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The Mathematics of Grace

Posted By Tullian Tchividjian On June 14, 2013 @ 7:21 am In Uncategorized | 10 Comments

[1]I love the way Philip Yancey describes the discrepancy between our instincts and God’s instincts in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? [2]

By instinct I feel I must do something in order to be accepted. Grace sounds a startling note of contradiction, of liberation, and every day I must pray anew for the ability to hear its message.

Eugene Peterson draws a contrast between Augustine and Pelagius, two fourth-century theological opponents. Pelagius was urbane, courteous, convincing, and liked by everyone. Augustine squandered away his youth in immorality, had a strange relationship with his mother, and made many enemies. Yet Augustine started from God’s grace and got it right, whereas Pelagius started from human effort and got it wrong. Augustine passionately pursued God; Pelagius methodically worked to please God. Peterson goes on to say that Christians tend to be Augustinian in theory but Pelagian in practice. They work obsessively to please other people and even God.

Each year in spring, I fall victim to what the sports announcers diagnose as “March Madness.” I cannot resist the temptation to tune in to the final basketball game, in which the sole survivors of a sixty-four-team tournament meet for the NCAA championship. That most important game always seems to come down to one eighteen-year-old kid standing on a freethrow line with one second left on the clock. He dribbles nervously. If he misses these two foul shots, he knows, he will be the goat of his campus, the goat of his state. Twenty years from now he’ll be in counseling, reliving this moment. If he makes these shots, he’ll be a hero. His picture will be on the front page. He could probably run for governor. He takes another dribble and the other team calls time, to rattle him. He stands on the sideline, weighing his entire future. Everything depends on him. His teammates pat him encouragingly, but say nothing.

One year, I remember, I left the room to answer a phone call just as the kid was setting himself to shoot. Worry lines creased his forehead. He was biting his lower lip. His left leg quivered at the knee. Twenty thousand fans were yelling, waving banners and handkerchiefs to distract him. The phone call took longer than expected, and when I returned I saw a new sight. This same kid, his hair drenched with Gatorade, was now riding atop the shoulders of his teammates, cutting the cords of a basketball net. He had not a care in the world. His grin filled the entire screen.

Those two freeze-frames—the same kid crouching at the free throw line and then celebrating on his friends’ shoulders—came to symbolize for me the difference between ungrace and grace.

The world runs by ungrace. Everything depends on what I do. I have to make the shot.

Jesus calls us to another way, one that depends not on our performance but his own. We do not have to achieve but merely follow. He has already earned for us the costly victory of God’s acceptance.

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10 Comments To "The Mathematics of Grace"

#1 Comment By Christina On June 14, 2013 @ 9:44 am

Love this! Thanks for sharing!

#2 Comment By Randy On June 14, 2013 @ 11:37 am

You do know that the Word does talk about other attributes of God other than grace and that there are some people that don’t always default to performance in their relationship with God?

#3 Comment By the Old Adam On June 14, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

Wrath…and grace.

Romans is big on both. The wrath of God will certainly fall upon ALL.

Jesus came that we might know His grace.

#4 Comment By Christina On June 14, 2013 @ 1:11 pm

How can I get involved in the mission of Liberate? I’m having trouble accessing the website – getting a message that it is running scripts. I’ll try a different computer.

#5 Comment By G & N On June 14, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

such an interesting contrast between those two…
amazing read. made me cry! loved it – thanks :)

#6 Comment By butterlight On June 14, 2013 @ 8:07 pm


{a response to your concern about too much grace}

Yes, there are other topics in the Christian life and other attributes in the life of God, yet isn’t it interesting that like telling time which is expressed in relation to the top of the hour, so is Grace.

There are other things we can and should talk about, but those things eventually come around to “the top of the hour.”

rich in Christ

#7 Comment By anonymous On June 15, 2013 @ 7:28 am

I think maybe Randy(above)is saying to speak of all the workings of grace –
grace to be converted; grace to be kept; grace to be sustained; grace to endure; grace to be transformed; grace to delight in the things of God; grace to love God and others more; grace to more see things as the Lord does; grace for neck unstiffening; grace to fight the lust of the flesh and eyes and the boastful pride of life; grace for true hope; grace to desire to exalt the name of Jesus.

Yes, LORD, walking in the way of Your laws, we wait for You; Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. Isa 26:8

#8 Comment By Diane On June 16, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

I need to be reminded every day of the grace God provides. Thank you Tullian.

#9 Comment By P St Jean On June 20, 2013 @ 10:59 am

I had to share this post on FB

#10 Comment By Randy On June 28, 2013 @ 11:17 am

No Randy is talking about the love of God – Romans 8:38,39, the power of God, the patience of God, the peace of God, the mercy of God, the kindness of God, the sovereignty of God, the knowledge of God, the wisdom of God, the gentleness of God,etc.

Article printed from Tullian Tchividjian: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian

URL to article: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2013/06/14/the-mathematics-of-grace/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/files/2013/06/kaskaderoomforhappiness.jpg

[2] What’s So Amazing About Grace?: http://www.amazon.com/Whats-So-Amazing-About-Grace/dp/0310213274/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1370897307&sr=1-1