Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about grace and what it means and how it looks to live it out: to accept it (to expect it?) and to give it. I get the impression that many of the students with whom I interact, have a view of grace that means it is mostly by default the opposite of legalism. So to understand grace from one of these perspectives, first one has to know: what is legalism? Legalism might be described as rigid, lifeless, the law, only caring about the rules as your top and/or only priority, living a moral life. So then grace, if it is the opposite of legalism, would be understood as flexible, alive, caring about the law as your least priority… if it is a priority at all, living a life that doesn’t worry about morality.
I see this view of grace when I encounter people who confess something they know to be a sin, but then expect there to be no consequences for their actions, especially if they came forward and in honoring honesty, confessed their sin. Its times like this that I don’t always know how to react. I am convinced that forgiveness is required of me to live well in my relationships with God and others, so I’ll personally strive to be at a place where I can offer genuine forgiveness (even if it takes a while for me to get to that point of forgiveness). But what about grace and mercy? Does it mean there are no consequences?
Is it arrogant to expect grace and mercy? I think it can be arrogant, showing that you haven’t yet felt the remorse or weight of your sinfulness, like wanting to be forgiven without the cost of feeling remorse. But, I’m reminded of a rather perplexing parable found in Luke 16:1-8. Here is a story Jesus tells about an unjust steward. A steward who is not managing his master’s finances well and therefore is let go. However, the steward then does something dishonest to strategically put him back in his master’s good graces again, or so he hopes. Kenneth Bailey says this about the scenario:
“He is smart enough to know that his only hope is to put his entire trust in the unqualified mercy of his generous master. His morals are deplorable. Nonetheless, Jesus wants “the sons of light” to use their intelligence, like the dishonest steward, and to trust completely in the mercy of God for their salvation.”
Here we see that Jesus commends this character for expecting grace and mercy and putting all his eggs in that basket. I like this if I’m the one in need of grace from God and others (and I am), but I don’t think I like having this kind of expectation on me in regards to extending grace to others. I like to do things out of my love for people, not out of a sense of obligation. However, I feel that if we are to respond to God’s beloved creation in the manner similar to God’s response, then grace and mercy should be expected of us.
So what exactly is expected?
However, the master’s mercy didn’t necessarily go so far as to give him his job back, the parable is left open ended. It only just says that the master commended the steward for his prudence, it doesn’t say he reinstated him as his steward to govern his accounts, it doesn’t say that the master trusts this steward with his money again.
I think grace and forgiveness go hand in hand. Grace allows you to forgive. Grace and forgiveness allow for restoration of a relationship, but it doesn’t mean restoration happens instantaneously, or that it is even guaranteed to happen at all. Grace, like forgiveness, does not mean that appropriate consequences are withheld. But it means that those mistakes and consequences don’t have to be the end of the story or your identity as a person. Amen! In fact, because grace and forgiveness allow you to still have a relationship with God, God yearns to walk along side you through the consequence, offering divine strength, love, and comfort to carry you through!
Grace is not a disregard for rules. If we had no rules, then we would have no grace, for we only know grace being extended to us when we have messed up. If there was no law, we would never mess up. If there was no law; no standard of which to fall short, then we would never fall short. We would be sinless. We would have no need for a savior. Sad.