God doesn't give us grace just so we can roam the halls of life, doing what we want, thinking, "Hey, we're covered."
There's a lot of talk about grace in Christian circles these days. And that is good. Grace obliterates the idea that we have to do something, be something, make something, go somewhere to be saved. Grace banishes the idea that we can somehow earn our way into God's mercy, into heaven. Grace looks at legalism, rolls its eyes and says, "How's that working out for you?"
Grace is, absolutely, 100% enough to cover everything we've done, are doing and will do. It's also 100% God and 100% available to anyone.
Grace isn't just for those of us who go to church. It's not just for one denomination. It's not for just the card-carrying church members. It isn't just for felons. It's not just for the sinner who doesn't know any better. It's not just for those stuck in a cult. It's not just for the poor in the inner city and it's not just for the orphaned in a third world country. It's for all of us. Every. Single. One. You. Me. That person who drives you crazy and the guy who just cut you off. It is for all of us.
Ephesians 2:4-5 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.
But there are a lot of ways people -- including myself -- are misusing, misnaming grace.
I think most of us innocently misuse grace. We casually toss it around. We take it for granted. We look at the cross that we've become so accustomed to seeing and forget what grace actually cost. (we Americans do that with the flag, too, but that's another post)
Grace is not an entitlement.
Though grace is for everyone regardless of "how bad" they are, we are not entitled to grace. God did not actually have to show us grace. He promised it to us, He gave it to us, but make no mistake, it is a gift, not a right. My kids are under the impression -- like most American kids -- that they are entitled to Christmas presents. Heck, I even think that. But they are not. I am not. A gift is something you have been given by a generous person out of their own free will. If they were required to give it, if you forced them to give it to you, it wouldn't be called a gift.
Ephesians 4:7-8 says, "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."
We should appreciate grace. We should thank God for His grace every moment. It's His gift to us. To us who don't deserve it in the slightest. When we behave as though we are somehow worthy of His grace, when we act like spoiled children on Christmas morning, we are treating grace as an entitlement.
Grace does not make it okay to be lazy or complacent.
When you get a really great gift, what do you do? Tell people about it! Wear it. Use it. Share it. Is there a greater gift than God's amazing grace? Is there a better gift than being given a robe of righteousness when all we deserve is muddy, scummy rags? No! So why are so many of us hiding it? Why are so many of us sitting on this gift? Why are so many of us coasting into eternity doing NOTHING with the gift God has bestowed upon us?
John 4:35 says, "Don't you have a saying, 'It's still four months until harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest."
Matthew 9:37 says, "Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few."
1 Peter 4:10 says, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms."
Grace is not a license to sin; it is not an excuse to remain broken.
Yes, without a doubt, grace is for sinners. Perfect people don't need it. But we're not perfect. We are sinners and so we need it. Every day. Sometimes even more often than that. But that does not mean that we should just sin, sin, sin and then beg for mercy later. Grace does not mean we can just keep sinning, keep hurting people, keep being stupid, keep acting like our pre-Christ selves just so grace will accumulate.
My 7th grade math teacher used to say, "True sorrow produces change." If we understand grace, if we appreciate grace, we realize that grace is way better than that sin we crave so much. We understand that we need to turn away (repent) from that sin and then avoid it. We need to change. Even secular 12 step programs teach this concept. Parents teach this to their kids.
The fact remains that though God has clothed us in Jesus' righteousness, we still slip into our old ways, we still sin. God's grace indeed covers that. But that doesn't mean we should start out with the intent to sin. We are supposed to turn away from our old ways because we are a new creation in Christ through His grace as poured out in His blood from the tortorous cross.
Can you imagine if Jesus came to you while you were in the middle of sinning, with blood dripping from his brow, his hands, his feet, his sides? Do you think He'd just shrug and say, "Go ahead with what you're doing. I'll wait." I think His heart would break, I think He'd say, with tears in His eyes, "I did that for you. Is this really what you want to do with it?"
Yes, we sin. Yes, His grace covers it. Amen. But sin no more.
Romans 6:1-2 says, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"
James 4:7-8 says, " Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded."
Romans 6:6-7 says, "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin."
Grace is not an excuse to hurt your brother or cause him to stumble.
There are things in this world that cause one person to stumble but not the next. Some of us can watch horror movies containing evil images or witchcraft and just see it as entertainment. For others, it is a foray into a world of unGodly spiritual treachery. Some of us can have a beer or a glass of wine -- or both -- and enjoy for it as a luxury or a treat. Others of us cannot because addiction takes hold and the drunkenness enslaves us. Some of us can listen to sexually explicit songs and not even hear the lyrics. Others hear those words and it puts unclean images in their minds or leads them to think unpure thoughts or do unclean things.
What is good for the goose actually isn't good for the gander.
Should we just make all of these things wrong? Should we call them all sin? Should we forbid them all along with every other questionable thing? No. But we should treat them and our Christian siblings with reverence. That means if someone among us is struggling with one of these things and we know it, we should do all that we can to not make their struggle harder for them. If that means I only listen to KLove when Moe is at my house, cool. If that means I don't serve alcohol at a party because Curly is attending, okay. If that means I turn off Hellraiser because Larry stopped by, no problem.
Just because something is okay for me doesn't mean grace makes it okay for someone else. Maybe, possibly, one day Larry will no longer struggle with witchcraft. But if that happens it will be through God's strength alone, by God's grace alone, and because Larry turned his back on his old self. The reality is, however, that day might not come until Jesus comes back and if I'm going to be Larry's friend, if I'm going to build Larry up, then you can bet I'm not going to watch Hellraiser when he's over for movie night. There are 364 other days in a year when I can watch that movie and not affect Larry.
If I beat Larry up and say, "Grace covers it, dude. I'm gonna watch this and you should be able to watch it too because grace covers it" well then, I'm using grace as a weapon. I'm using it as a judgment. I'm kind of being a jerk.
1 Corinthians 10:23 says "I have the right to do anything," you say--but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything"--but not everything is constructive."
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says "So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing."
Romans 14:13-21 says "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let uspursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble."
1 Corinthians 8:13 says "Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall."
Grace. It's a gift. A gift for all of us.
Want to see grace in action? Look at Jesus. Study His life. Seek His heart. John 1:14 says Jesus was full of grace. His death on the cross was grace poured out. I need His grace every day, every hour, every moment. Every time something pops up that makes me feel entitled, I need grace. Every time I'm tempted to sin, I need grace. Every time I'm tempted to sit back and let someone else do it, I need grace. But I can't misuse it. I can't mistreat it. I can't call it something it isn't. Grace is too good for that. Grace. It's all I've got.