Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It's not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you're already in—insiders—not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. If it's an initiation ritual you're after, you've already been through it by submitting to baptism. Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ's Cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets. — Colossians 2:11-15, The Message
The depths of grace may be the most difficult thing for American Christians to wrap our minds around. We are so deeply rooted in the Protestant Work Ethic that we, almost by accident, ignore the marvelous workings of grace. There is something deep within us that bucks against the idea that grace is completely disconnected from merit.
We desperately want to “earn” things. There is nothing more significant than God’s pleasure, therefore, we have constructed systems to earn that pleasure. Now, let’s be clear nobody says, “Hey! Here’s our system for pleasing God!” Nah, that doesn’t really happen. But, there is social pressure that makes it clear what the system is.
When I was a missionary to college students our organization had a merit based system that determined whether or not God was pleased with us. Again, nobody stated it outright, it just was. The system included “quiet times,” “evangelistic conversations,” “prayer time,” and “scripture memory.” There were plenty other merit gaining tasks, but these were the most prominent. None of these things in and of themselves are bad. They are actually very good things. Problems arise with the “why.”
Grace is not something that we can obtain.
Grace cannot be bought.
Grace is simply a gift given. It’s given before we do anything. It’s just there.
Grace is the air we breathe.
Grace is the beauty all around us.
Grace is the ultimate reality.
This is what Paul means when he says, “Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve.”
All of this is centered on the cross.
I love the way N.T. Wright and Michael Bird put it in their The New Testament In Its World, “The cross is the surest, truest, and deepest window on the very heart and character of the living and loving God; the more we learn about the cross, in all its historical and theological dimensions, the more we discover about the One in whose image we are made, and hence about our own vocation to be the cross-bearing people, the people in whose lives and service the living God is made known.”
Grace frees us to live this way.