Friday, September 19, 2008

Where is the grace?

"…bear ye one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).

In every Christian theology, God is believed to grant grace quite freely, since its gift is far greater than any person can merit. As to which persons are offered this grace, there is a great difference of opinion. Most believers hold that it is offered to people who place no obstacle in the way of salvation rather than to those who refuse the grace they have been given; some believe, however, that grace is not given outside the church, and the Calvinists hold that it is offered only to those predestined to election.

Being raised as a Methodist, I believe fervently what John Wesley wrote in his essay called Free Grace: "The grace or love of God, whence cometh our salvation, is FREE IN ALL, and FREE FOR ALL.... It is free in all to whom it is given. It does not depend on any power or merit in man; no, not in any degree, neither in whole, nor in part. It does not in anywise depend either on the good works or righteousness of the receiver; not on anything he has done, or anything he is. It does not depend on his endeavors. It does not depend on his good tempers, or good desires, or good purposes and intentions; for all these flow from the free grace of God; they are the streams only, not the fountain. They are the fruits of free grace, and not the root. They are not the cause, but the effects of it."

For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

Most Christians believe God’s Grace and Love is given to all (except Calvinists who believe that only a few people are predestined to be saved and the remainder of us are going to Hell regardless of how good we are). After we have accepted God's grace, we are to move on in God's sustaining grace toward perfection. Wesley believed that people could fall from grace or backslide. He said that we cannot just sit on our behinds, so to speak, claim God's salvation, and then do nothing. Repentance (changing our selfish, sinful ways) and faith are necessary, in order to continue to grow in grace. Although doing good works does not buy your way into Heaven, we are encouraged to continue with our studies so that we may grow in knowledge and to participate in the "the means of grace" by helping the “least of these.” There are some Christians, including myself, who believe in universalism: that God will welcome into heaven all who are truly remorseful and asks for and accepts His forgiveness and grace.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:23-24

But also, one must understand that while this transcendent act on the part of God removes our sin, which would block our fellowship with Him, it does not necessarily remove the consequences of our wrong doing.

Now, I wrote the above to lead up to this: There are too many families, Christian families included, where the parents do not show the same grace toward their children that God gives to them. Instead, they control their children with constant criticism, shame, and guilt. Everyone knows the feelings of guilt and shame. Shame and guilt are not necessarily destructive feelings. They are "uncomfortable feelings" that push us to a higher standard of behavior. Children are born without any concept of shame or guilt and they would never feel either one unless they were taught to do so. We should teach our children shame and guilt because, in small quantities, they are very necessary for us all to be able to live together in society. I would like to repeat this: in small and appropriate quantities. It is necessary for children to learn the consequences of poor behavior.

At the same time, there is a strong connection between shame and guilt and lack of grace. Parents must strike a balance between, on the one hand, teaching children that there are consequences to their behavior and, on the other hand, occasionally extending grace by foregoing punishment after explaining to the child why he should be punished. In dysfunctional families with controlling parents, debilitating shame and guilt is created and fostered in childhood. Another type of dysfunctional family is where the parents, in the name of self esteem, never allow the child to suffer the consequences of bad behavior and choices, thereby creating a very self-centered individual who has no sympathy for other people.

According to Jane Middelton-Moz in her book, Shame and Guilt: Many adults shamed as children promise themselves that they will create a “just right” family in their adulthood. Without the recovery from debilitating shame, however, “just right” is rarely created. Many times “happily ever after” is not in reach. It is also difficult to attain resolution of the conflicts within the family who once shamed us. Members of… [these] …families are often in so much pain and denial that an adult-child member of the family who seeks resolution from past conflicts is rarely heard. In fact, they are continually shamed even more.

If grace is so amazing, why don't Christians show more of it? -- Philip Yancey
Yancey writes of one family where the cycle of hatred has passed from one generation to the next like an inherited gene, none of whom understand how to show grace and forgiveness, and in doing so pass their hate to the next generation. He writes of churches with no warmth, which he called ungrace. He says that forgiveness is an unnatural act for humans because for those who do not understand grace, it is easier to seek justice and vengeance.

When children are brought up in a home full of constant criticism, a home full of shame and guilt, or brought up in a home where they are always protected from the consequences of their behavior and never taught to empathize with others, it manifests itself in adulthood, not only in personal relationships, but with repercussions throughout society.

When society lacks grace, self-centered and self-righteous people prevail. These people tend to be quick at seeing other people’s faults while overlooking their own, possibly very large, faults. Christ’s description of this problem is in Matthew 7:3: “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” Self-righteous people also have a tendency to make a big issue over small points of righteousness while overlooking large issues.

Grace is known through its redeeming work in our lives. Those who never received grace from others, including their parents, have great difficulty truly understanding what grace is and do not have the ability to show grace to others. The sinner who has experienced God’s grace has a fellowship, an insight into God’s character, and a love for a God of grace that a person who has never deeply sinned and been forgiven will never fully understand. Also, a person who has deeply sinned, but has successfully hidden it from all, including himself, does not have an understanding of forgiveness and the gift of grace. Therefore, an unfallen man or woman, who is unable to understand what grace is, and unable to show grace, will more likely be one who strongly believes in and practices legalistic justice, strictly following the rules without flexibility, and believes in strong, harsh punishment, without mercy. Hence, the redeemed sinner, the person who has shown poor behavior and judgment, then feeling remorse, owned up to that behavior and received forgiveness and the gift of grace, will be an exponentially better person, might I say a better Christian, than an unfallen person.

What are the ramifications when society lacks grace?

Think about it.