Why Grace Can Be So Hard to Receive

I was driving by a car wash near our Utah home for the fiftieth or sixtieth time and once again saw the sign hanging there. It read, “Free vacuum.” Part of me had been avoiding this for the past three months. “C’mon, Johnson, don’t be a sucker,” my rational side screamed at me. “Nothing is free! There’s always a catch.” Thinking about the many strands of hair in my back seat, compliments of my two Golden Retrievers who often come with me to pick up my youngest daughter at her elementary school, I decided to give it a shot.

As I drove closer, I saw a half dozen vacuums, all turned on and just waiting for someone to come along and put them to use. As I took the nozzle back and forth across the fabric seats—dog hairs flying—I kept thinking that this just didn’t feel right, that somebody was going to come over and ask me what I was doing and if I had paid. Perhaps this is a common feeling is because every other car wash facility has a different sign, warning violators that “Vacuums are for customers only!!!” Nobody ever came to tell me what I was doing was wrong. It was, as advertised, a “free vacuum.”

It reminded me of the story of a young girl who one day decided she wanted to bless others by setting up a table and giving away lemonade. This was unusual, and hence hardly anyone took her up on the offer. Then a wise man walked up to her and suggested she charge 25 cents a cup and give the money away to charity. She acted on that advice, and the customers lined up.  They were thirsty, but they just couldn’t handle this concept of “free.”

I think back to when I was in Manti, Utah last June. A long-time Mormon (whom I had met that day) and I had a very nice conversation in the city park. We must have spent three hours one afternoon talking about our faith. This gentleman, who appeared to be in his mid-40s, held some common misconceptions about basic Christian doctrines (i.e. Trinity, Jesus, salvation, etc.) that really needed to be cleared up. At the end of our chat, he still didn’t believe that what I was saying was true (“It doesn’t feel right to me,” he told me several times), but he told me how much he appreciated the conversation because he better understood Evangelical Christianity.  Before he left, I was able to pray for him and his family, as he was actively looking for a job.

The next day, he came back to the park and we talked some more. As our conversation was winding down, my friend Ron—who had followed the conversation both days—took a $20 bill out of his pocket and tried to hand it to this gentleman. Ron was met with a blank stare rather than a hand held out to receive his gift.  “What’s this for?” the gentleman asked nicely. Ron explained that he had recently received a major inheritance and so he wanted to share the $20 with him. “Buy your family dinner tonight,” Ron said. “I want to bless you.” But the gentleman wouldn’t take it. ““Thank you, but I just can’t accept it.  I didn’t do anything to earn that.” I could see in his eyes that he so badly wanted to take the money, but because he hadn’t earned it, he refused.

I wonder how many other people who drive by the Firehouse Car Wash have a hard time stopping and using the free vacuums, especially in this state of Utah where Mormonism stresses works over grace. But it’s offered at no cost to the user. All I had to do was drive in and claim my gift. In Mormonism, great stress is placed on observing the ordinances. Yet Paul wrote in Galatians 2:21b that “if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.”  It grieves me when I see so many people who live around me—good, moral people with honorable intentions—unable to understand the meaning of a free gift, no strings attached.

Just as there’s a chance to vacuum your car for free and there’s a $20 bill held out for the taking, God offers us salvation by grace through faith, truly a free gift despite the fact that it cost my Savior everything He had. I can’t imagine my life without it.

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21 Responses to Why Grace Can Be So Hard to Receive

  1. f_melo says:

    That´s one of my favorite posts.

    I can relate to how that man felt when he refused the money, i´d probably do the same because of what you mentioned earlier, that instinct that there´s a catch. It´s also complicated because if someone did that to me, my pride would have instantly reminded me of the gratitude and kindness i´d have to show towards a person whom i though i was spiritually superior to.

    I remember on my mission meeting people that by talking to them i knew had far more Charity(the pure love of Christ) than me, and to be honest that got me on the defensive and i wondered at the same time how that was possible since they didn´t have the gift of the Holy Ghost.

