Going the Distance Into the Depths of Grace


That’s a scary word for college students.  I remember the class.  A few of us picked up the concepts quickly.  The rest prayed and stayed up late with homework and energy drinks.  We went to tutors who confused us a little more. We bought extra books—Stats Whiz! Become a Statistician in an Hour—that didn’t help much.  We went to prep sessions for quizzes and figured we might want to choose a different major, like police sketch artist, or well…anything that didn’t intersect stats.  In a vulnerable moment one guy even told me he was close to tears.  He’d probably never admit to it today, though.

The point is, everybody had the same material to learn, but different experiences while learning it.

The Christian life works the same way.  Yes, we’re all going through different things at different times, but we’re learning the identical subject matter enclosed in 66 books.  Consider Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Their lives are actually a template for all believers.

Of the three, the story of Isaac’s life occupies the shortest space in the book of Genesis.  The Bible focuses less on what he did and more on what he was.  Isaac is typically known as the “child of promise.”  He embodies grace, which means God’s free act of giving.  Free. That’s attractive sounding, but difficult to grasp.  We don’t trust the concept of “free” very much.  At my house, anything that arrives in the mail saying “Free” on it, earns a trip straight to the trash.

But the grace of God is real.

In Genesis, God had promised a son to Abraham and Sarah.  They were old, past the age of childbearing, so this baby was supposed to be a free gift to them.  But it was difficult for them to take the promise at face value.  After all, from the human perspective, reproduction looked impossible.

Since it began to take a long time, both Abraham and Sarah decided to do various things to “help” God’s promise come true a little faster.  At one point Abraham tried to name his servant as legal heir of his estate.  Abraham probably thought that’s what God meant when He promised me offspring—it was just a figure of speech.  But God further clarified by telling Abraham that his heir would actually come from his physical body.

Still, grace is tough to believe.  Since Sarah was nursing home age, she assumed that the baby would be Abraham’s, but not hers.  No way.  She went and got her servant woman, Hagar, and gave the woman to Abraham as a surrogate.  Sarah thought, “The child will be mine by adoption.”  Abraham agreed with the arrangement.  The result was a son, but not the one God promised.

Then the Lord did His work of grace—a miracle apart from their manipulations.  Genesis 21:1 said the Lord promised, the Lord visited, the Lord did. The old lady had a baby.  In v. 6 Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me.”  That’s the result of grace—happiness, refreshment, relief, amazement.  Sarah added, “All who hear will laugh over me” because grace is catching.  It spreads.  Once it gets into a person, it affects the whole environment.  She even named the boy Isaac, which means laughter.

Galatians 4:28 says we believers, as Isaac, are children of promise.  Your second birth was a miracle because at some point in your life, three things have taken place:  God visited, God promised, and God did.  Hopefully, you rejoiced.

First, God spoke a promise.  It was through others, no doubt, but He promised salvation to you in the name of Jesus.  When you believed, then He visited.  He came to your heart with his Holy Spirit, and then He did something—He regenerated you, gave you new life.  It was the second birth.

In a manner of speaking, I tried to pull this off a few times—the whole “make yourself a good Christian guy.”  It would never stick past a week.  Then I ran into grace and God did what I couldn’t do. That was thirty years ago.

But Isaac’s story doesn’t end with his remarkable birth. The grace of God keeps going.  Isaac was born into wealth, so we don’t seem him working, struggling, to gather riches.  They were his from the start.  That’s grace.  This is like Ephesian 1:3 where it says God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

We all start in the position of incredible glories (read all of Ephesians chapter 1).  We don’t try to earn them.  Sometimes believers focus on stuff they don’t have, and spend a lot of time trying to gather it.  We don’t know or appreciate what already belongs to us.  If we did, the anger and bitterness would subside.  We’d laugh because we could.

Grace creates a lot of odd juxtapositions.  That’s why we can laugh while crying, rest while working, be filled while wanting, and hope while in the pit of disappointment.

And that’s why, regardless of what’s on your driver’s license, your name is always just Isaac.


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