Teetering Between Judgment & Grace
by Kelsey Tarver
Growing up Southern Baptist smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt of Oklahoma, being a Pastor's kid, and attending a private Christian school pretty much made me the poster child of coming to know Jesus at a young age. There are times when I wish I could leap back in time to the faith I had as a kid, because I simply loved Jesus like crazy with so much confidence and knew without a doubt that He was with me and His grace covered me. I can remember even walking through the halls at school pretending He was holding my hand and whispering secrets to Him throughout my day as if He was 100% right there.
Over time I grew up and learned to understand that in America we very much live in a "works based" society. If you work hard for this, then you'll get everything you want, if you study hard, then you can go to a good school, if you look just the right way, then you can get a boyfriend, etc. For someone like me who is a type A rule follower, I sort of unknowingly began to do this in my walk with Christ as well...If I just read enough of the Bible today, then God will bless me, if I memorize X amount of scripture, then I'll deserve good things in my life, if I have my quiet time today, then I can feel good about myself.
It's just so very easy to fall into this treacherous path with the Lord in today's society because literally trusting in the true grace of God contradicts culture in every way. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For it is by grace, you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast." Romans 11:6 also says, "And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace." God does not want us to be able to think that grace is anything we could ever achieve or attain on our own, it is simply the purest, most beautiful gift we could ever receive and we did absolutely nothing to deserve it.
I still really struggled with accepting His grace even knowing these scriptures. My mom likes to call it "God's stepchild" ...you know, fully believing His grace is sufficient for everyone else, but me. I somehow someway was the exception. I had to suffer consequences to my wrong actions. I needed to behave properly all of the time in order to hear from Him. Now, I would never have outright thought this is what I was doing or thinking, but it is only now in hindsight I can see that is exactly what I believed. I would sing and pray and talk of grace as if it were something so wonderful, but on the inside I was really struggling with receiving it for myself.
It wasn't until I made some pretty awful decisions that I began to truly understand grace. I loved the Lord wholeheartedly and never deliberately strayed away from Him, but because I was not accepting ALL of Him I was keeping other areas in my heart hidden hoping they would one day disappear, being so fearful of the fact that I had sin in my life at all. But there is something so beautiful and humbling in knowing that you've failed miserably, and even still, God is right there, loving you, just as much as He did the day before. It taught me that I had been thinking all wrong, that I could never do anything to make Him love me more or less. Certainly He doesn't want us going around making awful decisions, but over and over again in the Bible He used people who were broken, flawed, sinners to do extraordinary things for His Kingdom.
The word I now associate with grace is free. Perhaps you are like me and you have lived a very cautious life trying to make sure each mark was checked in your faith, not just in faith but in doing everything right in general. Knowing and understanding God's grace is not easy, but once you decide to free fall and trust Him with everything, that all His word says is true and that you are His precious child, you just feel free. I remember my dad trying so hard to help me understand grace, he would say "Kelsey! How could I?? An earthly man love and care for you this much, even when you mess up, and God's love not be a million times more?!"
I resonate so deeply with Paul in Romans 7 when he says, “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”
God already knew we would be flawed sinners, He knew there would be forces of darkness that present themselves against us, and even still He chose to love us if only we would put our faith in Him.
I would love to say I have completely conquered this but I suppose it is something I will always have to remember, to release control of my life, trusting that God knows me and He knows my heart and that to receive His grace is to agree with His Word and in doing so we can live in so much more freedom.
Kelsey is 26 years old with a Bible degree from Oklahoma Christian and writes, produces, and works on the creative staff at her church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her style of writing is very conversational, as if she were sitting across the table from you enjoying a cup of coffee.