    "especially in this state of Utah where Mormonism stresses works over grace"

    I agree with you, that attitude is strongly conditioned by the Mormon Church, that there´s nothing free, that God can´t bless you unless you "keep" the commandments, that you earn your exaltation by your good works, etc., and i have to say that is poison to the soul because little by little it sucks genuine love out of you(at least it did to me), and it also creates a shield of pride that is very hard to recognize and only the true Jesus can destroy.

  2. Sarah says:

    I have a question that I've been turning over in my mind for a while.

    Mormon.org lists God's commandments as the following (and in this order): the two great commandments, pray often, study the scriptures, keep the sabbath holy, baptism and confirmation, follow the prophet, obey the ten commandments, live the law of chastity, obey the word of wisdom, keep the law of tithing, observe the law of the feast, obey and honor the law, intelligent obedience.

    My question is, what kind of good works are those? And if Jesus's two great commandments are (1) love the lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and then (2) love your neighbor as yourself — how do ANY of the commandments I listed above constitute "good works" toward others or even towards God?

    Because from my view, they are only works that will further the self.

  3. Brian says:

    Dear Eric,

    Thanks so much for sharing this story about the Firehouse Car Wash and the wonderful conversation you had at the park at Manti.

    Often when we share with others the Good News of what God in Christ has done for us, it seems difficult for the listener to believe. However, it is very likely that you planted many seeds those two days at the park. Your LDS friend was very willing to listen, and quite cordial. Sometimes seeds can take time to grow.

    It's my prayer that your LDS friend may think back to this conversation in the park, and remember the joy and peace which God has given you. That he may be drawn to God by His love.

  4. f_melo says:

    "if Jesus's two great commandments are (1) love the lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and then (2) love your neighbor as yourself — how do ANY of the commandments I listed above constitute "good works" toward others or even towards God?"

    Now if you want your mind to twist think about this mormon paradox. They will teach that when you serve others you´re serving God(the parable of the sheep and the goats, in their point of view), yet they need those works to earn exaltation, therefore when they are supposedly serving others the only ones they are really serving are themselves – and i´ve seen that point emphasized quite often when leaders wanted to motivate the members to work in their callings, that when they served others, they were in fact working towards their very own exaltation in the highest degree of glory.

    That´s one of the reasons why Salvation by works doesn´t work! It doesn´t allow your good works to be genuine, purely from the desire to love others.

    Sarah, the only objection i have with your comment is that Jesus´ two great commandments were only a summary of the Law. God did require of Israel many of the items in your list, and as Jesus said, "if you love me, keep my commandments". God determined by the Ten Commandments what were good works towards Himself and towards people in general.

  5. Sarah says:

    Oh, I totally agree with those two as a summary of the law and "if you love me, keep my commandments". My comment was just going with what's explicitly said on the mormon.org site under the "Our Faith" and then "God's Commandments" heading found here: http://mormon.org/commandments/

    Jesus simplifies God's commandments with these two when he's asked what the greatest commandment is. My belief is that ALL of God's commandments CAN be summed up in those two that Jesus says. Because to love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind means that you do love God completely and since you love Him, you do His will.

    Remember in the original post, this Bible verse: Galatians 2:21b.

    The point I was trying to make in my comment is that the Mormon church has this list of God's commandments, and they treat them as though they are necessary for salvation. But Paul reminds us that it's God's grace and Christ's death that was necessary for our salvation.

    My other point was that of doing "good works". The faith v. works argument is not a new one, of course. But I truly believe that we are saved through faith, by grace, unto good works. But these good works? They should never "exalt" or glorify us. They are done because we love Jesus and want to glorify Him. It's because we are saved that we want to live a Christ-filled life. My point was that all of the commandments and requirements of the Mormon church (including temple endowments, tithing – since it's to the church- , temple marriage, etc.) are done for personal exaltation and not to exalt God in Heaven.

    The rejection of the gift of grace by the Mormon church, substituting it for requirements for worthiness, shows that the ultimate goal of a Mormon is personal exaltation. When the ultimate goal of a Christian is a humbling acceptance of grace so that we might spend an eternity glorifying God (not ourselves).

