I was asked to speak at a small women’s study on grace in conflict. It forced me to organize my thoughts from the last few blog entries, and this post hopefully is a more coherent presentation of the concept.
I’m going to deal with 2 questions–first, what is grace, and second, how do we demonstrate grace in conflict?
1) What is grace?
*From Dictionary of Theological Terms by Alan Cairns
Grace is “a mode of the goodness of God, often described as undeserved favor. It is more than that. It is underserved favor bestowed upon those who are positively deserving of the wrath of God….”
*The Greek word translated grace is charis, which in short means loving-kindness, favor, or gift. However, those three words don’t really plumb the depths of how Scripture uses the term.
*Hebrew, Greek, and English dictionaries each give really long definitions of grace from multiple angles. But the common thread in each use of the term is that it is NOT about giving what is due.
*Verses using charis
Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.
(If you work for it and get what you are due, it is not charis)
Luke 6 32″If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
(If you give good back to others who are good to you or extend charity to those who can repay it, it is not charis)
Summary: When you give back what is earned or deserved, it is not charis—it is not grace. It is not favor or benefit and it is not credited toward you as anything other than exactly what you are expected to do. Instead, grace does what is unexpected, undeserved, and out of line with reasonable responses. Grace is an unreasonable response—unreasonably good, but unreasonable nonetheless. And (Luke 6:35) when we give grace, this undeserving favor that does good to enemies and lends expecting nothing in return, then we give evidence to our relationship with our Father in heaven, because THIS is his calling card. He is good to those who don’t deserve it. He is full of grace.
2) What grace is NOT.
It’s not being diplomatic, generally friendly, or polite. Don’t mistake personal politeness or good manners for this altogether different thing named grace to which God has called us.
Grace and humility are intertwined theological concepts. When we get grace, the only choice is humility. Grace is an unreasonably lavish response to those undeserving of it. And it is based on our own understanding of God’s great, undeserved favor toward us.
A friend wrote me this in an email, “Grace is free in that it is not earned (indeed it is the very opposite of what is deserved), but it is costly as it is given with sacrifice because of love. That is the scandal of what God did for me by the cross and it is His calling for me to do to others to bring glory to His name.” Then she cited the example of Jesus washing Judas’ feet as the one that drew a good friend of hers to see his need for Jesus. It was Jesus example of undeserving self-sacrifice to the one who would ultimately betray him that really spoke the gospel to this man.
3) How do you demonstrate grace in conflict?
First of all, I submit that it’s impossible to demonstrate grace in any other situation. Grace assumes sin. Otherwise, you’re just being nice.
2 Timothy 2:24-26 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
From this passage, I get 4 thoughts on grace in conflict.
a. Grace understands the truth of someone’s condition—they are ensnared by Satan and DECEIVED. They really don’t see things the way you do.
b. Grace is in it for the long haul—it patiently endures evil.
c. Grace corrects (so the truth is not subverted or glossed over) but it corrects gently (with strength well under God’s control). This reminds me of I Peter 4:8, “love covers a multitude of sins.” The Bible repeats this principle in the Old and New Testament. But what does it mean to cover sins in love? It almost sounds like we are ignoring sin and not dealing with it altogether. Here is the phrase that I use to help me distinguish between the two.
“Love doesn’t sweep sin under the carpet, but it keeps others out of the room until it can be cleaned up.”
d. Grace’s goal is not self-acquittal or vindication or that people would come to see things your way. Grace’s goal is repentance with God that leads to knowledge of the truth.
There is grace, and then there is everything else. And everything else leads to death. If you don’t get grace, you don’t get the gospel. If you don’t exhibit grace to others, it’s evidence you don’t understand it for yourself. If grace doesn’t dominate your relationship to God and your obligation to others, your religion will suck the life out of you and others around you.
Grace is meaningless without truth. But truth will kill you without grace. The worst thing we can do in conflict is engage in it when we don’t understand grace for ourselves. But once we really understand God’s undeserved favor to ourselves, then we can minister grace to others who have sinned against us in whatever way we can with the prayer that God would draw them to repentance and the knowledge of the truth.