The Significance of Christ- Grace

In making the point about what he calls the “paradoxical Christian secret,” Baillie is seeking to describe the subtle differ­ence between the kind of goodness that is a response to the spirit of Christ and the kind that is mere obedience to moral law. In the former, the person loves because he has been loved-he has forgotten himself in his concern for the other. He therefore is not thinking about himself doing a good deed, earning moral points, etc. This emphasis in Christian thought derives from the idea that the new life is a gift of God which is either received or rejected. It is not something the person fashions for himself out of moral effort or earns after some self-improvement.

  1. M. Baillie

We may begin with the familiar words of St. Paul: “By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was be­stowed upon me was not found vain; but I labored more abun­dantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

(1 Corinthians 15:10)

Thus the paradoxical Christian secret, while it transcends the moralistic attitude by ascribing all to God, does not make us morally irresponsible. That is part of the paradox. No one knows better than the Christian that he is free to choose and that in a sense everything depends upon his choice…. My actions are my very own, expressions of my own will, my own choice. No one else can choose for me or relieve me of the responsibility. When I make the wrong choice, I am entirely responsible, and my conscience condemns me. And yet (here is the paradox) when I make the right choice, my conscience does not applaud or congratulate me. I do not feel meritorious or glow with self­-esteem-if and in so far as I am a Christian. Instead of that I say: “Not I, but the grace of God.” Thus while there is a human side to every good action, so that it is genuinely the free choice of a person with a will, yet somehow the Christian feels that the other side of it, the divine side, is logically prior…. It is not as if we could divide the honors between God and ourselves, God doing His part, and we doing ours. It cannot even be adequately expressed in terms of divine initiative and human co-operation. It is false to this paradox to think of the area of God’s action and the area of our action being delimited, each by the other, and distinguished from each other by a boundary, so that the more of God’s grace there is in an action, the less is it my own per­sonal action…. We are not marionettes, but responsible per­sons, and never more truly and fully personal in our actions than in those moments when we are most dependent on God and He lives and acts in us. And yet the divine side is somehow prior to the human.

What I wish to suggest is that this paradox of grace points the way more clearly and makes a better approach than anything else in our experience to the mystery of the Incarnation itself; that this paradox in its fragmentary form in our own Christian lives is a reflection of that perfect union of God and man in the Incarnation on which our whole Christian life depends, and may therefore be our best clue to the understanding of it. In the New Testament we see the man in whom God was incarnate surpass­ing all other men in refusing to claim anything for Himself inde­pendently and ascribing all the goodness to God. We see Him also desiring to take up other men into His own close union with God, that they might be as He was. And if these men, entering in some small measure through Him into that union, experience the paradox of grace for themselves in fragmentary ways, and are constrained to say, “It was not I but God,” may not this be a clue to the understanding of that perfect life in which the para­dox is complete and absolute, that life of Jesus which, being the perfection of humanity, is also, and even in a deeper and prior sense, the very life of God Himself? If the paradox is a reality in our poor imperfect lives at all, so far as there is any good in them, does not the same or a similar paradox, taken at the perfect and absolute pitch, appear as the mystery of the Incarnation?

. . . This is the Creator-God who made us to be free personali­ties, and we know that we are most free and personal when He is most in possession of us. This is the God of the moral order who calls us every moment to exercise our full and responsible choice; but He also comes to dwell in us in such a way that we are raised altogether above the moral order into the liberty of the sons of God. That is what Christians mean by “God.” It is highly para­doxical, but it is bound up with the whole message of Christi­anity and the whole structure of the Christian life; and it follows inevitably if we take seriously the fundamental paradox: “Not I, but the grace of God.” It is God’s very nature to give Himself in that way: to dwell in man in such a manner that man, by his own will choosing to do God’s will (and in a sense it must depend on man’s own choice) nevertheless is constrained to confess that it was “all of God.”

  1. M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (New York, 1948), pp.114, 116-118,121-122.

About Dr. Ernie Sherretta, D. Min.

Retired Director of Religious Education for the Catholic Church since 2014, granted a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Religious Studies from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University, and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Spiritual Well-Being Counselor
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