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The Nature of Grace
by Jim Richman
When I was 12, I had a problem. Like a lot of other tweens, I couldn’t seem to put anything back where it belonged. I would leave tools, sports equipment, even my own school books lying around everywhere. Now that I’m a dad, I can see how nauseating it can be. When my dad bought me my first spinning reel, I didn’t waste any time putting line on it and setting it up on the old dry-rotted pole I found in my grandpa’s shed. I thought I was really something. So much so, that I thought I could leave it in my dad’s truck bed for about a week.
Dad warned me for several days before I finally shuffled my laziness outside to get the shiny, yet rustic set-up out of his truck. Then the horror set in. IT WAS GONE! Wishing a lightning bolt would strike me dead because my dad was right, I wiped the tears off my face and went back inside. I shut myself in my room and tried to postulate how I would break the news to my father.
A few agonizing hours later, my dad opened my bedroom door and had the rod and reel in his hand. As I look back on it now, I could have slugged him. At the moment though, I was more relieved than I could ever use words to describe. He did it to prove a point, but he also demonstrated something that has resonated with me to this day. He could have simply kept the reel and tossed the rod, but in spite of my shortcoming, he chose to show grace by giving the rod back and never saying another word.
Defining God’s Grace
Sometimes it’s difficult for a person thinking about grace to separate the common English understanding, typically one dimensional, from what scripture describes the grace of God as. When we hear the word grace, a sportsman’s mind goes to the behavior of a deer almost defying gravity as it leaps over a barbed wire fence. It sounds like, “Wow, look how graceful that is.” When we look closely at God’s grace as a noun rather than a verb or adjective, scripture’s account becomes much more vivid.
Consider 2 Corinthians 12. Paul says he pleaded with the Lord three times to remove the person he referred to as a “thorn”. The Lord responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The word grace, and the way it is used, requires that we ask the question “If God’s grace is sufficient for Paul, what is it?”
A simple theological definition of the grace of God is that it’s His “Unmerited Favor”. At face value, unmerited favor means that God looks upon you and I, and without any good in us or coming from us, he chooses to pardon, show mercy, or bless us in ways that are in agreement with His greater purposes. In order to embrace this, we have to first realize that God is sovereign. God didn’t tell Paul he would remove this “thorn” or that he would even relieve some of the misery it caused in 2 Cor. 12. Rather, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God’s purpose for not relieving Paul of his trouble, was so that His power would be made perfect in, through, and around Paul. Paul affirms his submission and love for God’s design when he says, “I’m content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” When God looks at the world, he sees everything as it really is, without any veil or shadow over it.
There is not a single variable of any situation that is hidden from him, and because he created it all, he also has ultimate authority in the way everything begins and ends. His designs and plans also transcend the understanding of humanity. In his book “The Attributes of God” A.W. Pink says, “God was under no constraint, no obligation, no necessity to create. That He chose to do so was purely a sovereign act on His part, caused by nothing outside Himself, determined by nothing but His own mere good pleasure.” God is only subject to his own divine nature with regard to creating, destroying that creation, and extending grace. This sets the stage for all sportsmen to encounter the two primary ways scripture reveals God’s Grace through the outdoor lifestyle.
When you listen closely, many spiritual conversations between outdoorsmen are saturated with common grace. As he teaches on loving your neighbor, Jesus sheds light on common grace in Matthew 5:45, “For he (God) makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteousness.” The way God created all the beautiful things we experience in the field is the type of grace that the Christian and Atheist, the creationist and the staunch evolutionist share. For example, a believer and a non-Christian can both enjoy fly fishing a remote mountain stream because God’s common grace has provided that stream and allowed both of them to take part in it.
In theology, we refer to the saving grace like that mentioned in Ephesians 2 proclaims as particular or specific grace. This is reserved for those who have been born again through Christ. When a Christian steps out of his or her truck on a frozen morning, they experience both common grace as well as a measure of particular grace. This is in the sense that a believer in Jesus has the opportunity to go beyond the “common grace” dialogue and launch into a reflective and motivating spirit of reverence and worship. Gospel illustrations are everywhere in the outdoors, and I believe it is the one thing God wants us to see most when we are out there.
In Luke 19:40, Jesus rode into Jerusalem triumphantly. It was like the whole world finally “got it”. The Son of God was being worshipped as he deserved. Of course the Pharisees remained in their blindness and told him to rebuke his disciples. Jesus responded in a way that every Christian sportsman should remember. “I tell you, if these (the disciples and crowds people) were silent, the very stones would cry out.” If you are a Christian, this passage should shake you to your very core. The stones would cry out! Everything God has created is crying out, pointing to Him and what he has done through Christ for our salvation. Those that are in Christ, have been shown grace in that they have had the scales lifted from their eyes to see the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done.
When we combine these grace concepts with the breathtaking vistas of creation, the result is a potent demonstration of God’s infinite power and divine nature.(Romans 1) I believe this is what sets the sportsman’s understanding of God’s grace apart from that of a non-Hunter or fisherman. When we surround ourselves with only what man has designed and constructed, we tend to lose hold of the rugged and wise steadfastness of a God who is unwavering. On the other hand, when we immerse ourselves in nature, all the way down to harvesting an animal and diligently caring for its bounty, God reminds us that he is there and that he was pleased to provide such a blessing.
Christian Sportsmen Need to be Careful.
I’ve often heard of God’s grace discussed in sportsman’s circles as though we experience a unique brand of God’s grace. While God’s grace is often revealed to sportsmen in situations relevant to our specific circumstances, and even some that are unique to nature, we do not experience a type of God’s grace that is extra-biblical.
For example, God’s greatest demonstration of grace happened as Ephesians 2:5 describes. “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved.” The nature of God’s grace doesn’t change according to our affinity to a particular interest. It remains constant. His saving grace demonstrated at Calvary through the blood of Jesus was, in fact, most concerned with His glory and our justification before His holiness. The opportunity to enjoy the outdoors is a blessing of grace that is enjoyed in a common grace, and much deeper, particular grace way that should be viewed and understood in agreement with God’s nature.
God revealed Himself through creation in specific ways. He gave us the Bible to validate or disprove our thinking with regard to how we perceive him. He also gave us a framework within which we are to develop our life practices. This includes activities inside and outside our respective hunting and fishing seasons. We need to be careful not to abuse God’s grace by shirking our spiritual disciplines and responsibilities because of an underdeveloped recognition of God’s grace.
Taking the Harvest Home
There is no doubt that it can be invigorating to the soul when we head out on an adventure and experience God’s grace in a fresh way. The worst thing we can do is not share it. It would be absurd to go on a hunt, harvest an animal and refuse to share it with friends and family members. That’s exactly what happens when God teaches us something beautiful in the field and we don’t share it with others. Failing to share the grace God has shown us can lead to a spiritual life that is confused and disobedient. Conversely, being intentional about setting out to experience grace, as scripture defines it, brings home the confidence that leads to a healthier spirit and a knowledge that you are abiding in the grace that God has shown you.
Jim Richman is the owner of the Journal of a Christian Sportsman website. Jim has been serving in vocational ministry for more than ten years and has more than twenty years of hunting and fishing experience. You can contact Jim via email at firstname.lastname@example.org