Attentiveness: Grace and Holiness - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Grace and Holiness

Life is only found through the door of grace striving toward holiness.

Grace is necessary to release us from our prison of sin and death.

Holiness is necessary, but possible only if we receive the gift of grace.

In my doctoral program I studied other religions along with Chrisitan history, globally and missionally considered. At the time I was not as motivated to study Theravada Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism. Today, I am so thankful that this was part of my doctoral work.

There is nothing like a close familiarity with another religion—especially living with neighbors who are Taoists, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs (as we did in Singapore)—to show how remarkable the Christian religion is, as well as the “God of the heaven.”[1] Karl Barth was correct that all religions are human attempts to please or appease gods, the ancestors, or the spirits. It is known in the depths of the souls of all of humanity—“every tongue and tribe and people and nation”—that there is a deep and cosmic problem with each one of us and with all of us. We all know that we are broken. Most of us know it is an irreparable break; not sickness, but sickness unto death.

Visiting temples, mosques, and shrines in East, South, and Southeast Asia it becomes clear that the human condition is in need of a fix. People light joss sticks in front of a family altar or in front of an image of Buddha. Hindu men carry heavy kavadis and pierce their cheeks, lips chest, and back to make atonement during Thaipusam. Chinese religionists bring food for the gods and goddesses and put gold leafing on a Buddha image or offer tea, gold sheets, or flowers for an image of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.

Which brings us close to our Christian concept of grace.[2]

As Christians, we accept fairly easily that God’s grace, expressed as unconditional forgiveness and acceptance is foundational. I still remember learning in high school (some lessons do stick with us) we can remember grace as “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.” It is not a bad way to remember that God’s grace is all about what God has done for us. It is all grace and mercy on God’s part, and humility on our part.

But the other key to the Christian life is not how it begins but what it entails. What does grace lead to? Upon receiving that grace, the riches of salvation and new life, we are now able to fulfill our human purpose: to glorify God by growing in holiness. What is the purpose of the life lived in grace? In a word: holiness, to be like God. “Be you holy as I am holy” (I Peter 1:15-16); that is our purpose or our destiny.

Grace and holiness. Access and purpose. Entry and fulfillment.

A Christian who has received grace but who does not see the need to strive toward holiness has not understood the power and purpose of grace.

And the Christian who seeks to please God without accepting the need for God’s forgiveness first (grace) has not understood the depth of his or her own sin.

We can not please God without God’s initiative through grace. And we do not have the power to change our sinful life (which is actually death) without surrender. But with grace we grow in holiness as we deepen this new life in Christ, seeking what he seeks for us, desiring his desires, and even weeping his tears.

And here is the remarkable truth: growing in holiness will happen through suffering, and it will become a witness to the world. Others will meet Christ, the suffering, humble, and beautiful Christ in us. Christ’s holiness begins to shine through us.

The Christian life is a matter of grace and holiness . . . for the sake of the world.


[1] Title for YHWH used most frequently in Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel.
[2] The Hebrew word Hesed contains the deeper meaning of grace we are referring to: love, unmerited and steadfast love, grace, and mercy. It is a great word describing God’s indescribable love offered to us.
[3] Read more in my recent “Grace” blog post.


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