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When my son was a child, he had a large splinter in his big toe. It was too deep for me to get out with the tools and expertise that I possessed. Fortunately, I had a good friend who was a doctor. He had the skills and the equipment for such a situation as a splinter in a toe.
I called him, and like “Johnny on the spot,” he was at our home in a flash. To my son’s chagrin, my friend pulled out a sharp cutting tool and dug deep into my child’s toe. After extracting the wood, he sprayed his toe with something that took away the pain. My son’s screaming promptly subsided. A few weeks later he got another splinter in his toe. He chose to not tell me about it, but his sister spilled the beans. I asked him if he wanted me to call our doctor friend. He said, “No.”
My doctor friend modeled “grace in action” to my son. It was a painful grace, a grace my son may never forget. Though it hurt him, it was the best thing that could have happened to him at that moment. Let’s suppose my friend chose not to be “Johnny on the spot.” What if he was apathetic toward my son or, even worse, harshly told me that he did not want to help? That would not be grace.
Grace is active, kind, other-centered, and designed to change a person or circumstance. That is what grace does. As far as God’s grace, it changes lives: you were raised from the dead by the power of the gospel, which came to you by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:1-8). Among some of our evangelical friends, grace means something different from the possibility of seeing lives changed or transformed by the gospel. To them, “grace” can be a shield to hide behind, as a way of avoiding responsibility. It’s a perverted form of niceness, but not grace at all.
Biff married Mable 17 years ago. Mable is a critical woman. She has other problems too. When Biff talked to his pastor about Mable, the advice was to “extend grace” to her. His unwise counsel was code for being nice, while not addressing the ongoing sin patterns in her life. For whatever reason, the pastor did not want to help Mable change. He was more interested in not stirring up a hornet’s nest.
My doctor friend could have decided he didn’t want to hear my son scream by choosing not to inflict pain on him. That would not be grace at all; he would be “extending un-grace” or unkindness to him. And my son’s toe could have degenerated into an infection.
Biff and Mable need biblical counseling, not twisted grace that avoids potential discomfort and conflict. Grace always associates with struggles and pain. The most excruciating example of this is the death of Christ, the door through which we experience God’s grace. The gospel is the most profound reason why we need to rethink how we define and administer grace to others. To avoid the problems of others is to mock the death of Christ.
If Biff and his pastor allow Mable to continue in her sin, they will be unwittingly admitting the death of Christ is not relevant to that situation. They would be “okay” with letting her spiral further into her sin than apply the gospel to her life.
My doctor friend went to great lengths to learn how to become a physician. He spent many years and thousands of dollars learning the profession. His professors invested in his career, as well as his parents. It would be odd for him not to use what others gave to him at such considerable costs. My illustration is analogous, though not comparable, to what was involved in the Trinity providing salvation for us.
To ignore my son in pain is abusing the gift given to my friend. It would confuse his parents and professors, as they wonder in dismay why he was shunning the investment made by not caring for others. For Biff and his pastor to ignore the spiritual dysfunction in Biff’s wife is abusing the gift that Christ gave them. Christ poured out His life to help people like Mable. Biff and his pastor have received this gift from the Lord. They are not extending grace, but they are abusing it.
(I am not suggesting that you inflict pain on anyone but merely drawing an analogy between a medical procedure and soul care. Christians do not “inflict pain” on anyone, though the counseling process, when done well, can be “painful” to some.)
Grace is not only costly, but it can be uncomfortable. This truth is why some of us need to rethink how we think about it. Perhaps you have made it into an onomatopoeia word; it sounds like what it is. Grace sounds like a “nice word,” and in one sense, it is “nice.” But for some Christians, they hollow out the power of grace. Sometimes the administration of grace does not feel nice when applied. We need to separate what it can accomplish (nice outcomes) from how it may be administered (iron sharpening iron).
It was the kindness (grace) of God that brought healing to my son’s toe. To have a friend who was willing to come over to our home and fix his toe is fantastic favor (grace) from the Lord. God’s grace brought healing, but the administration of it was excruciating, as noted by his screams. Sometimes extending grace can come in “discomfiting packages,” which is not out-of-line with the biblical record.
