I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about grace, what it means and how it applies to our lives as Christians. Dictionary.com defines it as, “mercy, clemency; pardon...favor shown in granting a delay or temporary immunity.” It then goes on to have a separate definition under the heading of “Theology.” Here it defines grace as “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God...the influence or Spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them.”
Isn’t it interesting that the world’s definition of grace and God’s definition of grace are not the same? How true is that! But I wonder which definition the church of today is living out? Or even more clearly, which definition of grace are the people of Christ living out today?
You see the world’s definition is “granting a delay” so there is still a payment due, but the world’s grace means a willingness to wait for that payment.
God’s definition? Well that’s a different story, “freely given, unmerited favor and love.” Payment canceled, end of story! Now that is the grace I hope is extended to me!
Our Sunday school class recently discussed this very thing. We are reading The Power of a Woman’s Words by Sharon Jaynes and a few months ago the lesson was on the lack of community within our Christian communities. In chapter 2 Jaynes tells about a man named Rob, a new believer who shares with his Bible study group that he misses the fellowship he use to have in the bars. Jaynes goes on to say, “Rob didn’t miss the alcohol. He missed the fellowship where no one would judge, condemn, nag, discourage, or tear him down.”
She then goes on to quote Charles Swindoll from his book, Encourage Me.
“The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it’s permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship…The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.”
Now that is a lot to think about. Why is it that people aren’t finding that acceptance from those of us who follow Christ?
The SHINE team recently studied Jane Rubietta’s (last year’s speaker) book entitled, Come Closer. Chapter 4 of her book begs the question, “Whatever happen to come just as you are?” and then challenges us by adding, “What if...we didn’t expect people to come all cleaned up, spit shined and pressed, with mouthwash freshening their breath? What if someone weaves into the church with alcohol seeping through her pores? What if a wife shows up with a black eye? What if a drug addict plops down in the front row? Or someone who forgot their anti psychotics that morning? Can we really say, ‘Come as you are?’”
Can people spend time with you without feeling judged? Do they go home encouraged or discouraged after a day with you?
Or maybe you are the one who is feeling judged? When is the last time someone offered you grace~ unmerited favor? Maybe we struggle with giving grace because we have forgotten the grace that was given to us. Maybe the people of God have been less than gracious to us...I hope not friend, but even if this is the case, God has given us grace. Freely, grace has been given freely, not because we have earned it but because he LOVES us. Loves us enough to give up his only son to pay a debt we couldn’t pay. Maybe we have forgotten that part of the story. Maybe we are like that debtor Jesus talks about in Chapter 18 of Matthew.
You might remember the story. A man owed a debt that could not be repaid so he was ordered to be sold, along with his wife and children. Well this man fell to the ground and begged for something he did not deserve, grace. And the master had compassion and blessed the man with the grace he did not deserve.
However, the man went right out and found someone who owed him a debt, much smaller than the one he owed. It would make sense that he would return the same act of kindness that was just given to him, but sadly instead of grace, the man demanded justice. He had this man thrown into prison.
Oh sad day when we become like this man, forgetting so quickly the grace we have been given and demanding justice from others, when we want grace for ourselves.
This story had a sad ending, the man whose debt had been forgiven by the master and then went out to collect debts owed to him, well the master found out and what had once been a huge sigh of relief turned into a moan of justice coming full circle. The master handed him over to be tortured until he could repay all that he owed.
Jesus concludes the story by saying, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you , If each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
Let us not be like this unforgiving servant, who quickly forgets the grace that has been poured out on us. Close your eyes, picture the cross, think about all that God has done for you and then pray and ask God to replace your unforgiveness with forgiveness, your anger with compassion, your judgments with grace.