Freedom, Lunch and Grace Aren’t Free

February 1, 2012

We love to preach that grace is a free gift.  Anyone can have it, without cost…

…But we don’t really mean it.

Just like we say that freedom isn’t really free.  Or the free market isn’t really free.  Or there is no free lunch.  We preach that God’s grace comes free of charge…

…but our grace?  That’s another story.

Is it just me, or have we started resembling the chairmen of the Fed.  We’re the ones pulling strings, setting interest rates on grace.  We decide who deserves it and who does not.

Last week, just about everyone collectively decided that a guy named Andrew from a particular church that had disciplined him deserved grace.

But who are we sending away without grace?  Who do we say doesn’t deserve it?

Who Is Notorious?

Some people are just notorious.

Every community has them.  Our community of Christians, pastors and bloggers knows who our notorious people are.  Over the last week, one pastor from Seattle has been pretty notorious.  And the fact is, with every statement that pastor makes, every book he writes, everything he does, he makes himself a bit more notorious with some people.  Some people love him.  Others cannot stand him.

It will take a lot for some of our most notorious Christians, pastors, and bloggers to deserve grace in our minds.

I admit, I did not show a lot of grace with Monday’s post.  I mocked the situation, instead of critiqued, which I try to not make a habit of.  And for the first time that I can remember, my wife texted me at work to tell me what I had written was tasteless.  If just one of you calls me tasteless, I usually shrug it off.  If ten of you say I’m wrong, I feel bad.  But five words from my wife can completely crush me every time.

WWJD?  Do the Opposite.

Jesus knew who the notorious people were.  They were the same people that we have today.  They cheat on their spouses.  They say stupid things.  They have more money than we think they deserve.  Their theology isn’t right.  They embarrass us as Christians.  They are the Marks and Pats and Robs and Teds and Tims of our world.

Jesus knew where to find them.

We avoid them.

Jesus ate at their houses.

We tell everyone we aren’t with them.

Jesus showed them free grace.

We throw rocks and write angry blogs and tell people they have to earn our forgiveness.

The First Time’s Always Free

The funny thing about our grace economy is that the poor really are rich.  We are more than willing to heap loads of grace on the poor, the outcast, the disenfranchised the lost.  We urge them to come and get some free grace and be saved.  Come on, sinners!

It’s like our social justice mentality at work.  We want to redistribute all the grace to those at the bottom, the people who don’t have any.

But once you get into the inner circle of Christianity, not so much.  Once you become a “middle class” or “upper class” Christian, suddenly, you don’t deserve free grace.  You have to pay exorbitant taxes on the grace you receive.  Take too much grace, and your tax bracket increases.  And no matter how much you pay, it won’t be enough to satisfy some people.  Some people will always say you didn’t pay enough for your grace.  We’re so quick to forgive the non-Christians who screw up.  But you’d better not screw up once you say the sinner’s prayer.

It’s like we’re drug dealers, giving out the first taste of grace for free, just to get people hooked.  But once they need another fix, that’s when we can really make them pay.  The first time’s always free.

If you are taking Jesus seriously, and his command to pray for your enemies, maybe we need to start inside our own tribe.  How about starting with the other Christians.

Let’s close the book on this topic.  Who needs grace from you today?  A family member?  A coworker?  A Pastor?  A blogger?

23 responses to Freedom, Lunch and Grace Aren’t Free

  1. I get what you are saying BUT How many times do we need to be made a fool of by the same person? I know 70 x’s 70 I understand that. But at what point do we turn our backs on the christian who knows what they are doing is sin and keeps doing it.They are pulling their family apart, walking away from a marriage , and also the other one in this sin is walking away from their’s too. It’s not like he don’t understand God’s word he stood and lead a church for years.

    • Sometimes you have to break fellowship with people who are specifically harmful to you, but in general I think we still carry this assumption, despite the 70 x 7, that there is a fixed number of times we should forgive and then we’re done. Grace doesn’t mean we facilitate sin or bad choices. Grace still comes with consequences.

  2. Matt-

    An abusive spouse deserves grace as well, but I’m still not going to advise anyone to go back to live with him/her.

  3. Matt, wow. I just taught a message roughly on this same topic of unconditional grace. It centered around the prodigal son story. Your post reminded me of a question that I asked during the message:

    “What do you think would have happened if the younger brother ran into his older brother on his way back home BEFORE the Father saw him from far off?”

    This question pin points our natural reactions to “family members” who mess up. I’d assume the older brother would have run him off and told him to never come back or he would have killed him for returning. Without grace fractured community remains fractured.

    Great post, Matt. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Abby makes a great point. Sure, an abusive _____ deserves grace. But we would never advise returning to them. We’d also be wise to warn others interested in the abusive _____.

