When I was 15, I finally understood the grace of God for the first time. I wanted to drive more than I wanted to breathe, so I asked my grandmother if I could take her 1969 Mercury Comet convertible, cherry red, out of the garage and drive it into the backyard where I would wash it. She said yes, so I backed it out slowly, and maneuvered it down a gentle slope into the yard. The sky was blue, the birds were singing, the radio was playing, I was driving a convertible: life was good. Then I pulled a 15 and hit the gas pedal instead of the brake. The car exploded forward, slamming into a fine upstanding specimen of our North Carolina state tree. The tree didn’t move. The front end of that beautiful Mercury folded up like an accordion, everything on the seats slid violently into the floor, I went into shock, and my grandmother, who stood close by and watched the whole thing, nearly wet herself from laughing so hard. I looked at her with my mouth open and finally stammered, “What are you laughing at? I just wrecked your car!” She said, still laughing, “Oh, Mark, if you could have seen your face when you hit that tree, you’d be laughing, too.” Then after I told her, my head in my hands, that I didn’t know how I would ever pay for the damages, she said the most shocking thing of all. “You will not pay for this. I will, and the only way anybody besides you and I will ever know about this is if you tell them.” Then she gave me a hug, we started cleaning up the mess together, and I understood the grace of God. My grandmother never spoke of it again, loved me just as much as before, and gave me much more than I deserved every day.
When I wrecked my life, slamming it into sin in more ways than I want to tell you about in this column, Jesus was right there, and he saw the whole thing. When I told him I didn’t know how I could ever pay for my sins against him, he said he had already taken care of it. He gave me grace, not just for salvation, but for every moment of every day that I will live and breathe this side of heaven. That grace was not free, just like that car repair in 1972 was not free. It cost Jesus his life to pay for my sins and to pay for the grace he would freely give me every day of my life. That is why I love him, and that is why I follow him. It is not ‘greasy grace’ or ‘sloppy agape,’ as we used to call it in the 1970’s. No, his grace does not give me license to live any way I want to live. Instead it gives me power to live in a way that is pleasing to God.
When I shared this story in Moldova in January in 8 different places, the people all laughed when my grandmother laughed. Then they got quiet as they understood that the grace that comes from Jesus Christ is not something they could ever earn. One man handed me a letter written in Romanian at the end of one of my seminars. After having it translated by someone there, I could read it for myself:
Dear Mark – thank you for taking the time and coming to teach about what is written in Scripture. I wanted to say that I understand grace better today. I knew that grace is a gift from the God most High, but never realized that it is not a reward. Today my eyes were opened to the truth even more. Thank you! Sergiu
I am so thankful for my grandmother who taught me about grace, and to the Lord for his costly gift freely given every day. But I do remain very cautious when driving anywhere around pine trees.