  6. Patricia says:

    "observe the law of the feast"
    unfortunately, i think that was a typo…

  7. falcon says:

    When ever we enter a conversation like this, it's so easy to get into an argument with Mormons about what "grace" is. I wasn't doing this blog business for too long when it dawned on me that the "discussion" was really pretty stupid because we (Christians, Mormons) weren't talking about the same thing. "Grace" in Mormonism has a totally different meaning because Mormonism has no relation to Christianity. The "grace" that Mormons talk about makes perfect sense in their religion. Salvation, in Mormonism, is a two tier experience. The first phase is a type of salvation that everyone who ever lived gets. The second phase is the Mormon "You Can Become a God" program. Now this latter program has an element of what Mormons call "grace" in it. Let's face it, no one is going to get to be a Mormon god without serving the Mormon church. Mormonism is like that Roman slave ship in the movie Ben Hur. The slaves are held captive in the galley and told to "row well and live". In this one scene, the new "admiral" comes into the galley of the ship that Ben Hur is a slave on and decides to take out that boat and see what she can do. As the drummer keeping the beat for the rowing cadence quickens the pace, the slaves start keeling over. It was really natural selection as the strongest held up to the pace. In Mormonism these would be those earning their deity status. They rowed their bodies into exhaustion, working on the Roman slave ship, but survived the ordeal.
    Mormonism is a fraud and the "rowers" are getting scammed. In the end they all die without a proper reward.
    Incidentally, Ben Hur, being a Jew and recognizing the true God, was eventually delivered from the galley and through a series of circumstances received the true grace of the living God as he was rescued by our Lord. As the Word says, "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the World". Knowing the real God, the real Jesus and the real Holy Spirit leads someone to the true grace of God which is through faith in the finished work of the cross.
    The gift is free. We don't deserve it. We can't earn it. God offers us salvation through His love and mercy.

  8. falcon says:

    Not to simplify this too much but the reason Mormon "grace" is different than the grace that is revealed in both the OT and NT is 1) Mormons don't follow the Bible and 2) Mormons think they are going to become gods. This god paradigm isn't the idea that men will become "like" God in character. No they believe they will become full fledged gods, having their own planets to rule and minions that will love, adore and pray to them seeking the gods favor. Blinded by this lie, Mormons circumvent the clear teaching of God's Word and exchange it for their own personal glory.
    Salvation is plainly taught as sinful men in need of a Savior, who will absolve them of their sins through faith. Having made peace with God through the Cross, Jesus reaches out to mankind with His nail scarred hand, offering this free gift.
    If someone gets God wrong, they get it all wrong. This is the face of Mormonism. Having rejected God and His plan of salvation, they also reject the grace He has extended to those who are willing to accept Him.

  9. Sarah says:

    LOL. Nice catch, Patricia. I was like, what do you mean, I made a typo? And I went back and looked and saw it said "fast" not feast. That's so funny, because I read it "feast" and really just didn't understand that at all…

  10. Violet says:

    I am Lutheran Missouri Synod and I like knowing that I am a sinner and a saint simultaneously. I am a poor miserable sinner and rely on Him for mercy. Without Him, I am a wretch. (Amazing Grace.) Being a poor miserable sinner, puts everything into perspective. Grace is not a free gift that I pull my car up to and get a free vacuum. Its more of Audrey Hepburn in the movie when she is a nun, and lies down on the cold stone floor with her arms outstretched begging for God's mercy. Its a beautiful thing, that He loves me for everything I am NOT, not who I am.

