“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded~ Matthew 18:26-28
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the whole issue of abuse was murky and poorly understood. Abuse was far from uncommon but rarely discussed. As a result, the majority of abuse victims lived lives of secret desperation and intense shame. Few attempted to share the pain and torment they experienced at the hands of others. Victims courageous enough to share their experiences were routinely shamed and sometimes even blamed for the abuse they suffered.
Mercifully, human civilization has evolved in recent years. Sadly, abuse is still all too common. However, due to extensive public awareness campaigns the causes of abuse are better understood and the signs more frequently recognized. Behaviors and speech once accepted as “normal” are now recognized as abusive and no longer tolerated by the non-Neanderthal majority. Victims are generally treated with compassion and understanding, and help is available for those who struggle with abusive behaviors.
That said, there is still one arena where abuse frequently occurs and is seldom recognized for what it is, it’s the abuse of grace.
Grace is a term so rich in meaning that it is difficult to define. Grace is most typically understood to be undeserved favor or approval. However, there is much more to the mystery of grace than simply favor or acceptance. Grace is closely related to love and can also be defined as kindness, mercy and the willingness to overlook the iniquities or mistakes of others. 2nd Corinthians 12:9 gives readers an intriguing example of grace; there grace is defined as super-natural empowerment to handle particularly challenging situations.
Personally I prefer to think of grace as a do-over or an undeserved second chance. We could all use a little bit of grace at one time or another.
Grace is a characteristic most often associated with God and for good reason. God at His very core is a giver of grace. But grace is also something humans can and often do bestow on one another. Anytime an offense is overlooked, a second chance is offered or a transgression forgiven, grace is at the core of that act of kindness or mercy.
Abuse of grace occurs when one takes the grace given without acknowledging or respecting the cost of the transaction. Forgiveness can be freely given but that does not mean it’s actually free. There is always a heavy price to be paid for any act of forgiveness.
God, paid the ultimate price when He sacrificed Jesus, allowing humanity to freely receive His forgiveness. People also pay a price when they choose to forgive. When a person forgives, they relinquish the right to seek revenge for the wrongs done to them by the other person. If this sounds easy, it’s likely because you have never actually forgiven anyone or you have never been terribly wronged.
Grace is also abused when one blithely takes the forgiveness offered without changing their behavior (the Bible calls this change of behavior repenting). God and many people (even non-Christian people) are willing to forgive outrageous offenses if they know the offender is truly sorry. When a forgiven person immediately returns to past behavior without a trace of sorrow or shame, the forgiver (whether it be God or a person) has to assume that the offender was never really sorry for their sin.
Sadly, the abuse of grace is destroying the church Jesus was sacrificed to build. It’s wrecking havoc on relationships, breaking the heart and testing the patience of God and doing irreparable damage to the witness of Christians everywhere.
Its time for followers of Christ to recognize that grace is a precious gift and no gift should ever be treated with contempt. We should also remember that the patience of God has historically had limits. It’s never wise to test the heart of God by abusing His kindness.