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. – Philippians 1:29
“No pain, no gain” may be a hokey slogan, but it’s a biblical concept. Even the sin of others can be for your good: the sinful situation that you need to address can be a huge means of grace for you and the person who needs your care. The point being, there will be times when suffering can be an opportunity for God’s grace to the struggling soul, whether yours or those within your sphere of influence.
How do you think about the grace of God? How do you administer it? Do you hide behind a pretense of dignity and civility that permits you to avoid hard things? Grace has broad borders for the person who has a comprehensive definition of it. Allowing my son to continue in pain has nothing to do with grace. Allowing Mable to remain in her sin has nothing to do with it either. It takes grace to bring the discomfort, and it takes grace to be changed by the gospel.
There was grace all around, but it was contingent on my friend stepping up to the plate. Mable is not experiencing the grace of God from her husband, pastor, or God. Biff and the pastor are not cooperating with the Lord by helping a sister who is struggling in her sanctification.
They have made “twisted grace” mean something that it should not. They could even feel good about themselves, thinking they are doing the right thing, but they are not. They are hiding God’s grace from Mable.
If she changes, it will have to be through other means. If my friend decided to respond like Biff and the pastor, we would have had to find another way through which to experience God’s healing power.
Are there people in your life you’d rather not get into their messes? I’m talking about people with whom you have context and relationship. These are people that you can help. I’m not talking about folks you don’t have a connection to where you can’t speak into their lives.
I would not recommend you approach “sister Marge” next Sunday to talk to her about her sour attitude if you don’t have a relationship with her. You can’t get into everybody’s business, and you’re not called to care for everyone. I’m talking about those with whom God has given you a relationship; you’re aware of things in their lives that need to change, and you should invest in their sanctification. Perhaps it’s your spouse. Maybe it’s someone in your small group.
There can be an alluring temptation to flee from our biblical responsibilities of one another-ing. We can even go so far as to redefine our words to hide behind God’s Word. I wonder how the Lord thinks about such matters. I know how I would have thought about my friend if he told me that he wanted to extend grace, which meant not to get into my son’s business.
If God has spoken to you through this article, you need to start changing. The place where you want to begin is in your thoughts. Write down what you are thinking right now. What is going through your head?
Recovering Legalists – I have discipled many folks who were formerly ensconced in legalism. The legalistic culture is known for being harsh in their judgments of others, which creates a disdain and contrary interpretation for anything that seems critical.
The recovering legalist hates any critique, no matter how loving the person gave it. They have a small interpretive grid for what was meant by the criticism. They would not see your correction as a gracious thing because they never experienced it as such.
Alternatively, if they are called to critique others, they will shrink back from their biblical obligation, unless the legalist does it harshly, which is the only method they know. It takes many years for a recovering legalist to come to a biblical understanding of grace. Because of their former associations and disdain for criticism, they usually distort grace in the way I have been describing.
The Insecure – The biblical term for this person is fear of man (Proverbs 29:25). The opinions of other people control them. As you can imagine, it is hard for this individual to bring critique to anyone’s life, especially from those whom he craves approval or fears their rejection. It is challenging to do the hard thing for a person you perceive may reject you. The fear of potential rejection is the governing thought of the heart.
A Christian who is unwilling to “extend discomforting grace,” when the need is for it, is living a lie. He may not be aware of the lie he is living. Perhaps, he does not have the clarity he needs to understand the problem or how he needs to change. An article like this could be revolutionizing for such a person. The Spirit of God could illuminate his mind, and he could see the error of his ways. If God does open his eyes, he must repent. He cannot continue living in the deception of twisted grace.
If God is calling attention to something in your life through this article, I appeal to you to talk to a close friend. Let him know what God has shown you. Share your fears and talk through how your concerns have hindered you from bringing better care to others. Don’t let your friends continue to walk around with spiritual splinters in their toes. That would be biblical hatred, not kindness. Extend a new kind of grace to them. Let them experience God’s grace through your care.
Perhaps they will experience God’s grace through gospel transformation because you loved them enough to extend transformative grace, rather than just being known as a nice guy.