Sin Entangles, Grace Enables
I’ve been wondering lately about that verse in Hebrews that says, "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God." I have asked myself, 1) What does this passage mean by the grace of God? 2) What does it look like to fail to obtain it? 3) How do we "see to it" that people do not so fail?
Grace can mean many things in Scripture. It sometimes acts as a comprehensive syllable for all that God has for us, beginning to end. But more precisely, it is a word that has to do with the freeness of what God offers us. A host is said to be "gracious" when his attitude toward his guests is as if to say, "What is mine is yours." And that's what God says to us. What is mine is yours. My Spirit I give you. My joy is your joy. And behind all these many gifts of God, all this wonderful sharing, lies His greatest act of graciousness: my righteousness is yours through Jesus Christ.
When the author of Hebrews speaks of failing to obtain (or falling short of) the grace of God, I believe he is talking about Christians who fail to receive and accept in faith the full measure of God’s grace for them personally. The Letter to the Hebrews is addressed to the church, so it is not about failing to obtain salvation. But it is, I believe, about failing to really live the life that grace enables.
There is a kind of parallel passage earlier in the same chapter. The author says, "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets (KJV) / ensnares (NKJV) /entangles (NIV) /clings to us (ESV), and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." (Heb 12:1) Here we see that sin is disabling, entangling, clinging to us like a dreadful tarbaby, and keeping us from running the course of the Christian life with endurance. It puts me in mind of Paul’s admonition to the legalistic Galatians, "You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?" (Gal 5:7)
The Galatians simply could not accept the sheer graciousness of God’s gift. They came to believe–they were led to believe–that God would not consider them righteous unless they obeyed the Mosaic law of circumcision. It flabbergasted Paul that Christians who had begun with the Gospel of grace should wind up somehow in the hopeless cul de sac of the law.
That’s what it means to fall short of the grace of God. It’s to undervalue or mistrust the graciousness of God. It’s to disbelieve that God really means it when He says that we have, in His eyes, the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That’s faithless living. To mistrust God is an entangling, ensnaring, disabling thing; it’s a ball-and-chain that effectively keeps us from running well.
And perhaps it’s to misunderstand something else: that when God imputes the righteousness of Christ to a man or a woman, that is not mere talk. That is not mere labeling. The imputation of righteousness to a believer has incredible significance for the life of that believer as it is lived out from day to day. It breaks the yoke, cuts through the entanglements, frees, and enables. The grace of God empowers us to reign over sin in this life through Jesus Christ.
That’s the most radical, the most earth-shaking, life-changing truth of the Bible. Many do not grasp this. To put it another way, they have not understood the height and depth and length and breadth of the love of God. So they continue to labor along entangled in sin, ashamed of themselves, guilt-ridden, feeling they have not lived up to God’s holy standard and therefore been left out of his grace. And that is what it means to fall short of the grace of God.
The final question, how do we see to it that others in our circle of influence do not fail to obtain a full understanding of the grace of God? Well, Brother, Sister, we preach it to them. I don’t mean to be glib, but the fact is that faith comes through hearing, and so we whisper the marvelous truth of God’s grace into the struggling Christian’s ear again and again as we help them in every other way we can think of to get disentangled from sin. That’s ministry, boys and girls, pure and simple.