In part 1 of this repeat series on grace, I talked about the definition of grace from Scripture. In this post, I want to look at the many Scriptures that link God’s grace to us with our grace toward others. Luke 6:32-36 is one of the clearest teachings to me on both what God means when He uses the term grace (Greek word charis–also translated credit and benefit in this passage) and how our grace to others is a necessary part of being conformed to His image.
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.
My default mode is to think of grace as circular. I show grace to someone, they show grace to me, and so forth. But that is NOT consistent with how Scripture uses the term. The very definition of grace assumes that the other person is not being gracious. It stops being grace altogether if it’s conditional on some reciprocal gesture by the other person. Biblical grace starts with God, never with others. It is His grace to us that is our source and supply for showing grace to others. Here are some other Scriptures on this subject.
Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
From the Lord’s prayer—Mt. 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Colossians 3:13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Mark 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
It’s important to note both the close relationship between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others while also distinguishing it from a work that earns us salvation. Paul spends the entire book of Ephesians clarifying this in detail. In chapters 1-3 he details all that Christ has secured for us in salvation based solely on Christ’s merits and sacrifice alone, fully separate from any good work we might try to contribute. It is clear that we have not earned or worked for this great salvation–this glorious gift of grace to us from God. But then Paul also clearly links in a one-to-one correspondence God’s grace to us with what this gospel demands we show to others. Consider the opening to Ephesians 4.
Ephesians 4 1Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the (H)bond of peace.
“Therefore”, Paul says. He is clearly linking the exhortation in verses 1-3 with the gospel of grace he has taught in the previous chapters. He in fact says that these next instructions (which end with the exhortation at the end of chap. 4 to forgive as Christ has forgiven us) are about walking in a manner that reflects correctly the truth of our own personal salvation–walking worthy of this calling.
Some of this Scripture is scary. Forgive others SO THAT God will forgive me? I don’t want my bitterness and unforgiveness of others to be a litmus test for God’s forgiveness of me. My encouragement is that you would read these instructions in light of the whole teaching of Scripture on salvation through Christ alone. We know our forgiveness doesn’t earn our salvation. But you can not deny from Scripture that it is a FRUIT of our salvation.
As I said in the last post, if you struggle here, preach the gospel to yourself anew. Don’t try to muster yourself up to do a work you can not do on your own. If the fruit of forgiveness is nonexistent for you, the place to begin is meditating on your connection to the Vine. John 15 is a good place to start. In the next post, we’ll look at the Bible’s instructions on dealing with someone who abuses grace.