Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)
Grace – the wondrous gift of unmerited favor from God – is, quite sadly, a theologically divisive subject. People argue and debate about “cheap” grace and “free” grace and grace for this but not for that… It is as if so many want to deconstruct grace and use the materials to reconstruct a grace-built box in which to contain God Himself.
Perhaps the problem is that grace is such an unnatural state for we sinful humans. Grace itself is an unearned – and unearnable – gift from our Eternal Heavenly Father. If we could earn it, it would no longer be a gift. It is by grace (through faith) that we are saved. It is by grace that the painful things serve not to destroy us, but draw God’s children closer to Him. It is by grace we are sustained. It is by grace we are strengthened.
And all of us need God’s grace.
The problem comes when we try to discern who should be the recipient of God’s grace. As if one person or group’s sins is any greater or more insidious than our own. The minute we say, “These people are not welcome in our community because they are __________________” (fill in the blank with any sin), then we fail to extend God’s grace. We fail to reach out in love. We do not recognize the truth of their – or, more importantly, our own – situation because of the blindness caused by the log lodged in our own eye.
It seems to me more than a little hypocritical to feel so certain of our own salvation, the gift of grace extended to us that washes away the otherwise permanent stain of sin, while denying – or at least placing prerequisites upon – others whose sins seem so hideous to us. Are we so good? Are we so pure? Would any of us have given a second thought to dining with Jesus, considering the prostitutes and societal outcasts He chose to be with? Jesus never said, “Deal with your sin, then we’ll talk.” He said, “Come to me, all who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Our problem is universal: pride. It is pride in our own imagined purity that causes us to look at someone else and level the charge of “sinner” upon them. If that idea is offensive to you, perhaps now would be a good time to stop and reconsider some things.
When we judge another – especially when we excuse our judgment under the false pretense of discernment – we are choosing to be proud. We forget from whence we came. We fail to see the excremental unworthiness of our own pasts. We place ourselves on some level above them. But, remember this: we have no idea what someone has been through. No idea of the hardships and pain that have led people – each of us included – to make some unwise life choices. As we drive along our life’s path, each of us goes off into the ditch at some point. To judge another is to abandon them in the ditch – the polar opposite action of the Good Shepherd Who leaves His flock to go find the one sheep who went astray.
None of us deserves God’s grace. And yet:
…he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? – James 4:6-12 (ESV)
Sin is truly the great equalizer. We have all fallen far short of the glory of God. And we could all use a healthy dose of humility and, God willing, His grace.