  11. Violet says:

    Exactly. Self-improvement. My friend is almost like a stepford wife. Not saying all mormons are or anything like that. Her heart is huge, she is perfect in every way, like a princess. (I am jealous of course.) But here is the problem. She is educated, married to a doctor, yet cannot make one decision without confirming, affirming, getting four-hundred approvals. Its the whole, I hope I am worthy thing, that she is stepping on egg shells. I know she has peace and contentment in the Lord, what I am saying is this whole self-improvement thing has brought her incredible judgment on everyone and everything, yet has brought her no self-confidence, because in her head, its always, I can do more, be more, there is someone else that is more. I like the Pope's idea, pray, pray, pray. (John Paul II). She asked me once what to do, and I said 'Pray about it.' And she said, 'Oh, yeah.' Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, you would think that would be the first option. Its a lot about men, (women) and their opinion. Be a witness can go almost overboard, and they become too perfect. She is a chef and cannot have cooking wine in her cupboards because people might get the wrong idea. Who? The food police. And her children are perfect. The burden of having straight A's, gifted children, every activity, music lesson, being an example of her church to a whole neighborhood, its a lot for one lady to take. Its too much for her (as well as the kids.) Be happy and pray, that would be a good motto. That doesn't mean Sodom and Gomorrah (sp?) will break out.

  12. Dale says:

    This is a terrific post. Thanks for sharing!

  13. falcon says:

    I was reading a "testimony" by an exMormon woman on another blog. I found her path out of Mormonism quite interesting. What she did was sit down with what is known as the four standard works of the Mormon church and a pad of paper. She then did a side-by-side comparison of what each of these works had to say about God. Her findings pointed out that what God reveals about Himself in the Bible and what Joseph Smith wrote about God in the BoM were pretty close (to the Bible). However when she examined the other two "standard" works of Mormonism, she found that the "god" contained within these works was diametrically opposed to who God says He is in the Bible.
    She of course had a decision to make. She couldn't, for convenience sake, just stuff it and move on. Through God's "grace" she came to know Him as the God of the Bible and knowing Him brought her to salvation through Jesus Christ. See here's how it works. Only God can offer someone salvation through grace, which is a free gift. All other so called gods can offer people all sorts of promises but since they aren't real, the promises (they offer) are not real.
    It's really that simple. Only God can save us from our sins. Only the shed blood of Christ can atone for our misdeeds.
    To you Mormons, as difficult as this may be to come to, the fact of the matter is Joseph Smith made it up. You will either choose to follow the Bible and the truth that is revealed there, or you will choose to follow Joseph Smith. It really is "Jesus or Joseph". Being locked in a culture of religion with its aberrant and false beliefs is a trap that is difficult to break free from. But God through His grace, offers away out. It is free. You can't earn it and you don't deserve it. There is no other option for a person desiring to spend eternity with God but to come to Him on His terms. His terms are laid out very plainly in the Bible. No other revelation is needed, especially one that disagrees with what God has already revealed about Himself and His plan for mankind.

  14. falcon says:

    Catholic theology draws a distinction between "actual" grace and "sanctifying" grace. Sanctifying grace could be thought of as that grace that God extends to us for our salvation. Actual grace is grace that God provides for us as we live out the Christian life in our "acts". One example of actual grace, I think, is written about by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 verses 7-10. Paul talks about his "thorn in the flesh" and of his entreating of the Lord to remove it. God responded to Paul by saying, "My grace is sufficient for you, for (My) power is perfected in weakness."
    So in facing this challenge in his life Paul understood that the problem wasn't going any where. In fact I believe that God uses "thorns" to perfect us in Christ Jesus. Most of us really don't care much for thorns. I know I don't. But just like Paul, we need to gain a different perspective on what thorns can do for us rather than to us.
    Jesus had His own crown of thorns and in fact the night before He died He asked God if this "cup" couldn't pass from Him. Jesus knew however, that His mission was the redemption of mankind. He couldn't reject the cup but had to drink from it. I probably have more questions than answers when it comes to trials and suffering. Here's what Paul concluded: "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."

