Grace That Empowers
A Conversation with Max Lucado
By Erin Gieschen
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. The well-known words of the hymn speak of grace that saves us from a death sentence, pulls us out of darkness, and gives us a fresh start. It’s a gift of unmerited mercy that cancels our debts and sets us free. But as the hymn’s later verse says, there’s still more to it:
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
’Twas grace that brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.
There’s something about this supernatural grace that stays with us from start to finish and, day after day, makes it possible for us to live. And that’s because, according to Max Lucado, there’s more to God’s grace than we often realize. In Touch spoke with the author about the topic of his most recent book, Grace, and why it’s not a one-time gift but the very heartbeat of spiritual transformation.
In Touch: You’ve said that “grace is the voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off.” The idea that grace is connected with change isn’t something we hear a lot.
Max Lucado: It’s wonderful to see that grace is something God already did for us, and how it moved us from unforgiven to forgiven. But to really see His grace for all it is, we need to recognize it as something God is doing now. It’s the word the Bible uses to describe His ongoing, aggressive commitment to change us from the inside out.
How does God’s grace empower us?
I love the word picture in Ezekiel 36:26-27 of God giving us a new heart. He says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.” This prophecy from the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New. Upon my conversion, God took my old heart out and put a new heart in. I’m still learning to live with this new heart, but it has such potential and brings such promise because my new heart is the heart of Jesus inside me. A Christian is actually a person in whom Christ is happening. For many years I missed this truth. I knew that I was working with Christ and He was with me. But I never imagined He was in me. This heart transplant is an aspect of grace we Christians haven’t discussed enough.
Why do you think we miss out on this aspect of grace and try to live for God on our own strength?
Grace goes so contrary to everything else in life; it’s just so unlike anything. Everything else in life is a barter system. We work, so we get paid. We love others; we hope they will love us back. Then we come into a relationship with God with the same idea—that it’s going to be some type of exchange with a merit system. Grace is just so unlike any religion or philosophy. Religion says that if you do good, God will notice you. The Bible says God has already noticed you. He’s loved you and adopted you, and given you a new heart. Now go out and do good. It just really kind of flips everything upside down. It’s hard for us to believe how great grace is, so we settle for a wimpy grace. We settle for one we understand, and we pay a price for doing so.
You mention that our incomplete view of grace has left us really exhausted. We come to God in prayer while not really believing that He’s offering to do this great work inside us. How can we tap into His grace?
Grace is a word the Bible uses to describe God’s commitment to change us—to reshape us intothe image of Christ. So knowing that means I can’t change me; I have to believe that God will change me.
There’s a difference between causing change and cooperating with change. You know how in some public restrooms they have those special automatic faucets? You extend your hands toward it, and without twisting any knobs, this water comes out to wash your hands, as long as your hands are there under the faucet.
Grace is like that: I don’t quite understand how it works, but I’ve learned to trust it. Prayer is that action of extending my hands in the direction of the Source of grace. It’s a simple gesture on my part to receive from God. Faith is learning how to receive what grace gives. And faith is also trusting that when I receive from God and respond, He’s going to do something. What sometimes gets in the way is that we’re not believing change is really going to happen. But we can believe it. It’s going to happen.
James 1:5-8 says that if you don’t believe that God is going to give you the wisdom you ask Him for, you’re completely unstable. Yet we so often pray like that, asking Him to move us forward with Him, all while not truly believing He’s going to come through and show us the way. But what’s the point of praying if we don’t believe His power is being extended toward us?
Exactly. Something I’ve noticed in the lives of many heroes of the faith is that they had a personal encounter with God’s grace and realized they’d never fully put their trust in this empowering grace. They had to come to a point of surrender, saying, I’m going to quit trying to achieve goodness on my own, and trust that God’s goodness is enough for me. I think of Augustine, who wrote, “Grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.”
So if we quit striving and instead let this supernatural grace carry us, it’s going to empower us to naturally carry out God’s “good work.”
Grace motivates us. There’s an old question that surfaces just about any time the topic of grace comes up: Won’t overemphasizing grace give people a license to sin? The apostle Paul answered this in Romans 6:1: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means.” When grace is appropriately received, it actually creates a desire to do good—not permission to do wrong.
Most of us do initially test the boundaries of grace and take advantage of it, but we find that God doesn’t reject us even then. This should cause a deeper appreciation for grace, yet many of us will still abuse it. But I would much rather have grace that’s been abused than abundant legalism—especially in a church. Legalism ultimately kills us. But with grace, even if you’re initially abusing it, you eventually learn to respond to its power. And eventually you learn to live in that grace more maturely.
Maybe it’s like the teenager who continuously rebels; the parents hold to their standards but keep extending love toward him. And then, over time, he begins to respond to their grace, which has continually worked on him and communicated their unconditional love. He’s abused it up till that point, but its fruit is ultimately a restored relationship.
If the parents were to kick into some form of legalism instead of continuing to extend grace, the result with that child would be very different, don’t you think?
So grace is also the power of God’s love drawing us and enabling us to respond to Him.
Absolutely. It grants us the power to receive love and then the power to give it. It leads us to a life that is eternally altered. His sustaining grace meets us at our point of need and equips us with courage and wisdom. It doesn’t promise the absence of struggle, but the presence of God—and His grace is sufficient to meet every single challenge of our lives. It surprises us with ample resource in the middle of our difficulties. It’s a reservoir of strength and protection that comes at us constantly and aggressively, wave upon wave.
But there are so many Christians who say, “I can’t change no matter how hard I try. I ask God to help me, but I just can’t change.” What encouragement would you give them?
First of all, we need to be patient with ourselves. We need to recognize that we’re a lifelong project in the hands of our Creator. And while He does promise change, it doesn’t always come overnight. Secondly, it’s important to pray specifically and then partner with God in that transformation He wants to work in us.
Just this morning I prayed, “Lord, as I look at myself, here’s what I think needs to change. I still struggle with greed and with trying to please people all the time. And sometimes I struggle with not letting You bless me because I feel guilty that You’ve been so good to me. The next time You see me be stingy or greedy, just convict me, Father.” And then I ask Him, “Do You have anything to say to me now? I welcome Your work in these areas.” God will change you if you let Him—and His grace will shape your life.