Grace and Nature

There’s a famous saying in theology, “Grace builds on nature.”

Sometimes we visualize ‘building’ like lego pieces: one stacked on top of each other, top one covering the bottom one. But that isn’t what this saying means. It means instead that grace – God’s life and help given to us – permeates our lives, healing our human nature, and then helping to grow us more like Him.

We’re the branches, grafted onto the Vine of Life. 

But that branch has natural properties to it that in and of themselves need to be healthy in order to better receive the life of the vine. Do plants have capillaries? Let’s pretend they do. The more open and less clogged the capillaries, the better the plant blood can flow through the branch, and the stronger the bond between branch and vine. Conversely, if that branch is all shriveled, it can still get the vine’s lifeblood flowing through it, but it won’t flow as fast or as well.

How do we better the branches of our human nature so the grace of the Vine has bigger passages to flow through us and in us?

It starts with recognizing that there are basic human elements of character which we can’t just expect to fix, spiritually. Can God help us with everything? Absolutely. Especially because He himself took on full humanity!

But in the normal course of things, He tends to let our human elements be. (By this, I don’t mean our sinfulness, which He forgives.) Think of things like personality traits: Moses didn’t want to be a leader or a spokesman – God gave him the grace of leadership (though he was raised in Pharaoh’s court and surely was humanly familiar with it), but allowed him his brother as spokesman. Jesus didn’t ask Peter not to be brash: he just wanted Peter’s boldness to be for love of Him and others. Paul, the persecutor of Christians didn’t lose his zeal after conversion. On the contrary, he used it fervently in another way.

Have you ever met someone who is a fervent Christian, prays a lot, but is truly terrible at having an actual conversation with other people, for example? Or a charismatic leader in faith who is always completely disorganized, to the point of forgetting appointments and making people wait hours?

We all have weak spots, and very often those weakness are tied to very human realities. It’s not sinful to be a bad conversationalist, but a lack of ability to listen can be a sign of a lack of charity for others: likewise with being disorganized and failing to be there for others.

If we want to grow in grace, we’ve got to grow in nature, too. And one will affect the other: the Vine and the branches.

What branches of your human nature do you feel like need expanding?

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