So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus … by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:7-8a)
The Apostle Paul speaks in these verses of the grace and kindness of God, by which he has saved us and through which he continues to transform our lives in Christ. This forward-looking promise recognizes that God is opening up a new future for us each day. In our daily lives of faith, our Lord is driving us forward to the coming ages where his kingdom will be fulfilled in us. As Paul says, the riches of God’s grace are “immeasurable.”
Yet, unfortunately, there is something in us as human beings that wants to measure. As sinners, born under the law, we suffer from a persistent need to know how well we are doing. We want to measure our progress and gauge our success, even in spiritual matters. This is especially true in relation to others. Like the Pharisee in the temple who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men …” (Luke 18:11), it is easy for us to fall for the appealing lure of human merit, taking pride in the advances we have made in faith and the accomplishments we have achieved in our lives as Christians.
In the Church today, you see this phenomena in many discussions of Christian Discipleship. Too often, talk of discipleship centers around our progress in disciplines — all of which may be very good things. Do I pray more than I used to? How am I keeping up with daily reading of Scripture? Have I demonstrated a witness that lets others know I am a Christian? Of course, all these ways we practice the faith are essential to discipleship. But are they really a “measure” of discipleship?
When Jesus told the parable of the mustard seed in Luke 13:18-19, he spoke of the smallest of seeds which would one day become the largest of shrubs. Yet, he makes no mention of personal progress. Nowhere is the mustard plant encouraged to measure itself, as if its growth were a personal achievement. Rather, the parable conveys the promise of a God who gives the growth.
God says: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
What if it were true, as Scripture says it is, that our life of faith is “not our own doing; it is the gift of God”? What if this grace that God bestows is truly something that we cannot measure? What would that look like in our lives as Christians?
When is comes to Discipleship, how might we talk about our lives as followers of Christ, not in terms of personal achievement and spiritual progress, but in terms of the promise and faithfulness of God? Perhaps it is in only giving up our desire to “measure” our faith as disciples that we truly get to experience “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).
– Rev. Steven E. King