Rooted in Christ

Dogs Don’t Get Grace

My wife and I are taking care of our daughter’s dachshund while she is at the beach for a week with her family.

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 3:18) 

My wife and I are taking care of our daughter’s dachshund while she is at the beach for a week with her family. His name is Jackson, named after the painter Jackson Pollock. Jackson is an artist in his own right. His specialty is nihilistic expression. He can make food disappear into nothingness. Extend him a biscuit with your hand and you might find one of your fingers missing as well. 

Jackson does pretty well considering his fifteen years. He can’t see well. He can’t hear at all. But his sense of smell seems to do just fine in its function as a food detector and taste enhancer. 

As I watched Jackson slowly, steadily lumber about the room on his arthritic legs hidden by his long dark fur, doing his best impersonation of a Roomba, I felt a bit sorry for him. So I rummaged through the doggy bag my daughter brought with his things and found a pouch of biscuits. Opening it up, I sorted through trying to decide what Jackson would like from the palette of colors that I assumed reflected different flavors. I opted not to try one myself to find out. 

Picking one that I imagined to be a medium rare porterhouse steak biscuit, I presented it to Jackson, not foolish enough to put it to his mouth but experienced enough to put it on the floor in front of him. He was delighted. I think he even chewed it rather than swallowing it whole. 

Jackson was not grateful at the small blessing (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Rather, he lifted his cataract-glazed eyes up to me with hopeful expectancy of more. I could see the wheels turning as he tried to figure out what he did to merit the biscuit. 

Then, it struck me. Dogs don’t get grace. They link blessing with performance. That’s why show dogs, search and rescue dogs, and sniffer dogs all do what they do and then return to their human for a reward. Not surprising. That’s how they have been trained and what seems to motivate them. 

Like dogs, we don’t get grace either. We think that God blesses us because we try hard. We deserve His favor and become disgruntled when it’s not forthcoming. Kind of like the older son in the parable of the prodigal. This merit system is engrained in us. It shapes our religious sensibilities. 

But grace doesn’t work that way. It is unearned, undeserved, and unexpected. That’s how our Heavenly Father treats us. He lavishes good gifts upon us. Sometimes, we’ll act like Jackson and wonder what we did to deserve the blessing so we can do it again and get blessing again. But grace is the open hand of our God extending His good gifts simply because He loves us. 

That works for God’s daily dealings with us and for eternal blessing as well. Paul explains to the Ephesians that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. How? By virtue of His sovereign grace through the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Why? Simply because He set His love on us. 

This can be a tricky concept to understand. Jackson will never get it. He’s a dog and dogs don’t get grace. But we can get it. Our Christian maturity can be expressed in terms of increasing in this understanding. Peter puts it this way: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 

Growth in grace and the knowledge of Jesus go hand-in-hand. That’s why Peter finishes his thought by reminding us where the merit is found and the glory belongs: “To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

"Father, I thank you for Your abundant mercies to me in Jesus, and for Your expressions of goodness that fill my life every day. I ask that by Your Spirit You would grow me in the grace and knowledge of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and help me to give Him all glory, honor, and praise. Amen."

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale