5 Ways Christians Misunderstand Grace
I breezed into the coffee shop and recognized my business friend bending over a laptop, her assistant peering at the screen beside her. So I ordered my drink and found an empty table. My eyes darted toward my friend again and again as I played with my phone to pass the time. And pass it did, as time always does … five minutes … eight minutes … thirteen. My foot jiggled a nervous rhythm as I tried to forget the work piled on my desk waiting for me.
Fifteen minutes after we were scheduled to meet, my friend finally scurried over with profuse apologies. I smiled wanly and tried to kindly explain that I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room in my schedule today. But before we’d exchanged more than a couple of sentences, her phone rang. She whipped it out and with a quick hand on my arm said, “I’m sooo sorry, I have to take this. Thanks for your grace!”
Before I could say a word, she was halfway across the coffee shop, phone tucked under her chin, leaving me with foot jiggles threatening to escalate to an ankle-knee duet.
Grace is such a beautiful word. It’s a fairly pure concept that’s retained most of its lovely connotation without being tainted too much by society, religion, or culture.
But for all of its beauty, grace can be a vague, slippery thing to define which means it can be difficult to fully grasp. In fact, grace is often misunderstood even in Christian circles. Here are five ways Christians misunderstand grace:
1. As a Christian niceness code. Many Christians think of grace as the nice things we’re expected to do for each other. Instead of telling someone what you really think, you give them grace. Instead of lashing back at an unfair situation, you graciously keep silent. Like my coffee shop friend, grace is reduced to a “niceness” code we’re expected live by – and sometimes use as an excuse to cover our own behavior.
But grace is so much more than pure vanilla “nice.” The Source of Grace, a God who loves us more than life itself, lavishes grace on us in a display of pure love and joy. Grace exists far beyond “nice” or “good” in the realm of boundless, lavish favor. (Eph 1:8, 2 Cor 9:8)
2. Just theology. Some Christians have become so desensitized to the word that grace is relegated to the “dusty bookshelf” where the other pieces of awe-inspiring (but hard to grasp) theology live. Take the pastor I know who said, “You know grace. I know grace. What more is there to talk about it?” It seemed that to this man, grace was just another piece of dry theology.
But grace is a daily gift. It lives and breathes in everyday life right now. When God pours it over us on the ordinary days, we discover it’s not so much dry dusty theology as a cool drink of water from the spring of Living Water himself. (John 7:37-38)
3. An excuse. The Christians in the Apostle Paul’s day argued that if grace is true, then you can sin and sin and sin some more because grace will cover it anyway. And some Christians today also fear that grace is just an excuse to live like you want (which, they assume, will mean frequent sinning and blatant disregard for God).
Paul’s response? “God forbid!” (Romans 6:2) When grace is truly received, this precious gift never leaves the recipient the same. Grace changes you from the inside out. There’s no need to fear that holding onto grace will mean a return to old sin patterns or godless living. Grace never leaves you like it found you. Grace changes everything. (Romans 6)
4. A key item on the “be godly” list. Of course most Christians don’t have an actual “be godly” list stashed in a prayer journal or mixed in with Bible study notes. But there is that list many of us keep in our minds – the one that we measure ourselves against to see if we’re living as godly Christians should. And grace sometimes becomes just one more thing to add to that list.
But grace cannot be confined to a list or checked off as a project. It is something that is lived and breathed in ordinary moments. It shows up in our conversations at the family get together and when we interact with the less-than-helpful store clerk. It even manifests in how we treat ourselves. (Colossians 4:6, Mark 12:31) Grace permeates all of life and cannot be demoted to a mere action item on a list.
5. Mainly relevant to salvation. The majority of Christians have heard the word “grace” most often in reference to salvation: “for by grace are you saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Grace is that wooing of God that draws us to accept Jesus and gain eternal life.
And while grace absolutely exists to offer life, eternal life in heaven isn’t the only kind. Grace exists to bring more life to life right now in the middle of the mundaneness. It’s why Jesus came, after all – to give us life “more abundantly” (John 10:10). And the same grace that brought salvation offers life right now. Grace enables us to live our everyday adventure with joy and victory.
So, while my business friend was right in some small way when she whipped her hair around, phone at her ear, and “Thanks for your grace” on her lips, I hope that someday she – and the rest of us who misunderstand grace sometimes – can experience the deep, abiding joy and peace that come from resting in the fullness of what grace is and does for full life today!
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