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The Ultimate Guide to Being a Christian in College
By Jeff Baxter
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Jeff Baxter
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGrace: The Priceless Gift
I try to love God and love others. It is really hard sometimes. —Billy, 16 The law detects, grace alone conquers sin. —Saint Augustine of Hippo Grace isn't a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It's a way to live. —Jacqueline Winspear The law tells me how crooked I am. Grace comes along and straightens me out. —Dwight L. Moody
Quick. What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word grace? Is it a girl's name? A prayer before a meal? A characteristic of a person? Depending on your background, the word grace might be familiar or foreign. I want to start here because grace is often misunderstood, but it is possibly the most important piece of the puzzle of following Jesus beyond high school. Without grace there is no Christian faith, no Bible, no personal God, and no salvation. Life would not be worth living without this five-letter word, and the college experience will not be as fulfilling. There will be moments when you will need to receive grace from God and people, but also need to extend grace on the road to the real world.
Have you ever received something you didn't work for, earn, or deserve? Doing good things didn't get it for you. Acting a certain way didn't earn it. You didn't clean up your behavior for a day or a week to deserve it. It was just given to you with no strings attached.
Imagine a man convicted of a horrendous crime he didn't commit. He goes to the gallows completely innocent. Now imagine you are the one who committed the crime. He is innocent. You are guilty. He did nothing wrong. You did everything wrong. He didn't work for, earn, or deserve an ignominious death. You did.
In the Bible there is a verse that says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Because of our sin, we work for, earn, and therefore deserve spiritual death. In the story above, you deserved to be hung. But the verse doesn't end there. It says, but. What a wonderful little word. God gave us a gift. Like the innocent man in the story, someone else took your punishment for you. Jesus Christ provided the gift of eternal life for all who believe in him (Acts 16:31). It's free. Just believe.
This gift of Jesus Christ is salvation completely and totally without works or effort on our part. You can do nothing to get it. God didn't look at you and see goodness and therefore give you his Son. He saw guilty garbage piled up in your life. This is called sin, and grace is the only way to clean it up. It is God's determination to move before us. It started as God was making the world, and it continued after Adam and Eve sinned against him in the garden (Genesis 3). God's grace stretched throughout the Old Testament by way of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and on through Moses, David, and the prophets. And it culminated in Jesus Christ on the cross, dying for our sins. We receive this grace by faith (Ephesians 2:8). Just believe in Jesus. That's it.
Have you heard the old song "Amazing Grace"? Here are some of the words written by the song's author, John Newton:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see. T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear The hour I first believed. Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; 'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far And Grace will lead me home.
Maybe you've sung that hymn. Grace is amazing, but I think we've lost sight of some of its luster. This is why I'm starting here. If you've already received this grace and Jesus is your Savior, always remember how incredible God's grace really is. If you've been wrestling with God recently or for some time, maybe you need to take a closer look at his free favor given to you today. He loves you right where you are and not because you deserve it.
Grace is to capture, embrace, and love with no expectation of something in return. God really did go ahead of you to show you incredible love through Christ's death on a cross. He is smiling in heaven for you. As a matter of fact, he is singing over you. Really. He's singing (see Zephaniah 3:17).
Did you know that the opening lines of almost every one of Paul's letters to the churches mention grace? Yes, he starts with a prayer, but that isn't what I mean. Paul starts with the word grace because he got what grace is all about. In Romans he says, "To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:7). In 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Paul says in some variation, "grace and peace to you." In 1 and 2 Timothy, he gets really creative and changes the introduction to say, "grace, mercy and peace."
Even Jesus's most trusted friend, John, wrote his introduction in Revelation with "grace and peace to you" (Revelation 1:4). Grace was fully understood and was embraced as a hallmark in the New Testament because Jesus embodied grace. Grace is the point of the gospel.
Receive and Grow
Did you know you can grow in grace, not just receive it? Grace is not a once-and-for-all stagnant event. Grace is a now-and-forever dynamic relationship. You and I can get it and grow in it, even during the college years. Even Jesus had God's grace on him as he grew. When Jesus was a boy, Luke tells us "the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him" (Luke 2:40).
