On a particular plane ride I had the opportunity to watch a number of movies, including Steven Spielberg’s 1987-classic Empire of the Sun. It depicts the extraordinary experience of young Jamie Graham, wonderfully played by a 13-year-old Christian Bale, on how he was accidentally caught up in the Japanese Occupation of Shanghai in WWII and survived life in the prison camps through amazing adaptability and resilience.
Man has an incredible ability to adapt. I find myself doing this instinctively, every time I start driving back home or in another country. Once I get cut by another motorist without signalling or honked at for stopping to give way, my mind awakens to the fact that I’m no longer driving in New Zealand and shifts gears to start assuming the driving mode that would get me safely through the roads in that land.
But while adapting allows us to survive and handle new conditions, it doesn’t always end up being good for us. In Jamie’s case, it gained him knowledge in navigating the prison camps and helped him to survive the occupation until the war ended, but cost him his innocence and turned him into a hardened child who almost couldn’t recognise his own parents at the end.
Besides being quick to adapt, we often also have a strong tendency to be distracted. We may be on our way to grab some bread and fruits at the supermarket when we spot some chips and chocolates specials and end up with both in our trolley before we even hit what we were there for.
It isn’t just us. The people of the Bible were no different too. After Jacob deceived his father Isaac to get the firstborn blessings that should’ve belonged to his older twin Esau, his mother Rebekah told Jacob to run to his uncle Laban to hide from his brother’s anger for a few days.
While running away, Jacob encountered the Lord at a place he named Bethel (or ‘House of God’), and vowed to return to that place, as the Lord had promised to give him and his descendants that land.
The few days turned into 20 years, when Jacob fell in love with Laban’s daughter Rachel and ended up marrying both Rachel and her older sister Leah, having lots of children and working for his father-in-law Laban. He adapted well to life there. Then when it finally became unfavourable to stay any longer with Laban, Jacob decided to leave, and the Lord reminded him to return to Bethel, where the Lord had met him.
On his way back, Jacob got distracted again. He built camp and houses at various places for himself and his family and livestock, finally winding up at a city called Shechem, where he bought a piece of land and settled down comfortably. He even set up an altar to the Lord there. But it wasn’t the place he had vowed to God to return to, the place the Lord had promised to him.
Then the unthinkable happened. Jacob’s only daughter got raped while exploring the city, by the prince of the city. Her brothers, enraged, hatched a devious plot and killed all the men of the city for the offence committed against their sister. Jacob was distraught and disgraced, devastated by what happened to his daughter and what his sons did.
And then the Lord once again came to Jacob, and told him again to return to Bethel, to the original place of promise; and Jacob finally did. The Lord never berated Jacob, nor said, “If only you had listened to Me right from the start”; such was His grace.*
And such is His grace today. Creation adapts and gets distracted. The Creator doesn’t. Grace was God’s plan all along.
God had appeared to Abraham and promised to bless him and his Seed, who is Christ, simply by virtue of His promise, by grace through faith (Galatians 3:1-29). It was never about receiving the promises and blessings through the law, obedience, or good works, because God made the promise to Abraham 430 years before He gave the law.
Today, all of us who are in Christ are counted Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. We receive the promises given by God to Abraham by grace, through faith.
God didn’t adapt His plan to include the law to try to make man behave better, He gave the law to show man that he can never do good enough by God’s standards to earn a single blessing, to bring man to the end of himself. The law was given simply to lead man back to grace, in the person of Jesus the Saviour, to God’s original plan.
The purpose of the law hasn’t changed. Grace is still God’s plan and God’s best for us today.
Through grace and grace alone we experience permanent and lasting breakthroughs and victory over sin, destructive lifestyles and bondage, our hearts are transformed from self-occupation to Christ-occupation, ‘have-to’s get replaced by ‘want-to’s, and we start living holy lives unconsciously and effortlessly, not out of forced obedience, but out of an overflow of His grace and love at work within us.
Let’s stop trying to adapt God’s love descending to man in the gift of Jesus into man’s way of reaching God by our works and self-efforts. Let’s stop being distracted by what makes us comfortable, even the challenge of trying to work our way to God and good behaviour, just because that’s what we’re familiar with and that’s what seems right and good to us.
And let’s stick to God’s original plan of grace, because He surely knew what He was doing when He designed it for us.
So let’s simply receive every good gift and blessing – eternal life and everlasting righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, abundance and prosperity in every area of life – which we could never earn, achieve, or merit on our own, but which comes freely and undeservedly in the love gift of God’s Son Jesus Christ.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.
*The account of Jacob’s journeys is recorded in Genesis 27-35.