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Paul F. M Zahl’s, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life – Part 2: On grace and the love of God

3 min 25 sec read

What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It is being loved when you are the opposite of loveable. The cliche definition of grace is “unconditional love.”

Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures.

It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold.

Grace is one-way love.

It is true in life that grace, one-way love, has the power to turn despair into hope. It is almost always some form of grace, some outside source of unexpected and unhoped for compassion and kindness, that creates the change from discouragement and despair to endurance and perseverance. Grace as one-way love is thus the opposite of law. Law depresses and incites. Grace enlivens and enables.

Grace depends on the fact that its origin is wholly outside myself. This is the heart of love: it comes to me from outside myself.

Moreover, while it almost always elicits a response, which is my love in return, it comes toward me without any reference to my response. One-way love does not deviate on the basis of its goal. It is determined solely by its source.

Grace is the victory of the absurd over the obvious. “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

The grace of God assumes the worst concerning the human situation. It assumes the lowest possible reading of our anthropology.

Grace, which is one-way love, happens only at the point at which hope is lost. 

Grace, Paul continues, is the only hope for the human race. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:23-24). This is theological language that admits the impotence of law before the success of grace. It is always a four-word sentence from God: law fails, grace succeeds. Grace does what the law cannot do.

Every word of Paul’s letter to the Galatians demolishes the law as having any enabling or creative powers to get people to change. At the same time, every sentence of Galatians sustains the content of the law. The problem is always how to get there, how to effect what the law requires. Only grace does that.

Liberty derives from grace, and it produces the things the law demands but cannot form.

The one-way love of grace supplants and supersedes, replaces even, two-way and half-way ideas of love. They do not work. Grace makes the change.

Grace concludes the story of the Bible. We can stand alongside one arresting image and lay down the case for God’s scriptural grace.

Grace begets grace. Law begets resistance.

Grace is the chemistry of the new life, and law is the modus operandi of the old life.

When you mix grace and law, the solution is no longer grace but casuistry, which is worse than law in law’s purity. The principles of grace and law must be kept strictly separate.

There is no synergism, or shared achievement, in the theater of grace.

Grace is about life from death, or better, life to the dead. When the Spirit raises the dead men’s bones to life and puts muscles on them and pumps blood into their muscles, the paradigm is not sickness and recovery. The paradigm is death and resurrection. That is the quality of grace. It responds to nothing whatsoever from our side, not a scintilla, not a sign of life, not the receptive wink of an eye. Grace is one-way love. It comes from outside.

On the love of God

The love of God, the true love of anyone, in fact, is a one-way love that travels from the deserving to the undeserving.

Grace as one-way love comes out of nowhere into a world determined by two-way love (“I will love you if you will love me”) and half-way way love (“I will love you but I need a little sign, just a little one”).

That’s what grace looks like

Paul F. M. Zahl. Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life. You can buy the book from Amazon

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Schulter Etyang leads The Life Place in Johannesburg, South Africa. Schulter is one whom Jesus loves. He loves his wife, Jenny, and enjoys reading, travelling, cooking, running and playing squash. He also enjoys conversations with friends about Jesus and about life.