“I have lost my daughter, and we shall miss her. But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life.”
Those words were spoken by Gordon Wilson. On November 8th 1987, his daughter Marie was one of 11 people who died in an IRA bomb in Enniskillen.
Ask a random sample of Christians what Grace means to them and you will get a variety of different answers but each of them at their essence will describe being given something which they don’t deserve. Most traditional Christian teachings of Grace go something like this. You are a sinner, you deserve to die because of this sin, Jesus came and died on the cross and in effect took your place, and now you don’t have to worry about where you will be spending eternity because you’re safe. Start practicing your harp skills because you’re going to need them.
But Grace means so much more than this.
Now here’s the important part. This is a blog ok? That’s it. It’s not supposed to have all the answers or describe in great detail all the intricacies of what it means when Jesus died and rose from the cross or all the different ways people believe that this event over 2000 years ago has meaning in our life.
Just know, that for millions of people this story has deep meaning. It stirs up something in their bones, it gives meaning to their lives and it has transformed the way they live in the world and how they treat others. At it’s worst Christianity can be an oppressive and destructive force. At it’s best it can cause people to feel alive in ways they could never imagine.
The story of Jesus, whether you believe it literally happened or not is a powerful one.
But to many of those in the church it has it’s limits. Specifically the Grace that we so love to talk about.
All of our missions and ministries are based on the idea that Grace can set you free. That Grace is all you need and nothing else is important. Your actions don’t effect your standing with God and you are loved endlessly. Then we lament when people don’t change and don’t start acting more Christian or Holy. We watch huge Christian celebrities become embroiled in sex scandals or money scandals or abuse scandals and we are ready to pounce on them, ripping them apart online.
So what happened to the Grace which means that no matter what we do, we are loved unconditionally? Why do we find it so difficult to embrace this idea and show it to others?
There are lots of reasons why this might be true. Maybe we hold those people up to often impossibly high standards in our minds and so we are disappointed when they let us down? We hate injustice, as we should and so our allegiances should always be to the oppressed and less so the oppressor? We are hiding our own deep dark secrets and so by focusing on the failures of others we can prevent our own darkness from being exposed to the light.
These reasons and many more may be why we fail to offer the Grace we love to preach.
Ultimately, Grace is hard. It’s hard to pick up someone over and over who keeps making the same mistakes in their lives. It’s frustrating to be out of control of what others say and do.
Grace is so simple, yet so terribly difficult to show.
But here’s the best part. However amazing you think Grace is, however freeing you think it is, it’s much better.
Sure Grace is not fair, but it’s not fair for all of us. (Tweet This)
What if we truly believe that no matter what we do, that Grace is enough to set us free? That even if we spent everyday of our lives sinning over and over that we are still saved from sin? That no matter what we do we are still loved and always will be?
This post is primarily for those of us who are acutely aware of all the ways that we cause pain in our lives daily. For the addict who is reading and can’t stop looking at porn. For the married person whose spouse is making their life a nightmare. For the person who thinks that being a Christian is all about reading their Bible everyday, not drinking or swearing and praying more, but just doesn’t want to do any of that.
Whatever “Christian” standards you have set for yourself, let them go, because you don’t have to reach them.
Grace means we are free to sin all the time. (Tweet this)
Wait what? We’re free to do those things?
Yeah that’s what I said. They don’t matter one iota to how God sees you. And this is the point where many of us get up in arms and slip back so easily into our controlling nature by stating that Grace is all we need, then turning around and saying, “yeah but only if we behave”. Which is a little like saying that you can enjoy this free cupcake, just as long as you give me a couple of dollars.
Grace either is enough or it’s not.
In one part of the Bible that Paul wrote he says that we can do whatever the heck we like, but that it’s not always the best idea to go around doing those things.
That’s because he trusted in the power of Grace.
He didn’t need to have any control over it because when we try to control Grace we are trying to control people. And that has never led to change for anyone.
Take the porn addict in your church who can’t stop looking at porn and is trying to hide their secret from their spouse, knowing that if they ever found out there would be massive trouble for everyone. What? There’s no one like that in your church? Yeah, there is.
One of the most powerful things that they can hear in their life is not that they need to do this or that to get better but that they can do whatever the heck they like and they will still be loved. Even if they look at porn everyday for days on end. That sounds counter intuitive right? Of course it is. It’s mental. That’s the last thing you should say to anyone about anything.
But, when they meditate on that and spend time really thinking through the implications of what that means, something happens. Porn loses it’s control. The reason someone becomes addicted to anything in the first place is because they have felt a need to control some aspect of their life where they carry pain. Maybe it is how they see themselves or how their parents treated them. It doesn’t really matter, all that matters is there is pain that needs to be controlled or suppressed.
When Grace is introduced, it says, all those things pale in comparison to the fact that you are loved unconditionally. Listen, you might not get this. You might think I am taking Grace too far. I am saying we are not taking it far enough. That’s ok. I struggle to get it everyday too. It’s not something that can be explained or described in a blog post. It’s a mysterious, beautiful feeling that can only truly be understood when experienced. But when, in the middle of searching for my favorite porn site, I experience that feeling that I can look at porn right now and know that I will always be loved, I find a freedom that can only exist in the abandoning of myself to Grace and love.
Grace has offered you the very thing that porn never can. Freedom from trying to earn acceptance. From being in control. Or being loved.
Deep down we know that is why we do it, whatever “it” is and Grace cuts right through the bullshit and sets us free.
Do our actions have consequences? Of course they do. Do we have responsibilities to our communities to live well for them? You bet.
The thing we can never do though is compromise Grace just because sometimes it gets abused.
We lose Grace altogether then. We lose the power it has when it’s at it’s best.
Now is the time that we let Grace become the beautiful, freeing, transformative, words can never fully describe, force that it is.
Unleash it in our homes, in our communities and in our lives and we will unleash the chains that have been keeping us tightly bound to the pain that we can’t let go of.
And there and only there is where we will find freedom.
Hi Paul, i stumbled on your blog and thought I’d leave a reply.
I think that you have to be careful how you are using words. I agree with what you are saying about how under-estimated the power of grace is.
However, grace does not free us TO sin, it frees us FROM sin.
Some other words from Paul
(Selected from Romans 6):
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer” ….the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
I would encourage anyone to read Romans Chapter 6 and see that grace empowers us to turn from sin, not run to it.
Hi Steve. I appreciate you taking the time to read and leave a comment. I wrote this post from my own personal experience in dealing with porn addiction and the biggest thing that helped me was to completely let go of shame and guilt. And the major way I did that was remembering that every time I looked at porn I was free. Not because I didn’t have to look but that even if I looked I was still loved. For an addict this is a profound truth to hear and rather being an excuse or get out of jail free card, like it seems Paul describes in Romans 6 it only left me feeling completely free.
Something happened to me and continues to happen when I remember this, and so rather than lead me to sin it more often than not led me to stay away. I mean, I would literally stop. Contemplate that I could look at porn for the rest of my life and still be loved by God as much as if I never sinned in anyway, and the power of this helped me to stay away from it.
I think we fear grace far too much. We read Romans 6 and we become afraid that we can’t control people and that they will do whatever the heck they like. But I think we need to trust the power of Grace far more than we typically do. We don’t need to add anything onto it. Do we really believe it is sufficient to free us from our bondage or do we need to add in warnings?
For me at least, the opposite of what Paul wrote is true. That the more I focused on this amazing grace, the lest those things that were destroying me had any power.