Article

Murray Miller

writes from California, where he pastors the Anderson Seventh-day Adventist Church. He is pursuing a doctorate in ministry from Andrews University.

​Unemployed Grace

God’s grace changes us—if we let it.

The line seems to be progressing at a snail’s pace. Some are anxiously waiting to have their résumé perused by the clerk before being sent to the computer that may hold the key to their financial survival. Others are just going through the motions so that they can say they “looked” for work and draw a check from the government.

Those who are actually looking for work seem to have an aura of shame about them: they glance around periodically, but mostly have their faces downcast as they keep their eyes focused on their shoes. These are not people who shy away from work. The weather has turned, and their jobs have ceased. Now they are left wondering how they are going to make ends meet during the cold and looming winter. It is one of these hardworking individuals that the clerk calls next.

He submits his résumé to the expressionless clerk who looks it over, hands it back, and tells him to proceed to the computer. He proceeds to a computer, pulls out a chair, and logs on to the job-search database. Refining the list’s several postings by selecting different filters, he notices that there are not many jobs left for which he qualifies. All that’s left is a janitorial posting at highway rest areas. He applies with very little enthusiasm, then visits nearby stores that have Help Wanted signs in their windows. They tell him to post his résumé online and wait for a reply. He goes to a community library, logs on to its computer, and applies. After a day of job searching, he heads home to wait. Not only does he wait, but so does his family. Thoughts come: Will I get the job? Will the income be enough to survive the coming winter?

Grace Unemployed

These scenes are not isolated occurrences. As I write this, some 9.1 million individuals in the United States are unemployed. 1 Many of them long to be of use, to work hard, and to feel that they have earned their wages. They come from various backgrounds with a plethora of stories to tell. But they all have a similar need: for their skills to be used, to be employed.

Something about the human experience craves the feeling of usefulness. Such a desire hearkens back to Creation, when Adam and Eve worked in the Garden of Eden (see Gen. 2), not for pay, but for pleasure in a perfect balance humanity has not experienced since.

Humanity has longed to return to this state of affairs since the Fall. Scripture points to the inadequacy of humankind and the need for Someone to labor for humanity. One would come whose skills would be impeccable and His work perfect. He has, in fact, finished the “job” He was sent to do, and now endeavors to show each human being the full magnitude of His kindness (see John 19:30).

As the world presses on to meet its impending fate, Christ tries to reveal to as many as possible the labor He has performed for them. Unfortunately, it seems that He is barely noticed, that His work is not even wanted, or perceived as needed, by many. He stretches out nail-pierced hands that were fastened to a rugged, wooden cross, but many do not like His résumé. After all, He tells them they can be forgiven. But they do not feel they have done anything wrong. He tells them they can have eternal life. But they seem happy with life the way it is. Yes, they may turn to Him when they are in dire need, but not right now. So grace stands by, unemployed.

His perfect will and righteousness begin to work in and through us. As a result, our lives on earth begin to be more and more like His perfect example—we begin to act like His ambassadors of grace.

While some see no need of Jesus and His sacrifice, others feel they are doing quite well on their journey to heaven. They feel that they are sanctifying themselves every day, and eventually they will tell God all the wonderful works they have done, displaying these works on their résumé so that He may give them the right to enter into heaven (see Matt. 25:41-46).

Among Christians, the sentiment is that eternal life is something in the future. So they go to church or religious gatherings mainly because it is “the right thing to do,” and render service not out of gratitude but out of grudging obligation. Instead of allowing Christ to work in their lives, they subconsciously tell Him to go elsewhere to find a place to do His task, for they are doing quite well on their own.2 Once again, grace is unemployed.

Another group wants the gift of God’s grace, but not the new life. They can be heard saying, “I was saved years ago, and I feel secure in His presence.” When questioned about the victorious Christian life, they may reply, “That is not an issue of salvation,” or “I do not think God is that particular.” They believe in the fact of Jesus’ death, but do not allow that reality to change their lives. So grace stands by unemployed.

I imagine Jesus bowing His head and wondering: Who will receive My grace today? Who will allow Me to work in their lives? But in Scripture we are told that both the gift of the Holy Spirit and the new life that follows are brought to us when we ask Jesus to take control of our lives (Eph. 2:8-10). It is both that Jesus holds out as He shows us His nail-pierced hands—His résumé. If we have received His kindness, then we have received His gentle touches that change the way we live.

Grace Employed

Grace is God’s kindness to us. 3 Jesus provides grace without limit. It is meant to do a powerful work in us—a work that changes our lives. Yet I’d say that more than 9.1 million fail to employ this grace in their lives. In fact, an estimated 140 million people in the U.S. are not claimed by any church.4 And there are likely millions more who do not attend church, even though they are on the membership record. Are they allowing Christ to work in their lives? I hope so.

