Recently I used a story from Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, in a sermon. The story was told by a pastor who had a prostitute come to him for help. She had been “renting out” her two-year-old daughter in order to support her drug habit. In the story, the pastor asked her if she had gone to church for help. “Church!” she said, “I was already feeling bad enough about myself. Why would I want to go there? They would simply make me feel worse.”
I used the story to focus on grace—the grace we receive from God and the grace we should extend to others. I noted that it is easy for me to see some sins as worse than others, but that Jesus paid for all sins on the cross and his forgiveness extends to the “worst” of sins and sinners. I did not have time in the sermon to run down all the implications of this truth, and afterward, received some great questions about how to apply to this all-encompassing grace. Following is an attempt to address some of the questions. Let’s consider grace, the Law, and common sense.
Grace is the free gift of God. It is an undeserved favor. It cannot be earned, bought or bartered for. The Apostle Paul clearly said that grace “cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). Until we understand that grace covers the greatest sin, we will not be able to understand that grace covers our sin. Yes, God’s grace covers even the despicable sin of the prostitute who sold her two-year-old.
Grace and the Law
In a discussion about grace, we can’t forget about the laws we live under. In Yancey’s story, the pastor said that he was legally liable to report this woman for child abuse even as he offered her God’s grace. King David was forgiven for his sin with Bathsheba, but he and his kingdom experienced consequences resulting from his sin. The thief on the cross, forgiven and headed to heaven, still died for his thievery. God can forgive the repentant murderer, but he will still receive the legal penalty rightfully due to him. The man who leaves his wife and family and runs off with his mistress can receive God’s forgiveness and may, in time, receive the forgiveness of his wife and children. But things will never again be the same between them. Grace does not negate the laws we live under. Grace does not negate the consequences of our sins.
Grace and Common Sense
When we extend grace, we must also use common sense. For instance, even though grace should be extended to the prostitute in Yancey’s story, we would be foolish to let her babysit our two-year-old. We must forgive those who hurt us. But this doesn’t mean that we put them in a position to hurt us or those we love again. If an alcoholic spouse leaves home, I can and should forgive him, but I am not going to let the children stay the weekend during his drunken stupor. Grace does not mean we put those we love in danger just for the sake of grace.