The Romance of Grace by Jim McNeely III
To be honest, when I received this book in the mail I had visions of what it might be like with a title like, ‘The Romance of Grace.’ The emotional rollercoaster and one-sided perspective on how our emotions fuel our faith was my presumption about the book, but this was the furthest thing from the truth as I started reading. The Romance of Grace by Pastor Jim McNeely III is a careful look at the movements of grace in the way God pursues us with his love and his desire to get us to love him back. McNeely writes, “We are entering a cosmic romance with a passionate lover, and He is interested in our heart’s truest desire. His deepest objective isn’t to make us more moral; it is to get us to love Him back. Virtue is the fruit, not the root” (18). Why is this helpful? For one thing, beginning with God’s initiating grace frees us from starting out on the wrong foot in the way we tell the story and live in God’s world. McNeely hints that ‘Grace does not focus on us primarily as sinners’ (18). The priority of grace is a message that radically affects how we should live, since it is in virtue that we bring before God to pay him back, but in loving obedience.
In the second chapter, McNeely writes about the Two Goods in context of the new Christian and his relationship to sin. McNeely writes, “The main characteristic of the new person we become in Christ is that this rift between moral and desirable good is removed. Our true self, the newly born person we are in Christ, does not have this division” (25). Yes, believers still sin and engage in a battle with the forces of evil and temptation, but their desires are recreated and restored when they believe in Christ. Why is this good news? For one, as we live longer in the Christian life, the ‘power and attraction of the forbidden begins to die off’ and ‘we learn to live with a true passion, a true desire, for the living God’ (26). Seeking to do the moral good while never doing what one desires is a trap for every person. Rather, aligning the desire to act morally with our personal desire to serve the living God is a combination that goes a long way in promoting holiness and true obedience. One caveat to note here is that this aligning of our desires does not happen overnight, but is a constant engagement of the mind, body, and will. In addition, the bonds of our heart and mind become stronger as we follow God in the trenches of life, producing a stronghold against sin and a freedom to serve God.
My favorite chapter in the whole book was the chapter called The Grace We Don’t Want. In writing about Matthew 20, the master and the workers, McNeely writes, “The fact is, the master was doing what he wanted to do instead of doing what was fair, because he wanted to be gracious with what was his. Grace offends our sense of fairness; fairness has been nailed, squirming and horrid, to the cross” (88). We act each day in the workplace, at home, and in our communities with a firm sense of fairness. Yet, in God’s economy, grace is foremost in his actions and fairness does not play a part. McNeely challenges his readers that ‘if we insist on believing that blessing has to be deserved, we are going to be very uncomfortable living in God’s universe of grace’ (88). Can we get to a point where we rejoice in the ways God is blessing other people? Can we get to a point where we remove God from the judgment seat of our minds for not blessing us like others? This kind of grace is a hard lesson but a key to growing in faith. In fact, reeling back, being envious of others and God’s blessing upon them is not having the gospel of God’s grace fully applied in our lives. All the benefits of grace are met in God’s saving work of sinners through is son, Jesus Christ.
What an encouraging and enlightening book, challenging the notions of grace and fairness that we often have in our minds. I think this book is a great witness to God’s amazing grace, not only in salvation but in every facet of life. The Romance of Grace is a good dose of medicine on grace to those in all walks of life.
Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and the author for the review copy of this book in exchange for review.www.ThereforeNow.com