples were used to storms at sea; they had faced them countless times. But this storm had them shaken. They had done all they knew to do in the midst of a ferocious squall and realized they were powerless. Jesus, however, was asleep in the stern of the boat, exhausted from a long day of teaching. I can almost hear the panic in the disciples' voices as they cried out, "Don't you care?" But Jesus, the Maker and Ruler of the wind and waves, only had to say, "Be still!" and all was calm. The calm didn't come on gradually, the way the seas slowly stop their seizing once a storm has passed. Rather, just like that first day when God spoke the world into being, this storm came to an instant stop at just the sound of its Maker's voice.
The disciples were helpless but never hopeless.
Christ our Hope
Too often, I forget that I'm not hopeless. I try in my own strength and wisdom to mother my children. Problems arise and I get overwhelmed. I worry and despair. I feel like a failure. Like the disciples, I fret and fear that motherhood will sink me.
Forgetfulness is a common problem for moms. I call it mommy-brain and use it as an excuse for forgotten appointments, conversations, and items at the grocery store. As problematic as such forgetfulness can be, it's not as serious as gospel forgetfulness. That's what happens when I forget the hope I have in Christ.
In all our helpless situations, Christ is our hope. He has redeemed us from our sin and given us his righteousness. Through faith in his perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection, he has made us right with God. And as Paul reminds us, if God has given his own Son to rescue us from sin, how can he not also give us all things? (Romans 8:32). In providing for our greatest state of helplessness—sin and separation from God—Christ has proven that he is our hope. The disciples cried out, "Don't you care?" Christ's sacrifice for us on the cross is his response, a resounding, "Yes!" In our greatest helplessness and in our small daily helplessness, Christ is our hope. He is sovereign over all things. He knows all things. He bears all burdens and hears our every cry. He works all our circumstances together for our ultimate good. He is our comfort, our peace, and our rest.
When we are helpless, when the storms of life crash over us, we must turn to Christ. We must rely on his strength, wisdom, power, and truth—not our own. We must find our peace and solace in him. Yes, we are helpless, but in Christ we have everything we need for he is right there in the storm with us.
Moms, though we are helpless, in Christ we are never hopeless.
It's a new year and whenever something is new, there is expectation. Hope. Anticipation. Promise. Longing even. Maybe this year will be the year we _____. Fill in the blank. Find the job we need? Sell the house? Get married? Have a child? Grow our ministry? See that goal we've worked so hard for come to fruition?
For some of us, the New Year doesn't announce new opportunity or hope for improvement or anticipation of a dream coming true. Rather, the New Year rings in with dread, fear, and disappointment. For some, a frightening medical procedure looms on the horizon. For others, the New Year brings loss. Some flip the calendar page knowing that the conflict they've been in all last year will only intensify in the next.
Not everyone sees 2017 as the promise of something new and better, but more of the same, and sometimes, the announcement of something even worse.
If you are looking at this new year and feel a sense of dread and foreboding, I want to encourage you. This new year, though filled with unknowns, is not unknown. 2017, though it may contain heartache, challenge, and difficulty, is not a year to fear. The months ahead may stretch and pull and threaten to undo you, but it will not end you.
That's because God knows what lies ahead for you in 2017. He knows each day and every moment to come. As David wrote, "all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:16). All your days this year have been written in God's book. He has carefully constructed the moments of 2017 in exactly the right order as they should be. He has woven the threads of time to bring about what you need most this year.
For those who trust in Christ for their salvation, God has promised to work all things—the good, the not-so-good, and the bad—together for ultimate good. "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Romans 8:28-30). While we tend to start the new year with grand plans and a few weeks in to the year, give up and move on, God finishes what he starts. Those whom he chose before all time, he also called to himself. Those whom he called to be his own, he also saved by grace, through the blood of Christ. Those whom he saved, he also transforms and makes holy. From before the beginning of time, to this moment now, God is unfolding and following through on his plan to redeem and transform you into the likeness of Jesus.
As you stand on the precipice of a new year, don't fear the future for it is in the hands of your sovereign God. Don't dread the unknown for it is fully known by your omniscient Father. Don't grow weary by the challenges to come, for God is with you. He is your refuge and strength, your help in all trouble (Psalm 46:1).
Whatever challenges or trials come your way this year, remember you are not alone. God has gone to great lengths to redeem you from sin—in the sacrifice of Christ—will he not also be with you in all the struggles of your life? Fix your eyes on Jesus and remember the good news of the cross. Remember Christ's perfect life lived for you. Remember the One who was tempted in all things, but never sinned. Remember him, who looked ahead to the cross, dreading what was to come, but for your sake, "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).
Instead of the New Year being a harbinger of hard things to come, may it instead be a reminder of the One who is even now making all things new—including you.