God’s transforming grace

The beauty of natureWe enjoyed another lovely walk last week – along the abandoned railway line at Lower Largo. I counted more than thirty different types of wild flowers blooming on, and alongside, the path. Meadow Cranesbill was at its peak; but there were also plenty of Knapweed, thistles, wild roses, Scabious, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Poppies, and countless others for which I don’t know the names. Hundreds of moths and butterflies were taking advantage of the bonanza to feed on the nectar – including the Six-Spotted Burnet Moth that loves the knapweed, while its caterpillars feast on Bird’s Foot Trefoil. The moth has glossy black wings with, as the name suggests, six spots. The pictures I’ve seen colour the spots red; but those we saw seemed more like fluorescent pink – dazzling! Our noses were treated to the scents of Meadowsweet and Rosa Rugosa. To one side of us we could hear the lapping of the waves on the shore, and on the other, the song of the skylark – though they were hard to spot against the bright blue sky.

And, of course, this abundant beauty exists on what would have been a scar on the landscape, when the railway line was removed as part of the Beeching Cuts of the 1960s. That prompted me to think of the way God heals the scars of sin in our own lives. Think of these lovely words from Psalm 40:2-3: ‘The Lord… lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.’ God’s grace transforms the ugly scars sin leaves on our lives. Consider the parable of the Lost Son we’ve been looking at recently on Sunday mornings. The young man who’d been living with pigs, and was so hungry he wanted to eat their food, must have been a terrible sight (and smell!) as he staggered home. Yet his father’s love transforms him in an instant: ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.’ (Luke 15:22) And soon the rich aroma of roasting beef filled the air!

A missionary friend worked among the Quechua people of the highlands of Peru. Life in the Andes was very hard for them – particularly the women, who looked aged beyond their years. Yet when they discovered God’s love for them, and were enabled by the Holy Spirit to put their trust in Jesus, he said the years seemed to fall from their faces. God’s grace gave them hope, and joy, that transformed their lives. A novel we’re listening to at the moment describes how guilt over a specific crime aged a handsome man, leaving him ravaged. He knew nothing of God’s grace, and died a lonely death. But those whose hearts God opens to receive the good news about Jesus discover that His grace transforms their lives, bringing peace and joy alongside forgiveness.

The transformation of the railway line has been underway for nearly 60 years. Its beauty has grown gradually over time. We may come to faith in the Lord Jesus in an instant; but His work in our lives continues as we walk in step with Him day by day. The theological name for this is sanctification. Sometimes we shy away from it, thinking it might make us sanctimonious. But that’s a mistake. Sanctification is making us holy – and true holiness is beautiful (cf 1 Chronicles 16:29 NKJV). Holiness is becoming more like Jesus. Even the scars of the sins in our Christian life can be beautified by the Saviour’s grace. He doesn’t give up on us! As one of my favourite verses reminds us: God ‘who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 1:6). Only when we see the Lord face to face will we realise fully how much He’s done to transform us into His image. But others may begin to notice the change before then. Dane Ortlund puts it perfectly in his book ‘Gentle and Lowly’ (p.22): ‘As we drink down the kindness of the heart of Christ… we leave in our wake, everywhere we go, the aroma of heaven…’ (Page 22)

Let’s not close our hearts to God’s transforming grace. Let’s allow Him to begin, or continue, His gracious work in our lives, today and every day, so that ‘many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.’