For those who attend a congregation, there may be at least two inaccurate viewpoints about grace. Those in one group think they must do all the right things in order to be OK with God. Those in the other say, “Believe and be saved,” while ignoring what God’s Word describes as a victorious Christian life. To all classes, both in and out of the church, a text comes to mind:

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:4-10).

We can do nothing to deserve eternal life, regardless of how hard we work for it or how badly we want it. Since the only wage we can earn is death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23), eternal life is a gift, something we cannot earn. Such a gift has a way of changing our lives.

The text goes on to say that we are “God’s handiwork” (Eph. 2:10). God wants us to accept what He has done to save us, but we should not stop there.

When we choose to accept the gift, we are also choosing to accept the One who wants that gift to re-create us. The lowly Carpenter lays aside His résumé and picks up His tools of change. As Christians we now have new motives, new ways of thinking. All of this is ours because of God’s kindness, His grace.

Daily Doses of Grace

Once we have acknowledged and asked Christ to work in our lives, we must prayerfully continue to focus on Christ in order to become more like Him (see 1 Thess. 5:17). Jesus indicates how to have life eternal: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3, NKJV). 5

How do we “know” Him? Jesus goes on to point to the need for us to be sanctified by the truth, which is God’s Word (verse 17). We must spend time getting to know Jesus through God’s Word.

I know it sounds simple with all the Bibles we have on our shelves, computers, and gizmos, but I am not referring to studying the Sabbath school lesson, a yearly goal of reading through the Bible, or hours of listening to a favorite preacher—though these have their place. I refer to a more specific focus: looking for Jesus throughout the Scriptures. And doing it daily.

Ambassadors of Grace

God’s grace does not stop with our spiritual disciplines. Jesus has worked in us; now He wants to work through us (see Gal. 2:20). The apostle Paul goes further by stating that we have a “ministry of reconciliation” that he refers to as an ambassadorship (2 Cor. 5:18-20). Not only are we employed, but He sees us as representatives of heaven to our fallen world. That is quite a job title and responsibility.

But some do not want this experience on their résumé. In fact, some stand by and keep God at a distance because they feel they must do this work themselves. Sanctification is the work of a lifetime. Our part is to allow His grace to be applied to our record in heaven and allow His resurrection power work in our lives today. Thus, the Lord’s Prayer comes true for us: “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, KJV). God’s perfect will and righteousness begin to work in and through us. As a result, our lives on earth begin to be more and more like His perfect example; we begin to act like His ambassadors of grace.

Grace Brings Unity

Christ stands before us, wanting to work wonderfully in our lives. If we take time to focus on Him and ask Him to guide us, many problems would be taken care of, not only in our homes and society, but also in the church. I came across a quotation that stresses the need for us each to focus on Christ so we can have happier homes and churches.

Ellen White wrote: “The cause of division and discord in families and in the church is separation from Christ. To come near to Christ is to come near to one another. The secret of true unity in the church and in the family is not diplomacy, not management, not a superhuman effort to overcome difficulties—though there will be much of this to do—but union with Christ. Picture a large circle, from the edge of which are many lines all running toward the center. . . . The closer we come to Christ, the nearer we shall be to one another.”6

Could unity and kindness in our homes and churches be as simple as spending time focusing on Christ? Yes, for as we focus on His kindness (grace) we cannot help becoming more like Him, eventually finding ourselves acting like Him and ministering as He did. This changes our relationships in our homes, the church, and society.

The challenge then is to keep focused on Christ and His résumé, rather than on ourselves and our pet sins. In a world filled with infomercials and scenes of unkindness we are called to behold Jesus’ kindness. In a world in which it is common to tear people down, we are called to encourage one another for Christ’s sake.

Such an endeavor takes determination. We must be determined to not reject our gift or prevent Him from working in our lives. We must keep looking to Jesus and freely choose to serve Him.

May we never let Him stand by idly. May God’s grace never be unemployed in our lives!


  1. See www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm for more information.
  2. See George Barna, The State of the Church: 2005 (Ventura, Calif.: The Barna Group, 2005), p. 37. Barna notes that 54 percent of the 1,003 adults sampled nationwide during January 17-31, 2005, believe that “they can earn a place in heaven either by ‘being good’ or by ‘doing enough good things for other people’ during their life.”
  3. See http://strongsnumbers.com/greek/5485.htm; the word charis can mean “grace, favor, kindness.”
  4. See www.thearda.com/mapsreports/reports/US_2000.asp for more details.
  5. Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  6. Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1952),p. 179. (Italics supplied.)
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