  15. falcon says:

    One of the best examples of God's grace is presented in Genesis 15 vs. 6 where it says, "Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." The first "he" is Abraham and the second "He" is God. The whole point of this verse is that it was through faith that Abraham had credited to his account righteousness. This righteousness wasn't earned by Abraham. In verse 17 of the same chapter we see the sealing in blood of the promise or covenant God made with Abraham. In OT times a contract was sealed with a gift. The most serious of all covenants were sealed in blood. The two parties to the covenant would walk down between some animals that had been sacrificed and split open. In this account God causes Abraham to sleep and then God, symbolized by a smoking oven and a flaming torch, passes between these pieces alone. This was a unilateral covenant where by God did the promising and required nothing of Abraham, only that he believe God.
    On the cross Jesus sealed the covenant which bestows righteousness on believers by faith, in His blood. We were not required to give our lives as we deserved, but Jesus took the punishment on Himself. The night before He died Jesus took the bread and wine and with the wine said that it symbolized His blood and that it was the sign of the new covenant.
    Jeremiah 31:31-34 expresses the terms of the new covenant. It says, "……..I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…….for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." Paul summarizes this very well in his letter to the Galatians Chapter 2 verse 16 where he writes, "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified."
    In creating his religion Joseph Smith made it necessary for his followers to perform at a high level in order to become gods. What a fool! He turned away from God, created a god of his own, and then put a yoke of slavery around the necks of those who would be so foolish as to follow him. In Smith's system, grace is only granted if the Mormon believer works hard enough to earn it. It's really an oxymoron as far as the term "grace" is concerned. By its very definition, grace can't be earned. It can only be granted by the one who has the authority to grant it. Mormons strive day and night in the mistaken belief that they can earn deity status.
    Mormonism has nothing to do with the God of the Bible. It's a hybrid version of a religion created by a person with an ego and pride beyond measure. What kind of a person believes that he can become a god; in effect usurping the position of deity.
    To the Mormon I would say that today is the day of your salvation. However in order to receive this gift that God is offering you, you need to put aside the false teachings of Joseph Smith and embrace what God clearly reveals in His Word. There is no other God but God.

  16. falcon says:

    That's the tyranny that comes with controlling organizations which, unfortunately, are most often religious in their orientation. There may very well be some secular organizations that put this type of pressure on their members but in religion the added element of God makes the oppression even more sever. What happens is that people begin to mistake their religion for God. So, as is the case in Mormonism, the organization/church is God's presence on earth. These folks can be made to do almost anything because of fear.
    Look at what Joseph Smith pulled off in his time. He had all those women convinced that they had to marry him because of his "prophet", thus saith the Lord, status. People will give of their time, treasure and yes even of themselves to support the organization.
    In the case of your friend, if the light ever goes on and she realizes that God isn't requiring this of her but it's just a man made organization, she'll flip out. It's all about brain washing and conditioning the individual to do the bidding of the firm. It's pretty sick stuff and these organizations are generally not populated by emotionally health people.

  17. clyde says:

    Doesn't it say somewhere in the Bible you're to be a light unto the nations and not be covered?

  18. clyde says:

    Salvation is free. What you do afterwards can effect others. Who would you ask about their religious beliefs, Someone who just sits around or someone who is doing something?

  19. jackg says:

    This should be printed in a pamphlet of sorts. It was truly great!

  20. enki says:

    I often wonder about the christian concept of 'grace'. What exactly are you getting? Most of the time in life one has to work, and work hard for something. Maybe I should rethink this, maybe I don't have to work hard. Its an LDS value, and I thought it was a christian value also. What about socialism? Isn't that a sort of getting something for nothing?

  21. wyomingwilly says:

    enki, I can see by the questions you pose that you're still a wandering soul. You've been hurt
    by autocratic church, a false prophet. It's not unusual to immerse yourself in reading about
    any and all religions and philosophies in order to fill a void. Trying to make sense of it all
    will be an all consuming pastime . When Jesus said to BEWARE of false prophets it was
    for good reason as they tend to confuse a person as to what to believe after that person
    escapes . You're never going to nail it all down enki. Your spiritual healing starts with one
    step– call upon God . Tell Him everything you feel about "religion". His grace is there for you.
    He can be known, Jesus saw to that . Jesus is real. I feel for you and I'm praying for you.

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