In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? (1997), author Philip Yancey writes, “I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else.” (p. 16). As I pondered the two statements, I found myself wondering: what was it that he had not found among those who should be a people of grace? This, especially so, because as Yancey observes, “Grace is Christianity’s best gift to the world, a spiritual nova in our midst exerting a force stronger than vengeance, stronger than racism, stronger than hate. Sadly, to a world desperate for this grace the church sometimes presents one more form of ungrace” (p. 30). Mahatma Gandhi summed it up this way: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
To and for some people, the church is a place to go after one has “cleaned up” one’s self; a place where it is easy to feel judged or looked down upon for one’s imperfections and failures. People who have freely received God’s grace do not always extend that same grace to those who are broken, who have fallen, and/or who have failed despite their best efforts. In the absence of finding grace, and if we do not leave the church, some of us learn to pretend. We say what others want to hear, we sing the songs and say the prayers we are supposed to, yet all the while missing out on the acceptance and inner healing we need. We are conflicted. Our emotional and spiritual health are intricately linked together in that if we are not emotionally healthy, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be spiritually healthy.
Jesus instructed His first-century disciples, “freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8) and that applies to us today. The writer to the Hebrews admonished his audience to “look after each other so that not one of you will fail to find God’s best blessings. Watch out that no bitterness takes root among you, for as it springs up it causes deep trouble, hurting many in their spiritual lives” (Hebrews 12:15, TLB) and that also applies today. British evangelist Rodney “Gipsy” Smith left us with the powerful reminder, “There are five Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian—but most people never read the first four.” As we become people of grace, we must graciously extend grace to others. The question is never whether they deserve it because grace is never about merit. Our being gracious must rest upon our relationship with God and what He provides, not upon the worthiness of others.
So, what did Yancey not find? What does living by grace looks like? Dr. Steven Cook puts it this way: “It means helping the needy and expecting nothing in return (Luke 14:12-14), showing godly love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a), forgiving those who don’t deserve it (Ephesians 4:32), loving our enemies (Matthew 5:44), blessing those who persecute us (Romans 12:14), never returning evil for evil (Romans 12:17), not retaliating when others hurt us (Romans 12:19; cf. 1 Pet. 2:23), using our freedoms to serve others (Galatians. 5:13), and speaking words that edify (Ephesians 4:29).” That is just a part of it. Paul summed up it up well, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones . . . compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12, ESV). As “little Christs,” that is what it means to live by grace. That is my end goal. It should be yours too.