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In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Phillip Yancey tells the story of a prostitute who came to a pastor for help. Not only was she abusing her body to support her drug habit, but she was abusing her young child. The pastor asked the woman if she had gone to church for help. “Church!” she said, “I was already feeling bad enough about myself. Why would I want to go there? They would simply make me feel worse.”
When we think of a person abusing a child it is hard for us to think about grace.
But in the darkest places is where grace shines the brightest.
How can we wrap our minds around a prostitute abusing a child and God’s grace? Or, closer to our own lives, what are we supposed to do with grace when someone hurts us? Let’s begin with a definition.
Grace is the free gift of God. We don’t deserve it; we can’t earn it. The Apostle Paul clearly said that grace “cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). Until we understand that grace covers the greatest sin, we will not be able to understand that grace covers our sin. Yes, God’s grace covers even the despicable sin of the prostitute who abused her child. There is no line of sin that grace won’t cross.
However, we must understand that our sin—even forgiven sin—has consequences. We are going to reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8).
Grace and the Law
In a discussion about grace, we can’t forget about the laws we live under. In Yancey’s story, the pastor said that he was legally liable to report this woman for child abuse even as he offered her God’s grace. King David was forgiven for his sin with Bathsheba, but he still experienced serious consequences because of his sin. The thief on the cross, forgiven and headed to heaven, still died for his stealing. God will forgive the repentant murderer, but he will still receive the legal penalty rightfully due him. The man who leaves his wife and family and runs off with his mistress can receive God's forgiveness, but it won't undo the devastation he brought on his family and himself. Grace does not negate the laws we live under. Grace does not dismiss the consequences of sins. Scripture is clear that we are never to “pervert the grace of God into a license for immorality” (Jude 1:4).
Grace and Common Sense
When we extend grace, we must also use common sense. For instance, even though grace should be extended to the prostitute in Yancey’s story, we would be foolish to let her babysit our children. We must forgive those who hurt us, but this doesn’t mean that we put them in a position to hurt us or those we love again. If an alcoholic spouse leaves home, you can and should forgive him or her, but you should not let your children stay overnight at his or her new place during a drunken stupor. Grace does not mean we put those we love in danger.
Grace and Moving Forward
Too often our interest in grace is receiving it from others. I understand that is important. But when it comes to grace the focus is God, not man. The best part of grace is that God does not impose conditions that must be met before we can experience his forgiveness. Because his grace is absolutely free, you don’t have to clean up your life for God to accept you. Confess your sins. Repent and leave the old life behind. Let God do the cleaning up of your life. Don’t focus on others; focus on God graciously working on you.
Let’s keep the discussion going:
- Regarding grace, what do you agree with or disagree with in this blog?
- What makes grace so hard to extend?
- What questions do you have about grace?