A pastor friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook:
Justice—when you get what you deserve.
Mercy—when you don’t get what you deserve.
Grace—when you get what you don’t deserve.
As I was adding my “like,” I saw that there was a fair amount of conversation about it.
The first comment was about whether or not forgiveness is the best word to use to explain what Christ did at the cross because, in the view of the commenter, “it diminishes what Jesus really did for us. Our sin’s aren’t “forgiven”. Our sins are paid for in full, just not by us.” Conversation continued about what word might be better: Pardoned? Discharged? Commuted?
“Our sins aren’t forgiven, just paid for in full?” I found myself marveling at the logic being used. More than that, I think what really got me, was how professional and impersonal their suggested terms were. Forgiveness is profoundly personal and intimate, for both the giver and the receiver. Honing in on the legal aspect of forgiveness may explain God as Judge, but not as Father. It’s like they were more concerned about accurately defining the concept, while not at all being concerned about connecting the concept to the action.
Then there was this comment by another person:
While people use this aphorism about “grace” frequently, I think it misses the point, completely. Grace is a function of joy, specifically the joy of the person who is gracious. The action called grace is a movement from the joy one has in oneself to produce a similarly related joy in someone else. Always talking about grace in terms of the recipient corrupts the term, especially when the only qualification mentioned is that the recipient does not deserve whatever is being given.
Really? Grace is a function of joy? Certainly joy is a component of love (1 Corinthians 13:6) but grace is not always given from a joyful heart is it? It is a way to joy, but I question the thought that it is a function of joy.
I can think of few things as foundational to the Gospel as grace. But ironically, I have been learning that few things are more misunderstood and underestimated today than grace, what it is, what it is for, and how it works.
What is grace? The most often answer to that question is that grace is “undeserved favor.” While that is true, that definition is, in my opinion, a rather domesticated and frankly truncated definition. My favorite definition of grace is from Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life by Paul F. M. Zahl.
What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It is being loved when you are the opposite of loveable.
…Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold…Grace is one-way love.
The Christian life is not about being right. It is realizing that we are wrong and unrighteous, and that the perfect, holy, righteous, sovereign creator and ruler of the universe, despite all our pride, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy, has decided to keep His love and joy and pleasure in us anyway; that He has decided to continue to redeem us, forgive us, and adopt us for Himself; and living in light of that grace and truth.
These comments on grace and forgiveness seem more about retrofitting the ideas of grace and forgiveness to a particular theological system than actual concern about what these terms mean. The church already has a lousy reputation for being gracious and forgiving. These comments reveal that one reason for that may be that we are more concerned about being correct than about being gracious and forgiving.