God has been really changing my idea of Grace. Changing me. I’ve hit some tough things this past year. A child struggling with physical illnesses. Another child who has been diagnosed with a major mental illness. Other things that cause a lot of stress. I have been beyond myself worrying, trying to keep my head above water. I’ve been grumpy, yelling more than usual, definitely being less like me and more like some person I didn’t recognize, someone who wasn’t always very nice.
But in the midst of all of the struggle there began to be a glimmer of something I couldn’t quite grasp. Something changing me around the edges.
Something I thought I understood. We have all heard a hundred sermons (or more) with those words in it.
I thought I got it…until I saw the opposite of it being poured out upon a friend of mine. She messed up. They reacted. It hasn’t been pretty. Her parents call it “tough love” while they take everything away from her they can possibly take (you would be horrified to find out the details) and refuse to be any part of her life. Her friends and family members have called it “speaking the truth in love” while they castigate her and then shun her, refusing her their acceptance and love until her behavior returns to an acceptable level so that they can once again be around her without it appearing they are complicit. Her church calls it “church discipline” while they refuse to speak to her in restaurants, and talk about her as if she is a pariah and agree to “pray for her.” It is horrid, and cruel… and wrong of them. It is reminiscent of cults. Full of legalism, bondage, and self-righteousness and behavior management… and it is so very, very, sad. And it is why we don’t attend a church regularly… this was the same church that treated us so badly in the past.
Have you ever learned about something because you have seen or experienced the opposite? My heart broke for her as she sat on my couch and sobbed as she expressed her deep pain. And I began to ask God, “How is it possible that this is being done in your name?”
It was obvious that this wasn’t right. And I was angry. Very angry. It was a righteous anger, but it evolved into pure judgement towards the judgmental… And suddenly, everywhere I turned I was hearing something about Grace. About second-chances. About Forgiveness and Mercy. I nodded my head and thought that “Those People” should really hear some of this too! And I have known this family my entire life, so I knew their sin was just as bad, and just as stinky… but well covered up.
Then God slowly began to reform my idea of Grace and Mercy.
And I discovered something. Grace doesn’t just include my friend. That much was easy. See…. we know Jesus took the punishment for her sins… the sins of a broken and wounded person who messed up big time and knows it. But here is the kicker…. He took the punishment for their sins also. For the self-righteous egomaniacs, who believe tormenting people in the name of Christ is the right thing to do. He was beaten, reviled, and tortured… then died… for them. Is that punishment enough? Or do I think they deserve more? Do I think God didn’t do a good enough job at Calvary and I have to judge and find ways to punish them that I find more fitting? I find it easy to let my friend off the hook… she has been punished over and over and over by supposed Christians… but it isn’t so easy to forgive and refrain from judging those who are continuing to judge her and treat her so poorly. Granted… it isn’t me going through it, which obviously makes it easier for me than her.
I have moved from a place of extreme disgust (don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like what they are doing) and judgement, to a place of genuine concern for their salvation. It becomes increasingly clear to me that they don’t understand Grace and Mercy at all. Rather than be angry with them, I think I need to pray for them and feel sorry for the bondage they are wrapped up in.
Now… can I apply this to my own life? To the people who have hurt me? To the people whom I want to “fix” like they want to fix her? To my family? My children? My spouse? I have always wanted to… I just didn’t understand it enough. Maybe this is a new beginning.
I want to understand Grace and Mercy. I want to be closer to Jesus…. and more like him. I want to be the person He has designed me to be. I want to receive Grace and Mercy as well as give it.
I want to walk in the Grace that is spoken of in Ephesians 2.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
I want to truly be able to offer Mercy to others. James 2:12-13 talks about it.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
It is easy to see they are not being merciful. Maybe not so easy to see that I’m not either if I am judging them for that. I’m sure I will still get angry when I see injustice.. and I don’t think that is wrong. It is wrong, however, to be bitter and unforgiving towards people who are so blinded and bound. It’s the old “be angry and sin not” thing.
I think maybe it is something I can only do by the Grace of God working in my own life. And through this, perhaps I can finally put away some of the things that have kept me back. It is definitely a Game-Changer!
Ephesians 4: 29-32
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.