Ebenezer Scrooge’s life, like every Christian’s, is bifurcated into part one and part two. All the life of sin falls away to one side, and all the life of grace falls away to the other side, like a book cracked open on its spine at the place where one accepts the grace of God.
In yesterday’s column, we saw how the warnings God has hurled into our lives have not been meant for our undoing but for our repentance. We put our full weight on the following words:
“… God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
“The Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
“… count the patience of the Lord as salvation …” (2 Peter 3:15).
“… he … determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him …” (Acts 17:26-27).
Scrooge exercised exemplary reasoning skills consistent with the highest faith when he said to the still mute Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come: “Why show me this if I am past all hope.”
But then what? After we have come to our senses and come to God through these merciful warnings, what kind of people can we expect to be henceforth? This is a very important question, and one often muddled in our minds and our churches. That is, once we are saved, can we really change in a radical way? Or are we just saved people who continue to sin much like before?
We know, through his proxy Scrooge, how Charles Dickens conceived of the matter. We see in Scrooge saving grace’s first mark—joy:
“‘I don’t know what to do,’ cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings. ‘I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy, I am as giddy as a drunken man.”
And following close upon joy is good deeds—making amends with the people we have wronged, and no longer hoarding our blessings but sharing them with others. All this Scrooge began to do immediately, and all this we are also enabled to do by God’s grace.
Is this just Dickens saying so? (He is no accredited theologian, after all.) No, does not the Word of God teach the same about the efficacy of saving grace:
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it is not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
So we see that the grace of God in conversion is meant to produce real change—in Paul’s case in this verse, the grace to work hard. It would be wonderful enough if God merely rescued us from the penalty of sin. But He breaks sin’s power too, so that any who wish to avail themselves of this grace can “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
We are able to imitate Scrooge and Paul this Christmas and avail ourselves of grace’s full benefit.