When we get grace, everything else is colored differently. There is no greater gift from God, and therefore no greater gift we can give one another, than the gift of grace toward all that isn’t perfect.
Lewis Smedes, who wrote extensively on the subject of shame and grace, says this:
“Shame is heavy; grace is light. Shame and grace are the two counterforces in the human spirit: shame depresses; grace lifts. Shame is like gravity, a psychic force that pulls us down. Grace is like levitation, a spiritual force that defies gravity. If our spiritual experience does not lighten our life, we are not experiencing grace. . . . The lightness of grace does not lift all the sandbags that drag the spirit down. It lightens life by removing one very dead weight in particular—the weight of anxiety about being an unacceptable person. … It sets loose the lightest feeling of life: being accepted; totally, unreservedly accepted.”Smedes, Shame and Grace
As the apostle Paul worked out his own radical shift from a law-based worldview to a grace-based one, he realized that it had to begin with a fundamental shift in how he related to God. In other words, he would not be able to show grace toward others if he didn’t first see himself as accepted by God apart from his ruthless adherence to the Law. I like how it is worded in The Message version of Romans 5:8: “God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.”
Paul goes on to define the doctrine of justification, a term we’ve since butchered with a pithy phrase that doesn’t do it justice. Sometimes you hear people say, “Justified means ‘just as if I’d never sinned.’” No, it doesn’t. That sounds like God is like my mother. My mother was just a wonderful person, but she had a terrible ability to ignore the obvious. Maybe she was just that smart. I don’t know. But she’d pretend like we never did anything wrong, because I think she just couldn’t put those two things together — the person she thought we were with the person we actually were. So we could be ax murderers and my mother would say, “Well, if she ax-murdered someone, then they must have deserved it.”
Just as if we’d never sinned.
But that’s not how God’s justification works. Justification says, “Even if I sin, and sometimes can’t stop sinning, God still declares me acceptable on the basis of my faith in Jesus Christ. I am made right by his blood, not by my works. And God does this, not with a blind eye to my sin, and not in spite of my sin, but because of the sufficiency of Christ to cover my sin. So in the end, justification isn’t about me or my sin. Justification is about Jesus. Grace is all about Jesus. Hope is all about Jesus. And it only works if it is free. And it is free because God is faithful.
By grace, through faith alone in the cross of Jesus Christ, we can live without shame.
This is the great gift of grace. It is a path to freedom and friendship with God. Freedom to do what? Freedom to let others be who they are, without imposing ridiculous expectations on them to be who you need them to be so you can get your needs met.
Freedom from legalism.
Freedom from self.
Freedom from shame.
Freedom to love people, really love them, with no self-protective walls in play. Because our worth doesn’t lean on their acceptance of us.
Freedom to finally forgive people and allow them be different from me without judging them as somehow “less than.”
Freedom from the power of sin.
Freedom to serve and glorify Christ.
Freedom to participate in building a Kingdom built on the unconditional love and grace of a faithful, loving God.
- Is there someone in my life that needs me to respond in grace to his or her conscious sinning … or maybe just to the things in them that grate on me? How is God’s Spirit impressing me now to love this person?
- Is there any conscious sin in my life that is killing a part of me and denying my love for God or others?
- Where do I need to pry my fingers away from the rule book, open my hands, and admit to God my need for his grace?
- How is God’s Spirit prompting me to change my views on grace and holiness? On discipline?