God's grace is everywhere in the life of the Christian. It is the single thing which we can point to for everything good in our lives. Mercy, in His sovereign orchestration of creation, undergirds every success or triumph we take part in throughout our lives. But something that is far too often missed is that grace and favor extend not exclusively to the good and wonderful in life, but to heartbreak and misery too. Failure and grace are not mutually exclusive. As much mercy as God has to grant success, he has grace to dump failure for growth and glory.
Failure is too commonly characterized as shameful and dirty. Living in southern California where you are defined as much by the car you drive as you are the job you work is proof of that. Being a twenty-four year old undergrad while most of the people that I meet are lawyers, investment bankers, producers, and business professionals can be disheartening, and even shameful. But a quick glance at the gospel, and the glories of Christ reveal how skewed that perspective is. Yet the Bible paints a different portrait of identity far from the shame and discontent I just described.
First though, lets look at the good, at success (James 1:17). Scripture says EVERYTHING good, comes from the Lord. That means that not a single dollar made, child born, or friendship formed is outside of God's direct mercy. You have a beautiful family because of God. You have a fulfilling job because of God. You have opportunity through education because of God. You have a Gospel-driven church because of God. That is why your pastors and so many other Christians say "by the grace of God," while most outside of the church will attribute their success to their own deluded sense of self-awesomeness. That delusion is also the building block of the heretical prosperity movement, the health and wealth theology: "Be awesome, do good, be positive, and it will pay off. You'll get because you gave. Put a quarter in the god-machine, turn it a couple of times, and it'll spit out some grace!"
Grace is 'unmerited favor' by God. By definition we cannot earn it, we cannot receive it as a reward, we cannot be owed it (Rom 3:20-24). So working hard enough to reach a goal, to achieve something admirable or good, ultimately rests in the sovereign hands of the Father. Unpacking it even more we'll see that the motivation to work hard, the passion and determination that drove us, the all-nighters before an exam, cradling all of that together is God's grace. Divine sovereignty is at the heart of everything down even to the roll of a die (Prov 16:33). If we really do believe that, if we really do believe that God is boundlessly sovereign, then it isn't a leap to believe as James says that our successes are direct acts of Grace by our merciful King. So that sweet job, isn't yours it's God's. You're just the steward, the caretaker. The same goes for your family, your house, your friendships, anything decent in your life is God's.
Now lets talk about failure. If God is sovereign over success then it follows that he must also be sovereign over our defeats. So why then would he allow us to fail? If it hurts why would he let it happen? Why not just bless us in everything? How is allowing failure an act of grace? Short answer: Rom 8:28. ALL things work for our good and His glory. Clearly not just the good in our life, but the bad too. The grace of God through our deficiency is in that verse: He works out even our darkest moments for eventual good. In our greatest weakness, at our most vulnerable, through our deepest deficiencies He is good to us. (2 Cor 12:9-10). That is grace. That is unmerited favor. That God would conform us to Christ in all circumstances (Rom 8:29), including our failures is a great testament to God's power and mercy.
Though at times it may seem condemning. Our failure can feel like God pointing a finger at us and saying "this is what you deserve." How contrary is that to the gospel though?! Christ died with all of our sin, past, future, and present. As children of God we're pardoned. By the gospel we cannot and will not be punished for our sin because Jesus already was. So that feeling of condemnation, the sense of 'I deserve this,' is not just wrong, it is wholly unbiblical and contrary to the nature of the gospel. Never is our failure punishment, never is it divine retribution. But that doesn't mean that there are not consequences for sin or for failure. Screwing up at work may get you fired, failing classes may get you expelled, being unfaithful will cause marital strife. But what we know about the grace of God is that no matter the circumstances they are working out for our good and His glory.
The good that He is working may not be obvious as we venture through the murky crags of failure and disappointment, but they are there. There are three very obvious results of failure that can only be attributed to God's grace, this is by no means exhaustive, but it is a place to start.
1. Failure reminds us of our human frailty.
We are fallen broken creatures in need of rescue and saving. Every time we measure up short we see manifest our insufficiencies outside of Jesus, which in turn drive us into a more consuming worship and adoration of His mercy.
2. Failure is a diagnostic.
It is a event or circumstance that shows us our deficiencies and in what particular areas we need growth. He gives us a diagnosis of our sin and failings. First a doctor diagnoses a failure of an organ, then he prescribes a remedy. Knowing our areas of deficiency allows us to pray for God to work change in us, and for us as individuals to seek accountability, council, and scripture for sanctifying our shortcomings.
3. Failure is experience.
Our experiences are something that we can give away. Our biggest failures and sins are teachable moments not only for us, but provide us with experiences that we can give away through discipleship and community. Each of has our own unique struggles, backgrounds, and maturity, and we can give away that wisdom to others who need it and are looking for help and support.
The point is this: Everything that we experience, whether good or bad, success or failure, is an outpouring of love and grace by our mighty and merciful God. An essential component of maturing in Christ is recognizing the grace of God in your life through absolutely everything. Keeping an eye toward the gospel, and seeing through redemptive eyes keeps that grace alive in our minds, and Jesus at the center. As God's grace transcends circumstances, so should our praise and worship.