In 2018, MarketWatch reported that the average Christmas shopper racked up $1054 of debt. If that average shopper made minimum payments on his or her credit card, it would take approximately six years to retire their Christmas debt.
It seems, according to statistics reported in Investopedia, that experts expect the average American to spend more this Christmas than the average American expects to spend. This means that millions of American who are still trying to pay off debts from previous Christmases will once again be adding to their debt load.
The old adage, “You can’t spend what you don’t have,” turns out to be less than the whole truth. Unless our payments are late, card is maxed, or credit is revoked, we can spend what we don’t have – for a while.
Is credit extended in other areas of life? For example, can a piano student play beyond what she has practiced – can she play on credit? If she has put in 50 hours of practice, can she play with 200 hours of experience? Can she borrow on what she does not yet have?
What about in the spiritual realm? Can I spend compassion that I don’t have? What about wisdom? Discernment? Will I have endurance that I have not bought through the testing of faith in times of trial? Is there any credit extended in the spiritual realm or is it strictly pay as you go?
The Church’s answer, based on the inspired writings of St. Paul and other biblical authors, is yes: credit is extended. However, that credit is not based on what an individual is likely to earn but on God’s mercy and Christ’s costly sacrifice – the full faith and credit of the Son of God. This is more than we could ever hope for based on our very limited personal resources.
The theological term for this is grace. Preachers sometimes describe grace as a heavenly bank account, fully funded by Christ, from which his people can always draw. This is in some ways a helpful illustration but is potentially misleading.
It is misleading if one thinks that grace applies solely to the forgiveness of wrongs, which is like thinking the only reason to have money is to pay off debts. Grace would be needed even if we had no wrongs that required forgiveness. It is needed to do right in an interactive relationship with God.
Grace, as Dallas Willard put it, “is God acting in our life to do what we cannot do on our own.” Certainly we cannot do forgiveness on our own, but our incapacity hardly ends there. We need grace to engage with God in the creative work of becoming who we were made to be and, simultaneously, blessing the world. The person who lives by grace is not content with his own forgiveness but is passionate about serving God in the world.
What this means is that grace, like the biblical manna, cannot be hoarded. It must be used. Credit is extended in the form of grace (God’s action in one’s life) to anyone and everyone who will use it. It is not extended to those who intend only to sit on it.
Sometimes we get the idea that grace is opposed to effort, but this is not so. Grace is not opposed to effort but to merit. Grace fuels effort. It funds it. People living interactively with God are constantly drawing on grace to do the good and beautiful deeds they could not do on their own. Such people are under no illusion of having merited the results, yet they also know the results would not have been achieved apart from real effort.
This interplay of human effort with divine empowerment, the dance of grace, has been God’s intention all along. He invites us into the dance, to receive so we can give, to give so we can receive even more.
The Bible describes the interplay of grace and effort as a “fellowship” or “partnership” with God. The word evokes an image of business partners but perhaps dance partners, though unconventional, is still appropriate: caught up in the eternal dance, in which God always leads and we, when we follow, do more than we thought possible.
First published by Gatehouse Media