As we wrap up a week’s worth of thoughts on grace, mercy and forgiveness I want to offer some encouragement in the form of a reality check: grace happened once on the cross but it happens for us over a lifetime.
The story of John Newton, author of the hymn Amazing Grace is often told in breathless wonder as that of a slave trader who prayed for God to spare him, was spared, and turned his life around, renouncing the evils of slavery. Which is true, but not in the immediacy the re-telling implies.
The real story, as told by Newton himself, is that yes, he considered that moment on the ship at age 23 (in 1748) as his “conversion.” But he took at least three more slave trading voyages and then retired in 1754 with health problems. Ten years later he was ordained into ministry at the age of 39. And it wasn’t until 1788, 34 years after leaving the trade, that he finally wrote a public renunciation of slavery after prodding from William Wilberforce. In short, he was an evolving story of grace and transformation lived out – over a lifetime.
What evils have I participated in that I have yet to face or renounce? What habitual sins feel enslaving and impossible to overcome? What areas of growth do I long for and seem to never find? How incomplete must the process of my grace be?
And yet, somehow, this is ok. God is working it out – has worked it out – in and for us.
Richard Rohr puts it another way in his mind-blowing book Immortal Diamond:
“Once you have encountered this True Self – and once is more than enough – the False Self will begin to fall away on its own. This will take most of your life, however, just as it did in Jesus.”
So take heart – grace has come, and is coming.
Grace and Peace,