Grace vs. Works: The Traffic Jam

Grace vs. Works

Stalled vehicles line this desolate stretch of desert highway—mine among them.

The broken down.  The empty.

Some dutifully get out and push.  Some sit by the side of the road, wondering at the absurdities of such a futile effort with no station in sight.

And pushing is absurd. The road is too long, the hills too steep, the sun too scorching.

No. We need fuel if we ever hope to make this journey.

All these normally wise, prudent folks have truly put cart before horse and set out without fueling up.  Destination: a great service station at the end of the road where, they are told, they will find all the fuel they will ever need.

At the end of the road?

And there you have it: the great, false debate of works and grace.

On this road trip of life, grace is the forgotten fuel for the dutiful work of miles.

When we strive to work without being fueled by the grace of Christ, we stall on the side of the highway.

And thankfully, it’s simply not true. Stations of grace line the highway.  Yet we pass them, even while we run on fumes—all the stations invisible to us as we myopically focus on working our way to that great gas station in the sky.

Yet you learned it in Sunday School, that in a just universe that only can reward the deserving, we undeserving creatures have been provided a merciful Savior to offer us the daily fuel we can’t earn so we can make this journey.

Our fuel isn’t earned by the miles we travel, just as our grace isn’t earned by our works. Grace is the free gift of Christ—it’s the divine love that fuels us simply as we open our eyes to it, believe he’s really there, start to feel his arms around us, and learn to trust that embrace.  We allow ourselves to feel and see his care—in the tender mercies, in the expanse of cloud, light and sky, in the coincidences, in the wind, water and trees, in the timely counsel, in the humor, in the quiet moments, in His Word, and in the miracles.  All of these signs of life-giving love—shimmering in an expanse of darkness that seeks to fill and blind our eyes.

We look for, even hunt for, the gifts all around us that point to His grace—that’s how we fuel up our tank of grace.

And when we are broken down, we can only begin again by asking.  Asking for the desire, the ability, the belief, the will, to look up, to believe and trust, that He—and his promised fuel—is right here and now, not just at the end of the line.

I know so, so many who have striven and worked themselves into empty exhaustion. The promise of the grace after all they can do simply wasn’t and isn’t enough to fuel their journey to the end.  We Mormons often live up to the evangelical accusations that we seek to earn our grace and work our way to heaven, and we blindly enter the grace/works debate, arguing against complacency with great fervor.  Fake it ’til you make it. That used to be my mantra. In our quest for the glorious end of the road, we don’t lose a beat with an empty tank—we just dutifully get out of our car and start to push, handcart-style, with our last ounce of self-sufficient pioneer strength.

Here are the same practical folks who would find it foolish to set out on a journey before stopping to fill up, yet will here explain with great sincerity that the miles traveled—the works—will earn them fuel—the grace. The Lord corrects: “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren (Luke 22:32).

There is a reason Faith comes before repentance.  Repentance is our continual effort to align our mortal selves with Divine will. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—that first principle—is the belief that we can trust the safety of that path.  Faith in action begins with opening our eyes to the stations of grace all around us, allowing Christ to fuel us and fill us with both desire and strength to do all the Spirit directs.

Exponentially more effective, works fueled by grace of Christ over the arm of the flesh are the difference between cruising the interstate and pushing our stalled car down the shoulder.  Grace-fueled works have the power to do more, impact more deeply, and arrive more timely than all your mortal self-sufficiency.

His burden truly is easy and light–as engine to bicep, as petrol to sweat.

Broken down, I too have sat in despair at the side of the road. My works were dead. My tires were flat. My hopes of any great station now or later—dashed.  Pushing seemed (and I still think is) futile and ridiculous. Then a kind fellow traveler suggested I look for station closer by than the mansions above—she told me there were stations of grace.  These undeserved stations I could access even from here—where I sat, broken.

It took strength to lift my eyes, strength I didn’t have, but I asked for it.  I simply asked and looked—the only work I could do.  It took just days, not months or years, of this looking before I began to see it, like a shimmering mirage through the heat across the road—there was the station of grace.  And more—dozens of them behind me—stations I had passed, even as I had ran, panicking, on empty. Now I saw them and shook my head at my needless emptiness.

With more looking, the stations of grace near me became crystal clear.  Without money and without price, I was brought in, fixed up, fueled up, and in time, again able to hit the road. The love of God, that grace, filled my heart and with it returned my desire to resume my work, my journey.

I set out again.  Slowly, but gratefully—mercifully.  No more running on guilt or guts or grind or grit.  With energy-efficient ease, even joy, I began to gladly cover the work of my life’s miles—fueled by my Savior’s grace.

That would have been a beautiful ending. But in time, I forget again, and the ever-present stations of grace fade to my eyes in this desert landscape.  Too often I again find myself stranded and forgetting, even as the Savior ever calls to remember.  I sit too long on the side of the road in exhaustion and self pity.  I stubbornly (and rightly, I think) refuse the ridiculous self-deception of righteously pushing my stalled vehicle.

But in time I remember again, ask again, and look again.  And every time I look, I again see the stations of grace that are and were always there.  Again without money, and without price—only asking and looking, but never deserving or earning—I am refilled for my journey.

2 thoughts on “Grace vs. Works: The Traffic Jam

  1. This is exquisitely lovely. What a metaphor. And what a poignant articulation of an under-recognized and under-explored fault-line underlying our faith…one that typically gets mentioned in broad stereotypes – but far less often explored with gentleness, care and…grace. Nicely done. Please keep writing! (:

  2. Very good, the grace is always there for us, but we do need to open our eyes to see it and allow for it to be extended to each of us, but it is always there for us to partake of. Works and Grace should not be separated they go together in the lords plan, the grace should fuel our works, our works don't fuel the grace because then it wouldn't be grace.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *