The other day I was telling my daughter that I thought she should have done a better job setting the table. I found several things to complain about, and I was giving her a detailed list. My other seven year old was sitting there on the other side of the table. “Dad,” he interjected politely, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
I was floored. I knew that he knew those verses, but it was the first time one of my kids had quoted scripture to me in any kind of context other than learning it. On one hand, I just wanted to make sure that the next time I wouldn’t be eating off of a baby fork. On the other hand, I had to stop and take this interjection seriously. There clearly was something in what I was doing that made my son think that maybe I needed a reminder about our common heritage as fallen and about grace.
About the same time that I taught my kids that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, I also taught them the verse that says “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Teaching them what that means was interesting, because none of my kids had any idea what wages are. All of the relationships that are prominent in their lives are about giving freely, about generosity and sharing. The only examples I could think of readily are negative, things like “I only give you a time out if you earn one,” but that loses the contrast with the amazing gift that is embedded in that verse. We have earned death, but life is given.
As a parent (not to mention as a spouse, a coworker, a boss, a freeway driver, a church attender, and all of the other relationships we have in life) it is a lot easier to find things to complain about and condemn than it is to remember grace. You probably have some relationships in which you have an easier time finding grace than I do. I probably have some areas that don’t cause me as much angst as similar relationships cause for you. I think that we all have spots in our lives in which giving grace is challenging.
Grace and forgiveness are not earned. Remember how we began. We all had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. None of us were righteous, not even one. There were none of us who understood or sought God. All of us had turned away from him. As a result, we were all apart from him, completely without hope. We were enemies of God. Not in some abstract sense as if we were making generalizations from a distance. I can see the remnants of who I was in my self even now. I find that even though now I want to do good, evil is still present within me. My body is still a captive to the law of sin that is in me. As a result I fall every day.
But God, in his incredible kindness, reaches out to me with his grace and forgiveness. While I was still his enemy he died so that he could restore a relationship with me and extend grace to me without destroying who he was as a holy and righteous God. I did nothing to earn that. There was nothing in me that deserved it. He did it because he is kind and full of love and grace.
Even still, somehow in my relationships with other people I feel that they should earn grace. God has poured his kindness and grace on me without thought of what I deserved. Why do I turn around and demand that others earn “grace” from me? Earned grace and deserved forgiveness are oxymorons. God’s love for me is an outpouring of who he is, not a reflection of who I am.
And I am called to that same love. If I am going to love my brothers and sisters as Christ has loved me, that can’t be a love that expects a fair trade. What did I have that I could give God in return for his love? The only good in me he put there. Grace that expects the recipient to earn it isn’t grace. Forgiveness that demands payment is reparation, not forgiveness. God’s forgiveness was one that took the debt on himself so that it could be paid without demanding the cost from me. That same forgiveness and grace is what I need to extend to the people around me.
But, I object, have you met the people around me? There are some annoying people in my life. They don’t seem to even realize that they need to change. When I try to help by pointing out their flaws, it just makes them mad and more difficult to get along with. Not only that, but there are people who have done some really bad things. There are people in my life who have…. well maybe you have people in your life who have done similar things.
Then I remember who I was, and who I am, and what God has done for me. To find grace and forgiveness, I find that I cannot focus on the person who I need to forgive. The point isn’t really them, after all. The point is God, and his grace and forgiveness. No matter what the people around me have done or are doing, from God’s vantage point I was in the same boat. The same grace that he has lavished on me he also has made available just as freely to them.
Who am I to judge where God has given grace?
How do I find that grace to forgive the hurt I feel inside? It is a journey, and not always an easy one. I find it in focusing on God and his grace, and in deciding to live there in that light, rather than in stewing in the darkness of my hurt. I pursue his healing, and then extend what he has given. I intentionally remember that I am as they are, a recipient of unearned grace. And I remind myself that I must love as God loves, without thought of reciprocation. At least, that’s what I do when I am walking out in the light. Even as I write this, I am reminded of hurts I harbor tucked away in safe places, ready to bring out to show that someone I need to love doesn’t deserve it. Of course they don’t. Neither do I. God loves us anyway.