Sometimes grace may require a fight. Though you should never look for a fight, you should also not be looking for ways to avoid soul care when it is within your ability to help.
Last year my son had a large splinter in his big toe. It was too deep for me to get out with the tools and expertise I possess. Fortunately, I have a good friend who is a doctor. He possesses the skills and the tools 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 son’s toe. After extracting the wood, he sprayed his toe with something that took away the pain.
My son’s screaming promptly subsided. Then a few weeks ago 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.
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 because of God’s favor (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 has been used as a way of hiding behind responsibility. It’s a perverted form of niceness.
Biff married Mable 17 years ago. Mable is a critical woman. She also has other problems. When Biff talked to his pastor about Mable, the advice was to extend grace to her.
This 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 or that he didn’t want to inflict pain on him. That would not be grace at all. He would be “extending un-grace” or unkindness to him. My son’s toe could have degenerated into an infection.
Biff and Mable need biblical counsel, not twisted grace that avoids potential pain and conflict. Grace always associates with pain and discomfort. The death of Christ (pain) is 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 had rather let 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 also invested in his career, as well as his parents.
It would be odd for him not to use what other gave to him at such great 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. His parents and professors would be confused and possibly aghast as to why he was spurning 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 to 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 grace. My doctor friend did not abuse grace. He inflicted pain upon my son, which ultimately brought healing to his body.
As you’ve already discerned, grace is not only costly, but it can be painful. This truth is why some of us need to rethink how we think about grace. We have made grace into an onomatopoeia word; it sounds like what it is.
Grace sounds like a nice word. In one sense, it is a nice word, but for some Christians, they also define it as niceness. Sometimes the administration of grace does not feel nice. It’s important for us to separate what it can accomplish (nice) from how it may be administered (painfully).
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 to my son, but the administration of that grace was excruciating, as noted by his screams. Sometimes extending grace can come in painful packages. This 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
How Do You Extend Grace?
No pain, no gain may be a hokey slogan, but it’s a biblical concept. What may be evil can also be for your good (Genesis 50:20). Using sin sinlessly is not out of the realm of possibility with the Lord.
The implication of the gospel informs us of this. The sinless pain the Father placed on the Son opened the door for our transformation. The point being, there will be times when pain can be a means of grace to the struggling soul.
- Sinful men brought pain to Joseph so a nation could experience grace (Genesis 50:20).
- The sinless Lord brought pain to His Son so you and I could receive grace (Romans 3:24-25).
- My friend brought pain into my son’s life so he could experience healing grace.
How do you think about the grace of God? How do you administer it? Do you hide behind a pretense of grace 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 continue in her sin has nothing to do with grace. It takes grace to bring the pain, and it takes grace to be changed by the gospel.
- My friend administered the grace of God in his life by being obedient to doing the right thing.
- My son experienced the grace of God from my friend and through that grace he found healing.
There was grace all around, but it was contingent on my friend stepping up to the plate. Mable is not experiencing grace from her husband, pastor, or God because Biff and the pastor are not cooperating with God 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, then we would have had to found another means through which to experience God’s healing power.
Fight or Flight?
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 relationship to where you can’t speak into their lives.
I would not recommend you approach “sister Mildred” 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. Perhaps 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 sometimes wonder how the Lord thinks about such matters. I know how I would have thought about my friend if he told me he wanted to extend grace, which meant not 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?
What do you think are some of the motives that tempt you not to help another person who is struggling with sin? My question is important and the only one you need to answer.
Once you answer it, you can begin praying for what and how you need to change so you can enjoy a fuller experience of grace. There are typically two types of people who misuse grace by redefining it.
Recovering Legalists – I have discipled many folks who were formerly ensconced in legalism for years. The legalistic culture is known for being harsh in their judgments of others, which creates a disdain and negative 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 critique. They would not see critique 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. 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. The opinion of other people controls 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 rejection.
It is hard 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. Fear of man also plays heavily in the heart of the legalist.
A Christian who is unwilling to extend painful grace, when the need is for painful grace, is living a lie. He may not be aware of the lie he is living. In most cases, 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 fears 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.
Also published on Medium.