by SommerAnn McCullough

During the season of Lent, I started a Bible Study group at my church. I was excited to create this space for anyone who wanted to learn more about the lectionary we hear each Sunday in worship. I wanted to build community, dig deeper into the weekly Scripture, and ask each other tough questions.

But, if I am being honest for a minute, I also believed that organizing this Bible Study made me a better Christian.

Not only would I understand the Scripture better so I could be a stronger disciple, but I was doing the important work of sharing God’s Word with more people. I was spiritually patting myself on the back for being a leader in my church and for acting in a way God would undoubtedly reward.

Does this sound familiar? Have you ever taken on a leadership role in your church community and felt like a better Christian because of it?

But we know that the rewards system we have created in our heads is the exact opposite of what God’s grace encompasses.

What is grace?

Grace is the wild, progressive concept at the core of Martin Luther’s theology. As members of the Lutheran church, we are invited to believe that God’s grace is more powerful than our sins and shortcomings. It is to believe that God will extend love and acceptance to all of us without us having to earn a single thing.

When is the last time you were given something without having to earn it?

It is such a counter-cultural concept, especially in our capitalist society. But if we are to live into our calling as Christians, we need to accept this freely-given grace.

Stop Trying to Earn Grace

Having to earn God’s love is a concept that hits very close to home. After all, we are taught that we need to earn almost everything in our life from the very beginning.

An incomplete list of things I have been taught to earn:
Good grades
A teacher’s approval
Dessert after dinner
A paycheck

What would you add to your list? Because we have been taught to earn our food, our friendships, and our love, it comes as no surprise that we also feel compelled to earn God’s grace.

Martin Luther writes: “I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith.” [1]

As Luther reminds us, God has justified us through faith. Not through our actions, our to-do lists, or the leadership roles we take on in the church.

God extends mercy to us, no matter what we have done, or left undone.

Accept God’s Unconditional Grace

But knowing that God gives us this grace, and freely welcoming this grace into our lives, are two very different things. It is hard to turn off the rewards-based part of our brain, urging us to sign-up for another church committee, or share our long prayer list on social media.

But, that is what makes God’s grace so radical. You can never be a “better” Christian, and you will never be more deserving of this grace.

I invite you to step into this grace. Grace that you did not earn. Grace that you cannot lose in the future. Grace that will never wear thin or be taken back.

This week, I hope to live into a small part of this radical grace. Instead of congratulating myself for sharing a ministry-focused post on Instagram, writing this article, or leading my Bible Study, I want to take a step back and know that I am no better or worse for any of these endeavors. God loves me, accepts me, and calls me worthy regardless of my actions. I am not earning gold stars in God’s grading book, I am simply living out my faith in a way that is authentic and meaningful to me.

When you find yourself wrestling with God’s grace, read over the first chapter of John, where it says:

“And the Word became flesh and stayed for a little while among us; we saw the Word’s glory — the favor and position a parent gives an only child — filled with grace, filled with truth. Out of Jesus’ fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” (John 1:14,16)

Reflect on these verses, challenge yourself to live into God’s radical grace, and extend that grace to those around you.

Closing prayer
God, your grace and your love are more than I can ever imagine. Please be with me as I step into your grace this week, as I challenge my need to earn your love, and as I extend your radical acceptance to those around me. Amen.

Discussion questions
1. What are three things you feel the need to earn in your life?
2. What is one step you can take to live out grace in your life next week?
3. How can your life be transformed by God’s grace?

SommerAnn McCullough is a feminist follower of Christ, and a member of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square in Chicago. She is passionate about spreading the radical Gospel of Jesus Christ, and encouraging women to live out their faith in their daily actions. Follow her at @sommergracefully for more inspiration and resources to help you discern how you can align God’s purpose with your everyday life.