Grace is not only something we are supposed to receive from God, but a gift that is to be given to others. We are not to be a people who only know about needing grace; we are to be a people who know about giving grace.
What is grace? Often when I ask people for their definition of grace they say “grace is an acronym: it means grace received at Christ’s expense.” It is true that grace is received at Christ’s expense, but that answers the question “how do we get it” not “what is it.” You might well define grace as getting what you don’t deserve. The popular Christian band, The Newsboys, sing a song called Real Good Thing. The chorus goes like this:
When we don’t get what we deserve That’s a real good thing. That’s a real good thing. When we get what we don’t deserve That’s a real good thing. That’s a real good thing.
The first line in the chorus is talking about God’s mercy—not getting what we deserve, which is punishment for all our sins. The second line is talking about God’s grace—getting what we don’t deserve, which is salvation and all the blessings that come with it. The focus of grace is granting undeserved kindness or blessing when from the point of view of justice none is deserved.
What is true of the grace that God gives each of us is true of the grace that we are expected to give to one another. Grace is granting undeserved kindness when from the point of view of justice none is deserved. When we are caught up in a person’s mess, we are to respond with compassion, when we are treated poorly we are to respond with kindness, when we are criticized we are to respond in humility, when others are angry at us, we are to be gentle, when others are having a hard time and struggling we are to respond by bearing one another’s burdens, and when we are sinned against we are to forgive them no less than the Lord has forgiven us. That is what being full of grace means.
Jesus treated people with grace. Grace compelled Him to humble Himself and spend Himself serving others even when He was seeking rest and solitude. He was as free with forgiveness towards tax collectors, prostitutes, and the very people who nailed Him to the cross as He was with His closest disciples. He did not turn away people who were ritualistically unclean, contagiously ill, or possessed by demons. His grace cut through the iron walls of class, culture, race, and gender. His grace was not intimidated by either tradition or position. That is what the practice of grace looks like. Jesus was full of grace, and therefore it is no surprise that He expects His Body, His Church to be a people who are full of grace.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV).