We live in a world that can be graceless! We are told that “You get what you deserve” and “There’s no such thing as a free lunch!” There is also a sense of entitlement that rears its head as well. It can become easy to think that because of who we are or what we have accomplished that we have certain privileges that others do not. After all, we have earned it.
It can be dangerous to live amidst gracelessness as we can slowly become “discipled” into being merciless. Instead of people who are give grace, we become people who demand more from others and are quick to judge when they don’t do their part. We forget about our own short-comings and only look at the faults in others.
So what do we do? I think we have to continue to immerse ourselves in the truth about ourselves and the reality of how much we need grace. If we don’t, we will end up like the Pharisee who went to the temple to pray. “God,” he prayed, “I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12)
How righteous this man was. Much more righteous than the poor tax collector that happened to be in the temple praying at the same time (notice his allusion to him in his prayer: “even like this tax collector”). This religious leader had earned his right standing before God and others. And he had worked hard for it. But he had become blind to his own need. He was good at comparing himself with others, especially this tax collector, but he had forgotten his own need for grace and as a result, became graceless.
We do well to realize that we are in daily need of God’s grace and mercy. We must become like the tax collector in this story who when he came to the temple to pray, he stood in a corner, cast his eyes downward, beat his breast, and cried out to God for mercy. He knew he was not fit to stand before God and pray. And yet we find that he, not the religious leader, was the one who walked away “justified before God” (Luke 18:14).
It is when we understand who we are as people in need of mercy, and then dive into the grace of God, that we protect ourselves from becoming graceless people. In fact, I think understanding our daily need for grace protects us. Specifically, it protects us from at least three things…
Grace protects us from being judgmental
Our world is quick to judge others. In fact, when it comes to first impressions, scientists tell us that in takes only a tenth of a second for us to determine in our minds who that person is and how we will treat them. Like I said, we are quick to judge!
Being judgmental also carries with it the attitude that communicates that we are better than others. Remember the Pharisee and how he viewed the tax collector? If we are not careful, we can become like him, look down our nose at someone else and say things like: “I can’t believe he would do that.”
I believe that self-righteousness is the most dangerous sin. And it’s probably why Jesus addressed it so often with the religious leaders of his day. As we come to think that we are beyond the grace of God, we become people who wonder why people can’t live up to our level of goodness. And we judge them for not doing so.
Grace protects us from being separated from others.
When we think we are better than those around us, we generally don’t associate with them. Or if we do, we have such a “holier than thou” attitude that no one wants to be around us. The reality is that we have just as many problems as everyone else. Just because we sin differently than others doesn’t mean our sin isn’t as serious. It’s amazing how I am quick to notice others with huge sin problems while only viewing myself as struggling with a few bad habits.
The danger of being separate is that you can’t love people from a distance. And they can’t see that you, too, are human. The reality is that we are like everyone else in that we all want to be loved and accepted for who we are. And our deepest need for love can only be met by God Himself who created us in His love.
Grace protects us from ungratefulness.
When we understand what God has done for us in and through Christ, and how wonderful our salvation really is, we become grateful people. I like the words of Martin Lloyd-Jones when he wrote:
Do you habitually think of your own salvation as the greatest and most wonderful thing that has ever happened to you? I will ask a yet more serious question: do you give your neighbors the impression that you have found the most magnificent thing in the world? I have a terrible fear that many people are outside the Christian church because so many of us give them the impression that what we have is something very small, very narrow, very cramped and confined. We have not given them the impression that they are missing the most glorious thing in the entire universe.
Paul, at the end of Romans 11, after he has expounded quite profoundly in all the previous chapters about the salvation we have that comes from God alone, seems to get caught up in all that he has written and can only conclude by writing:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
How amazing is the grace of God? We can’t speak enough about it and yet we must swim in it daily lest we forget our greatest need and become judgmental, aloof, and ungrateful people. Let’s continue to have the heart of the tax collector.