Mulberries and Mowers: the provision of Grace

I’m still on sabbatical but clinging by the skin of my teeth to the last week as it rolls on by. It’s been a fantastic three months; deeper than I ever thought and wider than I ever imagined. I learned and am learning about grace, hope, rest, Sabbath, freedom, law, performance, acts of mercy, love and Introverts (I’m one of ‘em!). It’s been a lot to chew on but by the power of God that sustains me (grace), it’s been perfect! Heck, I even got my smile back! God has spoken to me during intentional reading and prayer and through my wanderings. Today was no different.

It was fairly early in the morning and I’d just watered the flowers in the various sized pots around the yard. I thought I’d jump on cutting the lawn before the sun reached its zenith because it’s getting hot. Not “pizza oven”, Arizona hot, but humid, East coast hot.

morus nigra , the Black Mulberry. Delicious on everything you can possibly think of...almost!

morus nigra, the Black Mulberry. Delicious on everything you can possibly think of...almost!

In the back tree line that borders my small, suburban lot, I have a mulberry tree that’s in full fruit. There are berries everywhere and when you step on them with your bare feet they’re so ishy-squishy! I know some people think mulberries are a nuisance but I love them. They look a lot like a blackberry but are softer and have a lower tone in flavor. They are perfect by themselves or on ice cream, cake, cereal, they make a killer jam, on pancakes, waffles, with other fruit, on steak, lobster, chicken… well, not really but I really get into mulberries! Anyway, I’m cutting the grass and my mind is wandering to thoughts and conversations I’ve had over the recent week. There’s a passage in a book I read that came to mind. In his discussion on grace, freedom and law the author writes:

Despite God’s call to be free and His earnest admonition to resist all efforts to curtail it (Galatians 5:1), there is very little emphasis in Christian circles today on the importance of Christian freedom. Just the opposite seems to be true. Instead of promoting freedom, we stress our rules of conformity. Instead of preaching living by grace, we preach living by performance. Instead of encouraging new believers to be conformed to Christ, we subtly insist that they be conformed to our particular style of Christian culture. We don’t intend to do this and would earnestly deny we are. Yet that’s the “bottom line” effect of most of our emphases in Christian circles today.

For example, many people would react negatively to my quoting only part of Galatians 5:12, “You, my brothers, were called to be free.” Despite the fact that this statement is a complete sentence, they would say, “But that’s not all of the verse. Go on to quote the remainder: ‘But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.’” (We seem to forget that verse divisions were not inspired.)

The person who reacts that way has made my point. We are much more concerned about someone abusing his freedom than we are about his guarding it. We are more afraid of indulging the sinful nature than we are of falling into legalism. Yet legalism does indulge the sinful nature because it fosters self-righteousness and religious pride. It also diverts us from the real issues of the Christian life by focusing on external and sometimes trivial rules.
— Transforming Grace, Jerry Bridges

Now, as I was contemplating this passage I was directly under the mulberry tree’s drooping branches heavy with darkened gems of deliciousness; lawnmower growling away. I stopped so I could eat some of the delectable berries. Although I’ve eaten a few bugs in my day, because I don't wash the fruit and I eat them in chain succession, I still do it because it’s so totally worth it. There I am munching away, just on berries no bugs, and as I’m contemplating Bridges’ statements on Galatians 5:12, I hear in my spirit something very sacred, “Grace is about provision not permission. Just as I provide these berries, I provide grace.” My mind immediately rocketed to the passage in 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul tells of his “thorn in the flesh” and his pleading with the LORD to take it away. God’s response? “No. My grace is enough.” That’s provision! In the midst of severe pain and agony, God provides His powerful provision to Paul. If we think of grace as permission we slip into the thinking that was part of the early church. “If I sin, grace increases, so why not sin so there’s more grace?” (Romans 6). This is not only flawed but it reveals a total misunderstanding of grace. If the early church had difficulty grasping the actuality of grace let’s not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, right? We’re in good company! Now, since Jesus meets us where we’re at but doesn’t leave us where we are, it’s important to always be ready to jettison a belief when truth corrects us.

Here’s the truth. I believe many of us think of grace the way we think of mulberry trees. Allow me to extrapolate briefly.

Mulberry trees are, indeed, messy. But in order to participate in their wonderful fruit, you’re going to have to deal with some messiness. Grace is the same. Grace can be messy. It can seem unfair at times. It can allow pain at times. But in order to participate in it, you’re going to have to deal with the mess. And in much the same way that some people don’t like mulberries, many people don’t like grace – especially when it’s applied to others!

Law or rules, on the other hand, are not messy. They’re clean and cut. They’re black and white. The same applies to everyone, regardless of circumstances. That’s what makes them so appealing and why it’s so easy for us to get caught in them and become legalistic, even subtly.

I agree with Bridges. I believe those who quickly rush to quote the second part of Galatians 5:12, about not using grace as an excuse to sin, as I used to do, have a misunderstanding of grace. They think or have been taught, as I was, that grace is permission. It’s not. Grace is provision. It’s provision of God’s power and strength in our lives in the midst of circumstances. When we live in God’s provision rather than in permission, we are guided by His love and our love for Him. Permission provides a loophole, wiggly room, so we can do what we want and then shout with great conviction, “Grace!” This is not only detrimental to us and our neighbors, it’s misguided. Yes, I may be exaggerating a little with the shouting, but I’ve been around long enough to actually see people do this. It’s subtle but it happens. I think you get the idea.

Here’s the point. You’ll do much better in your life if you live in grace than if you live in law. God provides, through grace, the fulfillment of the law, and this through Jesus. In grace, there’s freedom. Period. And that is liberating. I have yet to see a person upset because they were provided for but I’ve seen plenty who try to wiggle, squirm and pry permission to do things that aren’t beneficial because of rules and regulations.

So, the next time you see a mulberry tree or hear someone say, “don’t use grace to sin”, you’ll be reminded that grace is God’s great provision for your salvation and life despite your circumstances, spiritual maturity or age.

May you live in God’s great provision! May you be free to live as you were called to live because He loves to provide for His children.

This is a really big topic and I’ll be posting more in the weeks to come.