Last week, my friend sent me an email saying, “Thank you for giving me grace.”
I’ve heard that phrase a thousand times but, for some reason, this particular time stuck with me for several days. My friend was referring to something itty bitty, something that hadn’t required much from me other than a small favor.
Had I really given her grace? Maybe. But maybe not.
After all, what does it mean to “give grace” to one another?
Grace is often a word we throw around but struggle to define. We celebrate and extol it, but I also think we misunderstand it — especially when it comes to giving grace to others.
This is what I think we mean when we say we should give grace — that we give free passes.
And those free passes usually relate to things that aren’t even spiritual matters! We equate letting someone see our messy house as them “giving us grace.” But when giving grace is actually applied to spiritual matters, we tend to lean toward believing we should never press, never hold a line of truth or call someone away from the cliff of self-destruction.
I think it’s hard to reconcile grace and truth, even when those are the exact adjectives used to describe Jesus in John 1:14.
The inability to reconcile grace and truth is primarily our culture talking. Our culture scoffs at the idea of calling someone to account or of love being anything other than a no-matter-what acceptance. Culture is infiltrating our understanding of grace and is thereby stealing its profound meaning and explosive power.
Grace isn’t a free pass that allows us to throw off all restraint under the guise of Christ. Grace, the unmerited favor of God poured out on us by our faith in Christ, is a compelling change agent that, when received, teaches us how to live.
Tim Keller says, “The gospel devours the very motivation you have for sin. It completely saps your very need and reason to live any way you want. Anyone who insists the gospel encourages us to sin has simply not understood it yet, nor begun to feel it’s power.”
There is a difference between a free pass and grace. A free pass says, “I see your sin, friend, and will not call it what it is; I’ll ignore it.” We often call this love, but isn’t it really love of self? When you give a free pass, you’re choosing to do what’s easier on you instead of enduring the temporary, self-inflicted pain of bringing up a difficult subject with a friend.
We should measure our actions of grace with how God extends grace to us.
In His grace toward us, God says, “I see your sin. I name your sin specifically to you through conviction of the Holy Spirit. I have made a way for your specific sin to be dealt with at the cross of Christ. You don’t have to cover it or ignore it or try to deal with it on your own. Because of Christ, you have an avenue to be free of your sin…confess and repent, and you will be forgiven. I will help you change.”
Grace looks directly at sin and points it out specifically because of love.
God loves us enough to pull us out of the pit of sin, to discipline and prune us, to give us joy instead of bondage and despair. The love He has for us is what makes grace so powerful. The favor of the Almighty is given to us so richly that it compels us to present ourselves to Him as instruments of righteousness.
Grace changes us, not excuses us.
So what does it mean to “give grace to one another”? It primarily means seeing one another as new creations in Christ, recognizing the grace we received at salvation is working as a change agent in our lives, forever (Phil. 1:6).
We’re all in process. However, that’s not another way of saying “free pass.”
Process is a call for us as individuals and as the church to constantly engage with what God Himself has given us — the ability to see sin rather than ignore it, call sin what it is with gentleness and truth, remind our friends of the path of confession and repentance available to them, cheerlead alongside as our friends change and do it all out of intimate relationships with deeper love for one another.
Galatians 6:1-2 paints a picture of a Spirit-led grace-giver.
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
That is what it means to give grace to one another.
This kind of grace-giving doesn’t delight in calling out sin and isn’t prideful about being a truth-teller. The person who practices Galatians and God-inspired grace giving is a person deeply committed to the spiritual vitality of others and deeply attuned to their own spiritual poverty without Christ. He or she has a humility and willingness to go the extra mile for others as part of a deep devotion to the family of God. And perhaps, most importantly, a grace-giver has positioned his/herself to receive from friends the very same truth and grace that he or she is committed to giving.
How often are we cheating our friends of spiritual growth because we are giving a free pass instead of grace?
How often, I dare ask, are we cheating ourselves when we want the free pass from friends rather than the truth and grace that asks us to change?
Dear friends, let us truly give (and receive) grace.
Published October 19, 2021