Fender Bender Grace

About a week ago, right after we dropped off our carpool buddy, the boys and I were involved in a bit of fender bender. It was a strange sort of accident because we were sitting at a stop sign, one car back from the road, waiting to turn right. I was talking to the boys asking about school, when the car in front of us smashed into us. I guess the woman might have thought her car was sticking out into traffic. I don’t know for sure what her rationale was, I just know she put it in reverse and floored it the four feet she had of space.

After taking a brief look at the boys, I popped out of the car, and so did the attractive, middle-aged Asian woman who bashed us.
“Oh my gosh,” she said, arms flailing. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Sun so bright. I’m so sorry.”
The sun excuse was just plain silly, but we were unharmed and the spectacular J-Team van also looked perfect. Well, “perfect” is a bit of a stretch with 108K miles and nearly seven years of boys, but it definitely didn’t look any different than it had five minutes before.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Please do not worry about it.”
But then she saw the boys in the van, and went from upset to nearly hysterical.
“Oh and you have children, I am so sorry. So so sorry.”
At this point I didn’t know what to do so I hugged her. “Please do not worry,” I said, patting her back. “They are fine. Really.”
Finally, she got back in her spiffy car, and I climbed back into the van and was greeted with bewilderment from Nate. “Mom, why did you hug her?” The hugging did not compute in his supremely logical little mind. What ensued was a very sweet conversation about grace and mercy.
But it made me think about another fender bender from years ago. I think I was seventeen, but I may have been sixteen. I was driving a cute little Mazda RX7, which I have no idea how I scored. My brother, Craig, was the advocate in me getting it. But it was in my possession for only a few hours before some lady took a left turn way too tight and smashed me while I was literally stopped at a light. And although many of the details are blurry after all these years, I think this woman probably apologized too. I do remember that she wet herself over the accident. Yes, that pitiful detail is still vivid. I am ashamed, horribly ashamed, that I didn’t feel one bit sorry for her. I was furious that my cute little car was smashed up, aghast that someone could be that careless, and ticked that I was being terribly inconvenienced. Whatever an anti-hug looks like, that’s what I gave her.
Yes, I was a mere child, and yes, there was actual damage, but maturity and severity have little to do with the difference in my reaction. You see I am a completely different person now, and I have a completely different heart. I may have claimed Jesus as my Savior as a little girl, but I did almost nothing to pursue him as my Lord. And my heart of stone wasn’t softened by a mere confession of faith. It remained cold and hard until the Holy Spirit, through the relationship of knowing Him and loving Him, started to melt my pride and purify my emotions. Of course, I am only a work in progress, clinging with white knuckles to the promise that He who began a good work will carry it on to completion. (Philippians 1:6). But I am encouraged that I do see some progress, at least in the realm of minor traffic accidents. And shouldn’t we all see progress in many areas of our lives? This week may we ask ourselves this most important question: In what ways, in what areas, am I becoming more and more like my Savior?

Restoring Default Settings and Sanctification

Our hearts and minds form the motherboard of our soul which determines not only our outward behaviors but our thought life as well. And like an operating system that directs the hard drive, we also appear to have default settings. Think about that for a second. Is your natural inclination, your default setting, to embody love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Hardly, right? Our natural state is one characterized not by the fruit of the Spirit, but by sin. Left to our own devices, we are prideful, selfish, materialistic, faithless, and discontent, and what’s worse is that somehow the little box with the words “restore default settings” is clicked upon every day, and oftentimes many times each day.

Yet the most basic tenet of the Christian faith is that we are saved by faith, not by works, so does that mean that this defaulting to our old behaviors and attitudes is inevitable and even irrelevant? Judging from the way some professing Christians live, that would certainly be a reasonable conclusion, but it’s far from biblical. Yesterday my pastor even said that it would be better if these people would stop calling themselves Christians, and as harsh as that may sound, it is the truth. (Listen to his sermon here). It is really a disservice to the Lord Jesus to claim to know Him while living a life without evidence of His presence.
But one of the problems with addressing this issue is our propensity to slip back into a works-based mentality, and Paul’s admonition to the Galatians is instructive. He says, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Gal. 3:3) We are justified by grace. In fact, we have absolutely no role whatsoever in our justification. We are blameless in the sight of God because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. And even our faith in Jesus is a gift from God, and not something we can boast about. But after justification there seems to be a fork in the road that has at least three prongs. Many people think that what they do does not matter. They cling to the thief on the cross and the promise that he would be in heaven that very day, erroneously reasoning that we need not have any fruit in our lives. Other people try to sanctify themselves, and Paul is aghast at the stupidity of it. It’s as if he were saying, “What is wrong with you people, do you really think that you can grow more Christ-like on the basis of human effort?”
But there is a third option that neither throws in the towel nor relies on our own good work. Simply put, it is biblical sanctification. Again, it is Paul who sheds light on this principle, advising that we “continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us] to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2: 12-13) So in this life we may still wake up every morning with a need to unclick some sort of default setting, but praise God we have a Counselor who is faithful to help us in this endeavor, who will guide us and empower us to seek and do God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.
May we live by the Spirit this week, and may He lead us into all truth.