"Grace is given not to make us something other than ourselves, but to make us radically ourselves. Grace is given not to implant in us a foreign wisdom, but to make us alive to the wisdom that was born with us in our mother's womb. Grace is given not to lead us into another identity, but to reconnect us to the beauty of our deepest identity. And grace is given not that we might find some exterior source of strength, but that we might be established again in the deep inner security of our being and in learning to lose ourselves in love for one another to truly find ourselves."
A young religious zealot quickly pounced upon the quote, declaring it to be "human-centered, Christ-eclipsing" heretical nonsense, and offered the following "correct" dogma:
"Grace is given to convert us from objects of wrath to objects of mercy."
Well, he was partly correct, drawing from his chosen, isolated proof-text of Ephesians 2:3. But his denouncement of Newell's words demonstrated an extremely shallow (yet widely preached) understanding of the true identity of the human race and the full meaning of God's grace. His dogma relegates human beings to nothing more than "objects" in a celestial legal/penal system with an angry God bent on our destruction, yet appeased by Christ's bloody sacrifice, thus sparing us from the eternal torture He believes we all deserve. I don't blame the young man for his myopic perspective. It's been the centerpiece and starting point of the Christian religion since the birth of the Holy Roman Empire.
Newell, drawing from the fuller body of Biblical texts and a broader scope of historical Christian teaching, draws us into a deeper truth about ourselves.
A better starting point for the human condition is found much earlier in the sacred text.
"Then God said, 'Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.' So God created human beings in His own image. In the image of God He created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.' Then God looked over all that was made and he saw that it was very good." ~Genesis 1
The identity of the human does not begin with error, sin, expulsion, exile, conviction, a celestial death-row, and eventual execution.
The Book of Common Prayer and the Westminster Confession of Faith provide us with a horribly deformed starting point as beings with "no health in us, opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil."
The identify of the human begins with the image of God within us and His declaration of our "goodness." It begins with what John Eldredge calls The Sacred Romance. The ancient Celtic followers of Jesus saw the genesis of our species as part of a Divine dance of the Lover and His beloved to the song of the Trinity.
Yes, evil entered the picture. The romance was betrayed. The steps to the Divine dance have been forgotten. The song has faded. And we have become the faintest shadow and caricature of who we were created to be. Enter grace...
We are meant, and invited by grace, to once again become radically ourselves: Men and women bearing brilliantly the image of God in our world, swept up once again by the song of God's extraordinary love for us. We are meant, and invited by grace, to rediscover wholly who God fashioned us to be in our mother's womb and living fully out of that understanding. And we are meant, and invited by grace, to return with abandon to the greatest and most enduring of all human expression: Love.
God's message to us is not that we can become something we presently are not. It's that we can be healed and restored to who we were always meant to be.