Going into the Christmas holiday, I was focused on what can appear to be the scandalously generous side of grace. Found myself drawn back time and again to the priceless gift expressed in the words, “The Word (God) became flesh and lived among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”…For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:1,14, and 17).
Coming out of Christmas I’m thinking of the truth side of those inspired words. Seems to me that the truth of the goodness of the grace that came with Christ is tested by questions like:
Does the Bible offer a safety net for social rebels? Aren’t grace-based expressions of sympathy, tolerance, and forgiveness exactly what irresponsible people are counting on?
How can we celebrate an idea that means undeserved kindness and help when:
- Law and order is necessary for our survival.
- Opportunity and merit are both foundational to justice.
- Showing mercy for bad performance and law breaking rewards so much of what is wrong with the world.
These are only a few of the reasons many have an issue with what the Bible says about grace.
So how then can we honor as a Teacher and Savior one who urges us to love both friends and enemies? How can we embrace one who personifies grace-based thinking when he says that he has not come to condemn but to save?
Strong’s Dictionary of New Testament Words defines the Greek word translated grace as, “The merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.”
Seems to me that if Strong’s definition is an accurate summary, then the grace of God is a full-service, many-sided gift that reflects not only the compassion of God but his goodness, truth, and wisdom.
Because grace comes from God, it is grounded in a wise blend of love and truth. The rest of the Bible shows that grace gives us spiritual freedom without suspending principles of personal accountability or social justice. Instead of helping fugitives elude the law, grace changes the heart of a lawbreaker, brings that person to a place of honest admission, and a willingness to accept the social consequences of wrongs done.
Grace that helps a married person forgive a repentant spouse of abuse, adultery or abandonment may or may not lead the harmed person to accept that partner back into the house and to remain married. What grace does do is melt bitterness and replace a vindictive angry heart with an honest care and concern for the one who has hurt us.
Grace that forgives an admitted and remorseful church treasurer for embezzling church funds does not free that person from legal accountability or restitution. Grace that forgives a broken-hearted pedophile does not allow that person to mingle freely with children without close supervision. Grace that shows mercy to an employee who has repeatedly failed to fulfill the requirements of the job does not require the ongoing employment of that person.
The wonder of grace-filled mercy, kindness and compassion is not lost in the process. Even though grace does not rescue us from a court-ordered sentence, or countless other consequences, it does give us the immediate release of forgiveness with God, and the anticipation of living forever in the innocence, happiness, and peace of the One who served the real sentence for all of us.
The trouble with grace is that it can be misunderstood. It can be taken for granted. It can be misused to indulge and release those who have faked confession and remorse to get off the hook. Grace can be wrongly regarded as a safety net for those who are planning on doing wrong and asking for forgiveness later.
Rightly used, grace is a “miracle attitude” that comes from God and enables us to give one another undeserved kindness without suspending either personal accountability or the laws of social justice.
Nothing else can change us so profoundly, from the inside out. Nothing else can turn us into cheerleaders, counselors, and encouragers of both friends and enemies who desperately need to have someone notice them, value them and give them a loving reason to be better– with accountability rather than without it.