“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
A series of burglaries highlighted a fictional TV story of a small midwestern farm town where items from the general store and several farms have been among the missing. Two preteens who are captivated by a series of detective novels join forces to solve the mystery. Eventually it is discovered that a friend of theirs from the neighborhood school has been the burglar all along, stealing to support himself and his ill father who thinks the boy has a job. The youngster has also been doing everything he can to read about medical procedures and terminology in hopes of someday becoming a doctor. The revelation brings together an assembly of the men from whom the goods were taken to decide how to handle the matter. As they evaluate the situation, they make the boy aware that they know what he did. Then he is told that when he someday is that physician they know he will become, he is to remember that they are owed a free visit. Rather than pressing the matter any further – they demonstrate the true meaning of grace.
Extensions of grace are not a commonly-offered act these days. When most of us feel wronged, we want payback. Our first impulse when we are hurt or offended is to strike out, justifying our anger in the name of fairness. As a society, we have become used to the principle of cause and effect; that is, we receive what we earn and we give back what someone deserves. Grace, therefore, becomes a difficult concept to understand, for our teachings and the examples we have seen in our lives don’t allow the notion to be rationally considered. Grace is the unmerited favor of God, an unconditional love given to the undeserving. Those who receive and rely on Jesus Christ for salvation receive his grace and respond with gratitude. Part of our grateful response is evidenced whenever we demonstrate God’s grace to others. In this spirit, the Apostle Paul told the early Christian church that they should “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
At the April 9, 1865 surrender of the Civil War between the states – General Grant showed grace by displaying a desire for reconciliation over retribution. President Lincoln had further reinforced this in a meeting only weeks before, urging leniency when the time came. As Grant and Lee drafted the articles of surrender, Lee proposed that Grant allow his men to keep their side arms and horses for use on their farms. Grant agreed and offered very generous terms for the southern soldiers. Lee remarked that “This will have the best possible effect upon the men. It will be very gratifying, and will do much toward conciliating our people.” He expressed further concern that many in his army were in severe need of food and supplies, so Grant offered the services of the U.S. commissary and quartermaster to supply the struggling soldiers. As the Union army heard the news of the surrender, spontaneous demonstrations of gun salutes commenced. Hearing them and not wanting to add insult to defeat – Grant sent orders to have them stopped, affirming “The war is over; the rebels are our countrymen again.”
Grace has been demonstrated by powerful figures throughout history. It is a constant theme in the Bible, and it culminates in the New Testament with the coming of Jesus. John wrote: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Grace is God choosing to bless us rather than curse us as our sin deserves. It is His compassion for the undeserving. God is the instigator of grace, and it is from Him that all other grace flows. As Christians, we are charged to show grace to others or face the potential of being tarnished. Paul says: “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many” (Hebrews 12:15). If you find yourself in the company of others whose hearts have been captured by grace, count yourself lucky. They love us despite our messy lives, they stay connected to us through our struggles, and they always hold out for the hope of our recovery through His redemptive spirit. This is sometimes referred to as “grace upon grace” (John 1:16). We need not only receive it but are called to show it to those who might otherwise be faced with isolation and defeat in their lives.
REFLECTION: Consider situations in your life where you were shown or wish you had been shown grace. How did that outcome have an effect on the way you treat others? Are there persons you know today whom you can offer God’s gift of grace? What action steps will you take to implement a plan to do so?