row in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).” This is the verse that the Lord used that started me on a year challenge to grow in my understanding of grace. Throughout all my years as a believer, grace was something that I kind of understood, but not really. I read about it, spoke about it, and could loosely explain it, but I never truly grasped it. This 1-year challenge to understand grace changed my understanding of God, my counsel, and my life. It’s still hard to grasp fully, yet to grow in grace is to grow in life and faith.
Today, I wanted to look at the most important truth that all Moral Operators ought to consider, and that is the necessity for Grace. Grace is a difficult truth to comprehend for anyone, let alone the Moral Operator. Due to the intangibleness of grace, meaning that it is not in itself observable or measurable (though the effects in a person’s life are more so), it remains a struggle for many Moral Operators.
As I read Paul’s letters in the New Testament, I would label him as the most Influential Moral Operator of the Bible. Since Moral Operators tend to be attracted to laws, standards, or rules, it would be safe to say that most Pharisees or teachers of the Law were living in a Moral Operating System. Paul identified himself as a “pharisee” (Php 3:5, Acts 23:6) and son of a a pharisee, and we are told of his actions (prior to conversion – as Saul) and his zealousness for the law – how he was trained in the law and supported himself by giving “consequences” for those who disobeyed the law (persecuting Christians), etc. – we can probably conclude that Saul/Paul was a Moral Operator.
As Saul was living by the law and persecuting the Christians, he had a life-changing experience on the Road to Damascus. He was stopped and approached in a miraculous way by a Relational Jesus. Jesus simply asked him this, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). This question has profound implications for Saul. Though he was blinded by the light, he began to see for the first time that his understanding and actions, ones that he thought were right, were actually wrong. Not only wrong, but his thinking and subsequent actions had personally impacted Jesus Christ. Now, Saul wasn’t a believer at this point, but after such a supernatural experience with Jesus, he certainly became one.
After considering his horrible actions and the Lord’s call for him to be an instrument for Christ, and after receiving gospel training, Saul (now named Paul) became aware of a different law at work. He moved from living by the law of works, to living by the law of grace. Grace became a topic he wrote about frequently and included in his letters to the churches. Most of Paul’s letters started with the following exhortation: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul spoke about grace regularly so that the people of God would know that “it is by grace you are saved, not by works.” Paul’s recognition of the grace of God would move him from being a person who thinks in morally to one who thinks more relationally through grace. That is, our relationship with God is not one that is earned by us, but one that occurs only by the grace and mercy of God through Christ.
Now, does this mean that Paul ceased all moral operating? I don’t think so entirely, but I do think the Moral Operating decreased significantly with the inclusion of Grace in his life. Paul still called for strict consequences for those who sinned, but he also was willing to show grace and mercy to those who asked for forgiveness (see 1 Cor 5:11-12, Titus 3:9-11, 2 Cor 2:5-11).
If you are a Moral OIperator longing to grow in your faith and relationships with those around you, I would strongly recommend growing in your understanding and application of grace. One great book on Grace is called Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. This resource will help you to see how we set up laws in our hearts for ourselves and people and how we can live by grace. (For another blog on this, click here.) Don’t simply read a book on grace and be done, but surround yourself with godly men or women to comprehend grace and apply it to your lives and relationships. It was meeting Jesus and his grace that transformed Saul and set him on a new course for his life and relationships with God and others, and it is the understanding and application of grace that will transform our lives, too.