God's desire is to give us more grace. We need to learn to rest and receive, not believing that we've somehow worked for it or earned it. More devotional time doesn't earn more grace from God. More time in prayer doesn't garner more grace. It was free when you embraced Jesus as Savior, and it continues to be free in the Christian life. Our God is a "forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love" (Nehemiah 9:17). Did you notice the word gracious? Even in the Old Testament, God handed out unmerited favor that would eventually be complete in the cross of Christ.
Recently, I saw a saying on the side of a plumber's truck that read, "There is no place too dark, too deep, or too dirty that we are not willing to go." In that moment I thought of Jesus. He went to the darkest, deepest, dirtiest place for us, taking our sin on himself in order to extend his grace our way.
Now that you understand what grace is all about and you get that you can receive it and grow in it, are you able to extend grace to others? This is where the rubber meets the road as you make your way into the real world. Remember, grace is a piece of your identity in Christ. There will be friends, coworkers, classmates, roommates, and professors who make grace-giving easy, because you get along so well with them. There will also be those people who will make giving grace feel a whole lot harder to do. A friend burns you. Do you extend him grace? A professor doesn't seem to like you. Do you give a little grace? A roommate never cleans up her dirty clothes. Do you hand her a grace card?
Oftentimes there are a few hindrances to our extending grace to people. First, we have this tendency to compare ourselves to others. We look around to see if everyone else is acting, speaking, and dressing like us, and if they're listening to the same music and watching the same movies that we are. If they aren't, they must be wrong, we think. Christians can be the guiltiest of comparing and judging others based on minor issues of the faith. Read that again. Notice that I didn't say major issues but minor ones.
There are essentials of the faith worth dying for, but I'm talking about those gray areas—what songs we sing, where we pray, what translation of the Bible we read, and so on. We seem to have this desire for all Christians to look alike, sound alike, and act alike; but our God is creative, and he didn't make us all the same. Second, we're hindered in extending grace because of our tendency to control. Every now and then I read the comics. Do you remember Peanuts with Charlie Brown? I saw one strip recently where Linus is sitting alone watching television. In storms Lucy demanding that he change the channel to the one she wants to watch. Rather meekly he asks, "What makes you think you can walk in and take over?" She blurts out, "These five fingers!", which she has tightened into a fist. It works. As she assumes control, Linus slips out of the room. He then looks at his own five fingers and asks, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?"
There are lots of "Lucys" in the world who want it all to revolve around them. You will run into people who want to tell everyone else what to do and how to do it, and if you don't file in accordingly, something bad is going to happen. It's hard to give grace to people like that. They don't deserve it, right? But that's why we get the honor of giving grace just like Jesus did for us. It's hard to show grace when we feel manipulated and abused, but remember the love Jesus showed us: "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Instead of withdrawing like Linus when you don't feel loved or appreciated, extend grace like Jesus.
As you make your way into new relationships and the exciting journey into the unknown, receive grace, grow in grace, and extend grace. Here are some tips for the journey. In front of and behind others' backs, speak words that are intended to build up, not bring down. Be selfless and focus on the needs of others above your own needs. Forgive an offense quickly and freely. Don't hold a grudge. Swallow your pride and say to everyone, "I'm sorry," "I was wrong," and "Please forgive me." Live your life with the goal of no regrets. Don't keep a "Kindness Score" with your roommate. Never give up on people just because they made a mistake. If you need perspective, look in the mirror and then look at the cross of Christ. Show people mercy when they don't deserve it. Finally, read 1 Corinthians 13 regularly so that your love is pure.
God's grace for you really is amazing. The more we know him, the more grace we have to give away. You will be blessed in this next chapter of your life if you do.
Questions for the Journey
1. What does grace mean to you? 2. Have you received the grace of God in Jesus Christ by making him your Savior? 3. How can you grow in grace during these transitional years? 4. What is the hardest part about getting, giving, and growing in grace? 5. Who could you extend more grace to this week?
Excerpted from The Ultimate Guide to Being a Christian in College by Jeff Baxter Copyright © 2012 by Jeff Baxter . Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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