Grace is an interesting and complex word—and not only in trying to define it but trying to live into it. Because I think our definition of it changes the more we understand it. Or maybe it doesn’t change, but the more we need it—the richer and deeper we realize that it is.
Think of grace like the ocean. From a surface level, from the top looking down, the bottom of the ocean is simply unknown to us. If the ocean is crystal clear and somewhat shallow then we would say it could be 10 to 20 feet deep. The depth of the ocean, in that moment, is only understood by what is observed. But say you go out a little ways and you swim in it and then you take a huge breath and dive down to experience the depth of the ocean. Maybe you’re a good swimmer and can hold your breath for long periods of time and fight through the ear-popping and chest pain that comes with deep water diving…and you are able to swim down to 50 or 60 feet before you have to come back up for air. But once you were down at that 50 feet mark you could see what looked like the bottom of the ocean floor another 20 feet down. Once back up you would declare that the ocean is as deep as 70-80 feet. Because that’s what you saw and that’s what you experienced.
Now say you were able to take a submersible or some other water-diving tube of death (OK, that’s a little extreme but oh well) and you were able to do dive down to plot just how deep this ocean floor is. And say you are in the research vessel DSV Alvin then you’d dive down and come back after going as far as that vessel could and you’d hit that 14,800 feet mark and declare that THIS is how deep the ocean is. That it wasn’t 70 or 80, but in fact it is 14,800 feet!
Until we experience the ocean and dive into its depths our understanding is only what we see, what we feel, and what we experience. And as we experience these different depths of the ocean we may come back happy and elated because it’s bigger than what we saw before and what we saw is now greater than we could have imagined and fathomed and each time we would walk away happy. But the truth is the ocean is so much deeper than that. At this moment in time we’ve charted it down to 36,200 feet! But we wouldn’t know this unless we experienced it.
Grace is kind of like that—and yet deeper and so much richer because where there definitely is a “sea floor” and bottom to the ocean there simply isn’t with God’s grace.
When we look at grace our understanding of the depths of its work in forgiveness is only as deep as our need for that forgiveness…and that “need” is then bound up in what we’ve done. In other words, the sin we’ve experienced—grace will cover that. And while that is true it’s not completely true. That just like the ocean is as deep as we experience it, it is actually much deeper than what we’ve ever experienced. Just because you’ve never dove down to the depths of the ocean floor doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist nor does it mean that just because you’ve never done the most horrific thing you could think of doing ever mean that grace cannot and does not cover it.
We need to understand that when we say that God’s grace is “complete” that’s actually not fully true. Because to say that something is “complete” means that all it’s parts are there and that there is nothing missing. But the truth is that grace has no end, has no bottom, and has no beginning. Grace, by definition, is complete already because you cannot fracture it, break it up, or take small pieces from it. It’s complete in its completeness and you receive it’s fullness all at once. It’s a forgiveness with no caveats, no strings attached, no limits, and no boundaries.
Grace doesn’t become richer, fuller, or more complex by us sinning more—nor does it stop working at any point. Grace is simply grace. It’s a one and done thing. Christ didn’t have to die and come to life multiple times, one for each person, one for each sin in order for grace to become effective. It was a complete atoning work upon the cross, and a complete raising of life 3 days later.
Grace is the infinite infinity of God’s love. Only given on the cross, and only received in the resurrection. Grace is the death of sin and the eternal resurrecting life that is only found in Christ – that was given and received over 2,000 years ago. Only given by the Holy Spirit. And only asked of by the Father. It was something you and I needed, humanity needed, but couldn’t ask of, comprehend, or even figure out what it looked like.
And while I’ve given the example of grace being like an ocean—that’s simply not true. I think it helps us understand it by experience…but unless the ocean exists without a bottom…then the analogy simply falls flat. And yet the example does begin to help us understand the vastness and depth of God’s grace because the more I find myself in sin…the more I realize God’s grace is deeper than I can fathom and is already there. The deeper my sin goes does NOT mean the deeper God’s grace becomes.
The grace was already there and before my sin ever was…and before my sin ever was…the grace was already completely given.