The great evangelist D. L. Moody loved to study his Bible, and it occurred to him one day that he had never tackled the topic of grace. He took a day and did a Bible study on God’s grace. A second day was required, and then a third. By the afternoon of the third day, Moody was so filled with the idea of God’s grace that he had to go out on the street and talk to someone about it.
Moody stopped the first person he saw, a complete stranger, and said, “My friend, do you have any understanding of grace?”
The man replied, “Sir, I’ve been married to her for over 30 years and I still don’t understand her.”
God’s grace is a subject so big that it catches us by surprise. The Scottish pastor G. Campbell Morgan once said that the most beautiful word in our language is grace. One newspaper column will not even scratch the surface of this wonderful attribute of God.
What is grace? The free, spontaneous, unmerited favor of God for sinful people. The word describes man’s poverty and God’s kindness. The Greek word is charis, which can be translated favor freely done without expecting any return.
Robert McAfee Brown wrote, “That’s what grace is — God hanging with us whether we deserve it or not, loving us no matter how unlovable we may be, and refusing to give up on us, no matter how discouraging it may become” (Brown, Reclaiming the Bible: Words for the Nineties, 1994, p. 19).
God’s grace reveals the deep, deep love of God, who wants to extend His grace to all mankind. God’s grace cannot be earned. It is given freely. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Those who are recipients of God’s grace are called to live out God’s grace in daily life. We have to be careful not to disgrace grace. Is it possible for someone to mishandle God’s grace? How does this happen?
First, when we take grace for granted, we mishandle grace. Barabbas was the insurrectionist who was released instead of Jesus. Mark 15:6-15 records this Holy Week event. I’ve always wondered whatever happened to Barabbas after his release? How did this unexpected turn of events impact his life? Was he grateful?
Second, when we intentionally live in sin, we mishandle grace. Grace does not give us license for loose, sinful living, but calls us to live in a way that pleases God. Have you ever heard anyone claim, “I can do anything I want to; God will forgive?” That attitude takes advantage of God’s grace. We are still accountable.
Third, when we live in legalism, we mishandle grace. Grace calls us to move beyond legalistic thinking.
Chuck Swindoll wrote, “Legalism is an attitude, a mentality based on pride. It is an obsessive conformity to an artificial standard for the purpose of exalting oneself. A legalist assumes the place of authority and pushes it to unwarranted extremes” (Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, 1990, pp. 81-82).
Jesus set us free from legalism, and any overemphasis placed on rigid rule-keeping that robs us from experiencing the grace of God is mishandling grace.
Fourth, when we refuse to receive God’s forgiveness, we mishandle grace. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the penalty for our sin has been paid once and for all, and forgiveness is available. Often our problems in life are deeply rooted in the fact that we have not accepted God’s forgiveness.
Fifth, when we refuse to grant forgiveness, we mishandle grace. If God has forgiven us, and He has, then the Christ-like thing to do is to forgive others when we are hurt or offended.
Sixth, when we are impatient with others, we mishandle grace. At the heart of impatience with others is often a lack of unconditional love. God loves us just as we are, but we have not yet learned to love others just as they are. When people don’t measure up to our expectations, are we critical, judgmental, or petty? Are we in any way disgracing God’s grace?
(Dr. David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, Georgia. The church family gathers at 352 McDonough Road and invites you to join them this Sunday for Bible study at 9:45 a.m. and worship at 10:50 a.m. Visit them on the web at www.mcdonoughroad.org).