We throw around the word “grace” in the church like a catcher throws the baseball around the infield after a called third strike.
“Show more grace ... Be more gracious ... Display the grace of God ... .” Grace is quite possibly the most overused and misunderstood “church word” used today. Grace does not tolerate, accept, condone, approve, laugh at, or participate in sin. Grace does accept the person that sins. That is an important distinction. Simply put, grace is God giving us what we do not deserve.
Grace cherishes, judgment condemns. My good friend, Martin, is a chaplain at a federal prison. Martin and his wife Cory have four children, William, Carl, Anna and Nora. They came to see us recently and we took the kids swimming.
William is about 8 years old and has about 30 pounds and four inches on his 6-year-old brother Carl. Martin was throwing Carl in the water and they were having a great time. William wanted to join in the fun and asked his Dad to throw him. Martin cherishes William and though he wanted to play with William the same as Carl, he couldn’t. Martin told William, “Son, I want to throw you like I do Carl, but you’ve grown and I can’t throw you the same.”
I could see the disappointment on William’s face. William looked as his Dad and said, “I wish I was small again so you could throw me.”
A father who cherishes his son and a son who longed to be with his father! It would have been easy for Martin to tell William, “No, I’m playing with your brother” or “William, you are too heavy.” Martin chose to show grace to his son instead of judgment.
Grace chooses to love in relationship, judgment casts aside relationship. The church in Ephesus was an established church. Paul is warning the “mature Christians” in Ephesus that there is a danger when it comes to grace. The danger for Christians is to hoard grace for ourselves. When we hoard grace we become judgmental of people who don’t live up to our standard. When we do this we attach the sin to the sinner. In other words, we see the person as the sin.
Grace does not allow for this. Grace says that who we are is not measured by what we have done but by what Christ has done for us. Grace does not belong to us and we cannot hoard something we do not own. Grace makes a choice to love. When I choose something, I do it on purpose. It isn’t an accident, it isn’t fate, it is a choice I make. God chose to do what it took to extend grace to you and me. Christ’s death and resurrection wasn’t to display his ultimate power to mankind. The cross was about a loving God doing what was necessary to extend grace to a people he loved.
Grace creates relationship, judgment consumes relationship. Grace creates relationship with God so that we might join Him in the work he does. The unique message of the gospel to mankind is not to make a difference on the political scene, our call is not to wipe out poverty, or to feed the world, or to make sure that all children have a family to love and care for them. All these things will happen when we respond to the call to enter relationship with God, and then when we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. When we do this something extraordinary happens. We will begin to love each other.
People respond well to love. In my short life I have never seen anyone respond well to condemnation. When it comes to condemnation of others we need to tread cautiously as Christians. Romans 8:1 reads, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This verse comes on the heels of Paul saying, “What I want to do I don’t do and what I don’t want to do I find myself doing!” How can Paul say there is no condemnation? Grace cancels our condemnation and allows room for restoration.
Mark S. Erskine is pastor of Grove City Nazarene Church.