Do to others as you would have them do to you- Luke 6:31 NIV
Grace is a big stinking deal. Grace is central to the Christian faith and vital to all Christian theology. Without the doctrine of grace there is literally no Christianity.
Grace is the word we use to describe God’s love for human beings and His mercy towards their sin (Ephesians 1:3-8, Ephesians 2:1-5). Grace is sometimes defined as “God’s unmerited favor”. There is nothing wrong with defining grace as favor, however grace is much more than simple favor, kindness or approval. God’s grace is best understood by what it does for us. God manifested His grace in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus died in the place of all humans so no human would be forced to pay the penalty (eternal separation from God) for their own sin. Jesus got death so humans can, if they so choose, have grace (forgiveness, leniency, mercy) for their sins. God gifts grace to human beings who put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ and repent or turn away from their sins (Matthew 3:8, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:24-31). No one can earn grace through good works (Galatians 5:4). People just aren’t that good (Romans 3:23). Grace is a gift God gives those who choose faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9, Galatians 2:21, Hebrews 11:6).
It has become a common feature of our Christian vernacular to say we ought to “give grace” or be “given grace”. This simply means we think someone should give or be given a break (leniency) for a sin or not be judged too harshly for something. There is nothing wrong with looking at grace from this perspective. Grace is not just something we get. Grace is something we give to others. Once a sinful human has experienced the joy and peace that comes from being forgiven by God that sinful human is expected to turn around and extend the same favor to others and forgive like God forgives (Matthew 6:12-15).
All the wonders of grace aside, like all good things in life, the whole concept of grace can and sometimes is abused. We can misuse grace. We can cheapen grace. When grace is abused, cheapened or misunderstood Christianity becomes confusing to non-Christians and the Holy Spirit is grieved (Ephesians 4:30). Following are four common ways grace and be abused, exploited or misapplied:
When we do not understand or care about the price paid for grace-
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote an entire book condemning the whole notion of “cheap grace”. We cheapen grace when we choose to live as if God puts no boundaries around Christian behavior (Ephesians 5:1-7, Hebrews 12:14, 2ndCorinthians 7:1). Cheap grace is the belief people should be able to sin all they want as willfully as they please and then just assume grace will cover their premeditated, willful sin. This kind of thinking (whether conscience or subconscious) is a form of spiritual entitlement that clearly shows the person does not understand the high price that was paid for their sin and as a result, they do not value or understand grace (Luke 22-23).
When we demand it from others as if it is owed to us-
Everyone wants to be extended grace (leniency for wrong behavior). However, any time a person demands grace from another there is a pretty good chance they are demanding it precisely because they have in some way violated the command to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31) or as James puts it: the “royal law of love” (Mark 12:31, James 2:8). It is categorically not okay for a Christian to have an affair, abuse their kids, slander someone or break any of the ten commandments and then loudly and proudly play the “you owe me grace” card. That is a clear violation of the law of love and an abuse of grace.
When we stop being shocked by it-
The whole concept of grace should amaze us. Seriously. It should knock our socks off and blow our minds. The whole notion God (or anyone else) would simply let something as serious as sin go without some sort of punishment or at the very least a sternly worded lecture is stunning and beautiful and mind blowing. When we stop being shocked God (or anyone else) would forgive our sins there’s a decent chance we are taking advantage of the kindness of God and others.
When we refuse to extend it-
No one should ever sin intentionally and then demand grace. However, when we are forgiven we become fully capable of extending grace (forgiveness, kindness, favor) to others. Refusing to give someone else the gift of grace we have been given freely is in many ways the ultimate abuse of the gift of grace (Matthew 18:21-35).
God’s grace is an amazing gift. Grace is amazing partly because it is about more than simple forgiveness. Grace does save us from the penalty of sin and death, but once we are saved grace becomes an empowering force in our lives that enables us to do more and endure more than we could ever imagine (2nd Corinthians 12:9, Acts 4:33, Acts 6:8). Grace gives us the power to live a holy life and fully obey God (Titus 2:11-12). Grace empowers us to forgive the unforgivable. Grace allows us to love the unlovable and live as Jesus lived. We show our gratitude for this gift by managing it well and extending it often.