Max Lucado has been preaching for decades and has written more than 50 books, so you'd think by now he would have gotten everything off his chest. But, he tells CT, when it comes to grace, one can never quite do that. Thus the reason for his latest volume, due out Tuesday, September 11: Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater that We Can Imagine (Thomas Nelson). Lucado, renowned author and preacher at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, unpacked some fresh dimensions of grace with Mark Galli, CT's senior managing editor.
Why another book on grace when there are many good ones already out there?
The apostle Paul never seemed to exhaust the topic of grace—what makes us think we can? He just kept coming at it and coming at it from another angle. That's the thing about grace. It's like springtime. You can't put it in a single sentence definition, and you can't exhaust it. No other philosophy or religion has anything quite like this idea that God takes the initiative and comes after us—not just to save us, but also to sustain us.
In this book, I tried to emphasize what's becoming more special to me—the indwelling presence of God. It's a wonderful thing that he saved me from my sins and adopted me into his family, but he didn't only do that. He did even more: he moved inside me, and he's changing me. Two hundred and sixteen times in his epistles, Paul talks about Jesus or God living inside us. The indwelling presence of Christ in the believer is such an astounding thought. To me, this was the next layer of grace to explore
Understanding the indwelling presence of Christ is a trend in theological circles, as well.
In the Old Testament prophecy, God says, "I'll remove your heart of stone and replace it with a new heart." The idea of a spiritual heart transplant is a vivid image to me; once you have the heart of somebody else inside you, then that heart is there. Jesus' heart is inside me, and my heart is gone. So if God were to place a stethoscope against my chest, he would hear the heart of Jesus Christ beating. I'm still getting used to the transplant, and transplants take time. But the security of that gift of God's heart inside of me opens up all kinds of possibilities as to what he can do with me.
When did grace first become a reality in your life?
When I was about a 21-year-old college student. I was a heavy drinker in college. I was going to church on a regular basis, mainly because my roommate was a strong Christian, and he would just roust me out of bed. The pastor was taking the church through a study of the Gospel of John, and he brought the story of Jesus to life in such a fashion that it finally began to dawn on me that God had a place for people like me. The love of Jesus came through the stories the pastor was telling, especially the Crucifixion. I can remember wrestling with, Can God forgive me? I never wrestled with, Could Jesus come back from the grave? That seemed to make sense that God could do that. But could he forgive me? That was the tough question.
But in some of your earlier experiences of church, you said, you heard more law than gospel.
My first encounters with faith came about the time I was a Boy Scout, at about 14 or 15. I made the logical deduction that they operate the same way; I treated my faith like earning a merit badge, and everything about Christianity was about earning merit badges.
That's a common mistake. I think that's the reason Paul wrote the book of Galatians. There are merit badge earners in the church where I pastor. There's some of that still in me. It's a constant battle to say, You know what? I will never add one iota to the finished work of Christ on the cross. My best work will not make me more saved than I was. But we default to legalism. It makes such sense to us.