Chuck Swindoll recently sat down with Michael Easley, pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, Tennessee, to discuss their mutual love for the Lord, for God's Word, and for God's amazing grace. Here, Chuck shares about his personal "grace awakening" and how God's all-sufficient grace allows Chuck to be himself.
Michael: So if there's something that comes out from the depths of Chuck Swindoll, it's this message of grace. I mean, it comes out of your pores. Your laughter, your self-deprecating humor, the way you throw your head back when you preach. It's compelling. Others can't help but think, I wish I could love life like that guy. I wish I had that much joy. Help us. What's that all about?
Chuck: I will tell you in one word; it's freedom. I am free. I am really free.
Michael: Was there a defining moment in your life? What was it like when you started tasting the freedom of grace?
Chuck: Well, I write about it in my book Saying It Well. I found out who I was. I accepted who I am. I didn't like everything about it, but I accepted the person God made inside this skin. And then I began to be who I am. Now, it wasn't this way at the first. In the early days, when I got in the pulpit I was severe. I handed out a lot of reproof. I felt, we've got to get this straight. These are biblical principles, and, you know, eternity's at stake. And one day Cynthia said, "We all know those things, but we just need to be charmed into righteousness," which is a line Reinhold Niebuhr used in one of his works.
Michael: Okay, so there are those who will hear "understanding who I am" and say it sounds like a bunch of psycho-babble. So how do we help people understand that grace isn't about sanctifying the fact that we are the way we are—in that we are human and make bad choices—but about accepting the way God designed us, even in a fallen context?
Chuck: Well, there's a difference in accepting who I am, warts and all, and focusing on "it's all about me." That's narcissism. And life is not about that. Freedom says that God made you who you are. Don't try to hide the fact that it includes weaknesses and strengths. See, to deny that I have strengths is ridiculous . . . just as is denying that I have weaknesses. Somewhere is the balance. Grace allows me the freedom to know the difference.
Michael: Yes, grace is about accepting who we are, and it's not about what we do. It's not about conforming to lists or being perfect. "Nothing you can do," as Prof Hendricks [Dallas Theological Seminary] would say, "will make God love you more. Nothing you can do will make Him love you less." God gives us the freedom to fail and still be loved. And yet we are to still strive for righteousness.
Chuck: Oh sure. Listen, I joyfully—exuberantly—embrace my freedom in Christ. But I'm constantly dealing with the real world too. I face the same fight others face when they see a sign that says, "Don't touch the wet paint." I, too, want to touch it. And when I'm given rules, I don't always want to keep them. Now that's grace gone to seed. If I start thinking, That rule doesn't apply to me. I'm free of rules and lists, that's not freedom. That's another kind of bondage; it's a kind of self-made bondage where I've twisted grace and called it grace, when in fact, it's disobedience. No list God gives us is for the purpose of legalism. It's for the purpose of obedience. Furthermore, it's for our good and His glory. And I think, when you embrace grace, you care about that. You want to obey. You know, I don't stay faithful to Cynthia because she might catch me if I don't. I stay faithful to her because I love her, and I cannot NOT be faithful to her.
Michael: You know, I've adopted a definition of grace as "undeserved favor in the face of deserved wrath." I think it helps people to consider not only "I'm getting grace," but also "I deserve hell. I deserve God's wrath, but in His kindness, He extends grace to me."
Chuck: Incredible. That's what makes us want to obey, to follow our Savior with all of our hearts. I don't believe there is the passing of a day or two in my life that I don't think about grace and give thanks for it. Freedom—it's the only way to really live.