    With that being said, though, I think that how we show grace to different people varies. I don’t know if there’s a line, or rules, or standards, but I know it’s different for every person.

    • It’s interesting to me how often that example comes up and I feel like it’s the same question the disciples asked Jesus. Jesus never told them to keep being taken advantage of, of keep suffering needlessly by abusers. But he did astonish them by saying their job to forgive is never done.

      • Forgiveness is for ourselves as well as others. I think in the case where someone will continue to hurt you or cheat you, you have to cut the cord. But that doesn’t mean you say in your heart, “I hate that person.” You get bitter if you keep doing that. Our job in that case is to pray for that person and when the bitter thoughts begin, to forgive all over again. The person who hurt you may not know or care, but you do.

  5. Jesus identifies lots of people we are to love: the lost, the losers, the sinners, the poor, the unreached but he showed the “full extent of his love” when he washed the feet of those who were closest to him KNOWING that they would soon betray him. Then he commanded them to love each other. Paul said to do good to all ESPECIALLY to those of the household of faith. We are to love all but we are to have a special / deeper love for those in the family of God. YET we seem to give away grace so freely to everyone but our family. This isn’t our Fathers way.

    • Yeah those sinners out on the street seem so appealing and exotic compared to the sinners in our own home. It’s like we see someone and we get excited about giving them grace wouldn’t that be fun and make a great story and make me a great Christian?!

  6. Yay Matt. I agree with your wife. I’m impressed that you do too. You’re still my favorite blogger.

  7. That was a great post.

  8. The idea of grace being a “free gift” still requires action for one to receive it. There is no cost, but it must be opened. You can argue among yourselves in regard to whether on not faith “costs” something to receive grace.

    WWJD? Well, first Jesus lived under the Old Testament. He did not live under the “law of grace”. If you look at what Jesus did, he handled each situation with godly wisdom. Sometimes he ate with the sinners, and some times he rebuked folks like the Pharisees. It takes wisdom, not Bible-Babel.

    Note the the inner circle came to Jesus to say that they had to stop someone casting out demons in his name, but they were not part of the group. Sound familiar?

    I have a family and a church team that always need my grace, and I need theirs. Everyone else in the world is free to do whatever the hell they want and move about the cabin.

  9. This is a great way to end the series, by reminding us that we all need grace and that leaders and fellow Christians are still in the battle between sin and godliness.

    I think people have problems when leaders sin because the Bible has higher standards for leaders than for attenders (1 Timothy and Titus). However, one thing to keep us ALL humble is that according to Jesus in Matthew 25:14-18 and Paul in Romans 14:11-13, we ALL will be held accountable to God for the gifts He has given us. For me I take a great deal of comfort in that statement when it relates to others and a great deal of discomfort when it involves me :-O.

  10. I didn’t leave a comment after Monday’s post. I read MPT’s posts, but I’m tired of the rehashes. We have more important things to discuss (like grace). You nailed this one.

  11. I’ve mulled the whole Andrew thing over since you blogged about it. (I didn’t comment because I couldn’t decide what to say).

    It’s been challenging me to think what I’d do if I were Andrew, or his fiancee’, or his HomeGroup, or the Pastor. I can’t decide. I’d like to think I’d do it how God expects me to, but I suspect I wouldn’t. That’s depressing.

    But all that to say this: I appreciate that you blogged about the situation at Mars Hill. It’s stretching me in how I think, and that’s always a good thing.

  12. “The good we do won’t save us…and the evil we do won’t condemn us.” (because of Christ)

    – Martin Luther

    That’s grace.

  13. I’m with Chad – time to move on from the Mars Hill thing, but this is a great post!

    On the subject of what grace might look like, towards abusive spouses and other habitual damage-wreaking people … it’s so important to establish healthy boundaries, and to be straight about what is NOT okay. However doing it with grace, I think, means giving them space to change, and to become something better. Even if they choose to change, the relationship may never be the same, but it can become something healthy.

  14. Thanks for the reminder, Matt. My inner snark needed it. There is something to be said, though, for the fact that Jesus (grace and all) reserved his harshest words for those who claimed to know EXACTLY what the father wanted in any and every situation. I think the grace comes in rebuking the wrong, without writing off the wrong-doer (much as I assume your wife did in this situation). The danger in taking pot-shots at MegaPreacherMen, of which I am exceedingly guilty, is because we have one part of the relationship–the rebuke–but not the opportunity for the other–the continuation of the relationship in grace. Perhaps we’d all be better off–I’d be better off–only picking apart the theology of those who have a relational chance to argue back with me.

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