Grace is a tricky thing, mostly because it depends a lot on the person giving the grace as opposed to the one receiving it. So like we always do, we devise schemes and formulas about how it is given, and who it should be given to. Typically we only can muster up enough strength to give grace to those much like us. Grace is a hard thing to give to those who are unlike us or we don’t understand.
I remember a time when I had a very hard time sympathizing, let alone giving grace to, those who did things that I never did. After all it is their responsibility to smarten up and they have to make a decision, just like I did. If I can do it, than so can they. Grace ended up being divvied up according to how much grace I felt I was given and to how they matched up to my own performance. I never did understand those that got drunk on the weekends because it really wasn’t my thing, so I had less grace for them. However if it came to lust or pride I tended to give them a bit more grace.
This is faulty for a few reasons. First it means that we end up only giving grace to those that we think can’t help it. We certainly can’t help when we sin we think, so for those that can’t help it we understand and sympathize with them. They are stuck, they just can’t get better we think. However, this sort of defeats the purpose of grace. Grace needs to be given when people can do the right thing, yet choose not to. Grace needs to be given when people will not deserve it, will not do what is right and aren’t doing anything to get better. I was struck by a comment on Tim Challies blog the other day in his review of the Shack. He said
Nowhere in Scripture will we find the idea that we can or should forgive an unrepentant person for this kind of crime [murder]. Rather, Scripture makes it clear that repentance must precede forgiveness. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness.
I’m sure he has a post somewhere in his site to back up that statement; maybe someone can point it out to me. This just seems to be the exact opposite of what grace is. Grace is undeserved and comes when we were still sinners. Grace and forgiveness is to be given in the midst of sin and rebellion against what is right; without it where does that leave people?
The parable in Luke 7 I think speaks to this a little. Simon was told a parable two guys who have a debt, one is ten times bigger than the other and then both debts are cleared by the master, Jesus asks who Simon thinks would be more grateful. Simon answers (the way we would all answer probably) that the guy with the largest debt. Jesus tells him he is right and then drops a bomb. “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” The point of this parable wasn’t to say that if you sin more you can love more. It was rather to help Simon see that all of our debts are equal and that he was blinded to that. For him to look at someone and see more sin than in himself was to see himself improperly. For us to love properly, we need to be completely aware of our own need for Christ and how lost we’d be without him or else we will constantly become the Simon in our situations thinking that our debt is so much smaller than everyone else’s.
God calls us to love and give grace to and forgive those that don’t deserve it and don’t want it not just those that can’t be good. I can’t see a church or Christian that functions any other way. Grace is for all and especially those that we think don’t deserve it and don’t want it.