What prevents us from coming to grace and thus entering eternal life? This question is of paramount importance because a remedy can be done only after proper diagnosis.
Hardness of heart is one reason that prevents grace from reaching us. ‘They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart’ (Eph 4:18). Hardness of heart leads to ignorance in divine matters and darkness in understanding. To a person whose intelligence is so darkened, eternal life would not be much attractive. ‘In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’ ( 2 Cor 4:4). Unbelief, like hardness of heart, also blinds our minds.
This was the case of Pharaoh. In the book of Exodus chapters four through fourteen describes Pharaoh’s heart becoming harder by the day. When Moses and Aaron requested Pharaoh to release Israelites, what was his reply? ‘Who is the Lord that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go’ (Ex 5:2).
With every sign from God that Moses worked in Pharaoh’s presence, his heart became harder until the moment of the death of all the firstborn of his kingdom. But this softening of heart did not last and as a result a whole army had to be drowned in the sea.
Why did Pharaoh fail to appreciate the anointing revealed in Moses? Paul the apostle gives the answer. ‘Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor 2:14). It is the worldly man in us that prevents the flow of grace into our hearts. ‘The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law- indeed it cannot’ (Rom 8:7). How can grace nourish a soul that has stubbornly decided to rebel against God? If ‘friendship with the world is enmity with God’ (Jas 4:4) how can God’s grace embrace a soul that is deeply attached to this world?
Faith is the channel through which we receive grace. It should be an all-weather channel making seamless communication with God possible. When their channel of communication with God was weakened it took Israelites forty years to reach the promised land that was hardly a month’s journey from Egypt. Faith should be firm and unshaken ‘for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord ( Jas 1:7-8).
Another obstacle to the flow of grace is the impurity of heart. See how God revealed the heart of Simeon who came with money to buy the gifts of the Spirit, to Peter; ‘You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God…….. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness’ (Acts 8: 21-23).
Pride not only obstructs but totally prevents the flow of grace. Our God who is against the arrogant (Jer 50:31) is also one who ‘opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (Jas 4:6).
Greed is equivalent to idolatry (Col 3:5). It was when Zacchaeus gave up money ‘the love of which is a root of all kinds of evil’ ( I Tim 6:10) that he and through him his whole family tasted salvation. The tragedy of the rich young man was his attachment to wealth. Jesus waited for his departure to give an important teaching. ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 19:23). While writing to Timothy, Paul mentions about a certain Demas who deserted Paul and went to Thessalonica for the love of this world’ (2 Tim 4:10). No hope remains to those who once put their hands to the plow and then looks back’ (Lk 9:62).
Another important factor that blocks God’s grace from entering our heart is the direct influence of the devil. Such people need a thorough deliverance. Once the forces of evil are cast out, grace will start filling their hearts. In the gospels we read about Jesus casting out demons from many people.
Grace and eternal salvation are God’s gifts and not our privilege. Considering our fallen nature, we are not worthy to receive these gifts. Yet the merciful God forgave our sins and invited us into his kingdom. Since God forgave us, we are also bound to forgive others lest we will not be able to earn God’s grace and his salvation.
Let us do an introspection. What are the factors that prevent heavenly graces reaching us? Identify them and pray for getting the strength to rectify them.