“For by grace you have been saved
And that not of yourselves,
It is the gift of God;
Not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
— Ephesians 2:8–9
Probably one of the most difficult characteristics of God to understand is His grace. We are so far from this trait as human beings, that by trying to understand it, we destroy its beauty. Preachers are terrified by its meaning and therefore feel the necessity to join it with works or the law lest they lead their congregation astray.
Grace, in its purest form, means that we are given what we do not deserve based solely on the unimaginable love of God.
God knows our nature and, therefore, is well aware that as adults, when we have lost that innocence and “faith of a child” we have to travel through the journey of works and the law for us to get to the point where we give up and, in our exhaustion or frustration, give it to God— accepting His grace—His unmerited favor.
Even though my mind and my heart embrace His amazing grace, I am no different than anyone else. Surely, I must live within His laws, and as a Christian actually exceed the law as proof of my right standing with God. For some reason we just can’t accept that we are in right standing by one thing only—by what our Savior did, not what you and I can or will do.
So, in my finances God took me on a little journey (may I say a very difficult journey?) that led me through complicated and thorny places to show me things I was ignorant of. One very important to me, to Him, and to our wellbeing is tithing. God set about to teach me the importance of tithing, the dangers of ignoring it, the power of forgiving those who owe me, only to find out that what God is seeking from us, which is not surprising, is not just 10%, but rather 100% of our heart.
God wants His children to be cheerful givers, and this is what the Pharisees missed. Look at these contrasting examples:
“Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Corinthians 9:6–9). Versus…
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23).
The Message Bible explains it this way: “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God's Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that's wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?”
Yes, nitpicking over things that don’t matter. Focusing on the outside rather than the inside. Doing all we can to make sure we are in right standing with God so that we have the assurance of being blessed. Yet, once again, God blesses us not because of what we can do, but because of what He, our Savior, has done.
It was His death on the cross, with our sins nailed to it, which paid our debt—all of it. What I learned while on my difficult journey was that I no longer needed to be like the Pharisees, counting and figuring dollars and cents; not even doing my best to be sure that I gave above and beyond what I believed He expected of me. The point is— it is all about grace, which is freely given, not earned.
“He has given freely to the poor” (Ps. 112:9). For “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). We were spiritually poor.
“Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). He freely gave to us; therefore, we need to freely give to others.
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12).
To come to the culmination, the conclusion, the finale, the climax— “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
It took doing everything I could do, and then failing miserably, for me to accept what was mine all along—His grace.
When I realized that I had not officially tithed from my ministry, I saw my sin, and that I had fallen short of what was expected of me—the law of giving 10%. I looked at the huge debt with the realization and the vast inability to pay that debt. That was when the Lord turned my focus on not trying to pay the huge debt (like past sins), but to simply pay the ministry’s current tithes as each donation or bookstore earning came in.
Though I will admit that money (banking, figures, and the like) are not my forte or specialty (even though I got straight A’s in math when I was in school) this, I was sure, would be a cinch. Wrong. God made sure that I was utterly and helplessly confused, and soon I was unsure if I had paid or if I hadn’t paid my tithes on parts of my income, once again, I realized that I needed my Savior.
In an instant, I thoroughly recognized my utter dependence and hopelessness, and that nothing I could do would measure up with a perfect and holy God—which is just the point! Nothing you or I could do will pay our debt: not for our sins, nor with tithing, which are both based on the law requiring works “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20)… “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
The law was given to prove the impossibility of men being right in the sight of God, which proved their need for a Savior. It was the Pharisees who tried to prove that they did everything right: from tithing, fasting, and even knowing the scriptures (which foretold the coming of Jesus, but they missed it entirely), were worthless because all of these are issues of the heart.
God took me on a journey of grace, but to find my way there, I had to fail miserably while trying to keep the law. I couldn’t keep it, and neither can you.
Yet you might be saying, “Michele, are you kidding? I have been faithful to tithe and do it easily! You may not be able to figure out 10% and give it to your storehouse, but I certainly can.” But you have missed the point…
Once our Savior came and left us His Spirit, we were no longer under the law, meaning we were no longer expected to abide by it. But, as Paul told us, it does not mean that we should go out and break the law either. However, if we try to abide by the law, and fail in just one point, we are guilty of all. So, our choice is to both follow the law and try to live by it or—choose grace—I am choosing grace!
Once a believer experiences His grace, which is freely given to us by God through His Son, then we become like Him and want to also give freely. We forgive freely because He has forgiven us freely, for those who do not forgive freely are not forgiven…isn’t that what it says?
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14–15).
“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions” (Mark 11:25–26).
And after the man refused to forgive the man who owed him, which caused him to then be turned over to the “torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.” Jesus said, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
It’s always a heart issue with God. Ezekiel prophetically spoke of what would happen after Jesus came and sent us His spirit:
“And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them and I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
And a heart issue, now I know, goes for tithing and giving too. What my Heavenly Husband explained to me at the end of my journey is that His grace is sufficient and that long ago He put a spirit of giving in my heart—He put Himself. He began to reveal to me, almost supernaturally, how His Spirit had actually caused me to always give more than a 10% tithing would, one by one.
Time after time, from the moment I was given my ministry back and I was in charge of its finances, my darling Husband showed me that I’d given each time He had instructed me to. I did exactly what my ex-husband was afraid I’d do—I began giving everything I had away. Our books were sent out free to those who couldn’t afford them, and I “foolishly” reduced the price of our books to our members so they simply paid our cost (meaning we would make nothing). I no longer charged to be a member or required that they purchase books to be a member, and I gave abundantly to missions and to anywhere else I could find—just because I felt so free to simply give!
Once I saw what He had done, in a moment of relief, my eyes filled with tears of gratitude—grateful for a Savior whose grace was more than sufficient.
The Lord showed me that not only had I given, I had given freely, cheerfully, and amazingly much more than a meager 10%, as with a religious tither would do. The records were all there but were hidden from me until I had reached the end of my journey so that I would experience firsthand, once again, about His amazing grace.
His grace is the substance that cannot be mixed or joined with the law or our works, for in doing so, it becomes ineffective. With tithing, as it is with so many areas of our lives, we try to follow the law, stumble in just one point, making us guilty of all, as we drowned in a sea of condemnation. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10).
Praise God “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
This is Good News to the Believer who is having a love affair with their Beloved, but troublesome to those who are followers of religion.
For you, dear bride, there is no longer any need to count, worry, or wonder if you are measuring up when you are walking in the joy of the Lord and in His love—by His grace. Relieved? I am.