Grace is Hard to Give

Lately I’ve been reading How People Grow by Henry Cloud and John Townsend and have been struck by the important role that being accepted plays in a person’s ability to begin to heal and grow, both spiritually and emotionally. This sense of acceptance comes to us through the grace of God as He loves and forgives us even in our sinful state.

But it also comes to us through others – the body of believers around us – as they love us in the midst of our mess.

How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth

How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth

Last Monday, Sept. 15th, I wrote a blog here on ESI about how hard it can be to receive that grace, how it feels “uncomfortable” not to try – somehow – to “keep the scales even,” so to speak, in terms of how much grace we allow others – and even God – to show us without some attempt to earn it (“Grace is Hard to Receive“).

This week, I wanted to turn this idea over and consider why it’s hard sometimes to continue to give grace to others.

Most of us, even operating in our own inner strength, seem to have the ability to extend grace to someone we love, but who occasionally does something to upset us. Nobody’s perfect, right? Many of us even have the fortitude to forgive someone and extend grace several times for committing the same sin against us. We may not like it, but we offer grace and mercy because we know “it’s the Christian thing to do.” The problem, for many of us, shows itself when the same person commits the same sin so many times that we can’t keep track anymore. The limitations of operating in our own strength then become readily apparent (Philippians 4:13).

If, by some miracle, you have yet to live through some situation where an offender has long ago eclipsed double-digit offenses and you found it hard to continue to forgive and offer grace…trust me, a situation like that will land on your doorstep one day. More than likely, you will find you don’t want to continue to love and accept this person anymore.

Why is it so hard to offer grace? Knowing how much we ourselves have been forgiven, why do we balk at offering grace to those who routinely cause conflict and injury? While I’m sure you could probably add to the following list of ideas, I can offer at least a few core issues that cause people to struggle to give grace.

We are all so very good at judging others. The fallen condition of our hearts is such that I swear we were all born with a gavel in our hands! We know exactly where the bar is for living peacefully among others, and we react whenever someone begins falling below our bar. The trouble is, my standards don’t match yours! Whenever someone doesn’t measure up to our self-determined standard for how they should live out their lives, we tend to pronounce them as somehow “less than.” Most obviously, we have made the decision that they are somehow “less than us,” effectively forgetting our many failings and putting ourselves on a false (and thoroughly unbiblical) level of superiority.

Judging someone else for the things they say, do or think is the opposite of accepting someone despite their faults, and it puts distance between us and them. Subsequently, it makes it difficult to offer that person grace. We begin to resent it if someone seems to be getting “more grace than they deserve.”

Saved by GraceAnother heart issue that can make it difficult to love and accept others (and be able to offer grace) is unforgiveness. Whenever we cannot fully forgive someone for the wrongs they’ve committed against us, it’s unlikely we’re going to be able to extend the kind of grace to them that is going to be life-changing.

When we find ourselves judging others or refusing to forgive someone, you can bet we’ve forgotten – however temporarily – how very much grace we’ve been extended by God.

Now, there are certainly times when boundaries must be set up and guarded. Trust – having been destroyed by the same sins being committed over and over – must be rebuilt before someone can perhaps return to a position in your life of close, intimate ally. I’m thinking of sexual betrayals in the context of marriage, or the alcoholic who is destroying the family’s relationships and finances by his or her persistent drinking. I’m not suggesting that the grace you extend to someone causing that level of destruction is a “forgive and forget” kind of mentality without consequences. In the hardest of situations, the most loving thing to do may be to separate yourself from the person for a season. But you can continue to give grace even in those situations, by refusing to judge their behaviors and continue to express concern for their welfare.

God, the merciful King, wants to change lives. He wants to change our lives, yes, but He also wants to work through us to change the lives of others. When we allow our pride to get in the way and choose instead to judge, punish or refuse forgiveness, we are saying that we deserved God’s lavish forgiveness, but this other person does not. So how can we continue to live out grace to others when the going gets hard?

For starters, we can battle against our own pride by consistently reminding ourselves who we are before Christ – that we have sinned grievously against the living God, and truly are no different than this person we are struggling to accept and extend grace to. When we seek to humble ourselves before God, He not only changes us, but He is also able to use our humbled, softened hearts to reach out to others.

In receiving grace we know we don’t deserve, we are emboldened to pursue change in our lives. Not because we need to reach a certain level of acceptability with God, but because we have already been given the acceptance that we could never earn. We are empowered to become the child He calls us to be. And, in extending grace through acceptance and love to others, we become the conduit through which God is working to pour out His grace onto them, to empower them to do the same, to find the same freedom and peace to become the children He calls them to be.

It seems clear to me that receiving grace and offering grace to others are inextricably intertwined. In God’s economy, we cannot truly receive the lavish grace of God if we are not willing to then turn around and allow Him to pour it out on others, through us. As Jesus makes clear in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, our relationship with Him is really only as good as our relationship with those who “owe us.” If we want to see how well we are doing in our Christian walk, we need only look as far as the person with whom we are most upset.

Matthew 18:21-35
“The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant”
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

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