Shades of Grace


Yes, I know the title of this blog entry is a play on words. But it actually does fit what I want to write about. When it comes to grace, it seems as if people fall into one of two camps:

  • On one hand we have the grace camp. It is by grace we are saved, through faith (Eph. 2:18) and we are chosen through predestination (Eph. 1:11). So if we have grace and are in fact predestined by God, then why try? Why try to “live right” (whatever that means)? Why love my neighbor? Why not live it up?
  •  On the other hand, we have the works camp. This camp believes that faith without action is no faith at all (James 2:17-18). In fact, this camp usually fosters a belief that spirituality is performance based. If I do good things, God will be pleased and bless me. If I make mistakes, God will be disappointed. He may even punish me.

As I look at these two camps, I find it difficult to follow either one completely. As a result I am faced with the horns of a dilemma…or am I? I had a professor in seminary that often said, “If you are faced with two horns of a dilemma, look at the bull in the middle that’s holding them up.” In other words, if you feel like you have to choose between two equally unpleasant options, maybe there are some bad assumptions being made. Is there another way? Look at the assumptions to see if there are more than the two options. And I believe that is the case we have here. Instead of thinking of grace as two camps, maybe it is more of a continuum. Maybe there are shades of grace.

The shade of grace I promote is called PARTICIPATIVE GRACE. I love this concept and believe this fits God and His interaction throughout scripture. Yes, it is grace that saves me AND there is usually something for me to do. God invites me to participate in the process. My salvation is not earned by my participation. My participation simply is a way of interacting with God and His plans. Living in the Kingdom of God is about being AND doing.

Participative grace can be seen throughout scripture. In fact, there is evidence as far back as the creation account. In Genesis 2 we read how God created the heavens and the earth. In verse 8 God made a garden and planted trees. Verse 15 is the key verse: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Adam didn’t just lay under a shade tree daydreaming all day. God commissioned Adam to work the garden, to care for it, to participate in God’s creation. I used to think that working and toiling was simply a result God’s curse for man (Genesis 3:17-19), but the concept of work existed before the curse. God’s plan from the beginning was for us to participate in His Kingdom – participative grace.

In their best-selling book Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby and Claude King layout seven principles for knowing and doing God’s will. One of those principles is this: God’s invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action. Following God’s will requires faith and action. God is not going to ask you to take steps that you can already take on your own power. Participation in God’s Kingdom requires you to take steps of faith. It is through participation that we experience God. We learn to put faith in Him. We learn to trust Him. We learn that He is good. We learn how He loves us.

Some people are mad at God because they feel stuck and want God to do something about it. Is it possible that God is calling them to participate in some way and they are afraid? Maybe it feels too risky to take a step of faith and, therefore, they are stuck.

I grew up in the works camp where spiritual maturity was based on performance. When I performed well, I would feel pride. When I performed poorly, I would feel shame. Pride and shame. I don’t see those on the list of gifts of the Spirit. Growth for me is accepting God’s grace and participating in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m trying to earn grace. This is a very hard habit to break.

What about your own transformation? Are you working hard to make yourself grow spiritually or are you participating in the grace of God’s transformation process? Externally, these two things may appear to be the same. But internally they are vastly different. The Holy Spirit does the transformation through grace AND God invites me to participate in the process. Participation can come in various forms. Sometimes participation means to go; sometimes it means to wait. Sometimes it requires being sad, being bold, getting angry, being vulnerable, taking a risk. Almost always it requires surrender.

I am so glad I get to participate in God’s grace. It’s much better than being a spectator and it’s much better than having to do all the work. And when I participate, I experience God’s love and I help the Kingdom of God (God’s reign) break into this world just a little bit more.

  • What does grace look like for you?
  • How is God inviting you to participate in His grace?
  • What step of faith is God asking you to take?
  • What blessing might be awaiting you on the other side of participating in God’s grace?

By Barry Thomas

Barry is Chairman of the Board for The Crucible Project. He has been a catalyst in bringing and growing our ministry throughout Texas. He is a senior operations engineer for Concho Resources in Midland, Texas. Prior to that, he served in ministry for 13 years at churches in Oklahoma City, Chicago and Midland. Barry holds a master’s of divinity from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn. He also holds bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from Colorado School of Mines. Barry completed his initial Crucible weekend in August, 2005.

Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe via Creative Commons