Grace on a Scale

I begin today’s post with a word of clarification. In recent weeks, we’ve been awash in the cesspool of the heart-breaking story of years of sexual abuse by a former coach in what we all thought was an untarnished Penn State football program. In no way whatsoever do I seek to mitigate or diminish the horrifying nature and far-reaching ramifications of what this man allegedly perpetrated. Nor do I seek to defend him or his actions. Let there be no doubt, there are some sins we can commit that do fall hard upon others with catastrophic and devastating result, creating a more obvious and deadly ripple effect than some of our other more isolated sins. Now on with the piece …

We humans are an entertaining lot, and none more so than us christian types. We often seem to be captivated, even possessed by the sins of others relative to our own. Some of us, in a spirit of humility, take the high road (or perhaps more descriptively, the low road) as it relates to ourselves. In other words, we view our own sins as somehow worse or more egregious than those of our earthly peers, thereby essentially disqualifying ourselves from redemption. Maybe I view myself as an alcoholic, or a junkie, or an adulterer, or a liar, or a swindler, or a whore, or you name it. And as such, I might sincerely believe that my own sins are worse than those of the people around me who appear to me to be more virtuous, and are therefore “better” than me. While this condition may indeed be rooted in humility, there is an inherent problem with this perception; and that is that none of us really knows what goes on in the privacy of another person’s heart, mind, and soul. So we don’t really know what their true inward sins are, regardless of their outward virtuous appearance. And make no mistake, sin to Jesus was always about what goes on inside … much more so than about what we appear to do / be outwardly. He put it this way: “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'” (Mk. 7:15). If I read this correctly, Jesus (i.e. God) declares that sin is rooted much more in our hearts than in our hands. It’s striking (and very instructive) to note just how inwardly focused Jesus was as it relates to our spiritual condition. Obviously, we don’t have the ability to look inside a person to make an accurate assessment of the nature of his or her sin and / or virtue. Therefore, neither can we make an accurate assessment of our own sin / virtue relative to theirs … for either good or bad. Hence, we simply cannot know whose sin is “worse.”

Conversely, there are those of us for whom humility is not at the top of our priority list who view the sin of others not as being less than our own, but rather as more than ours, essentially disqualifying them from redemption. In other words, perhaps I don’t view my sin as being “all that bad” when I stack it up against that of my peers. Maybe I’m “only” guilty of … oh I don’t know, cheating a little on my taxes, or dipping my toe into the office gossip pool at lunch, or taking a peek at a certain website when no one’s around, or entertaining a hurtful joke at the expense of another co-ed, or engaging in a little “harmless” extra-marital flirtation, or what have you. Certainly what I do (or did) is not as bad as that adulterer, or that drunk, or that street whore, or that murderer, or that Judas Iscariot guy, or that pedophile coach at Penn State. Jesus made no bones about this brand of thinking when he offered up the story of a certain Pharisee (religious official / legal teacher) and a tax collector (deemed the scum of the earth in his day) in Luke 18: The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get’ …” (Lk. 18:9-14). In other words, the Pharisee didn’t think he was “all that bad” when compared to others. Or to put it more succinctly, he believed that he required less forgiveness … less grace than the other guy.

But here’s the truth … both individuals are dead wrong. Both the humble sinner, who disqualifies himself, and the prideful Pharisee who disqualifies another are flat out dead wrong. The truth is that in the spiritual economy of God as defined and explained by Jesus, none of us requires one iota more or less of grace than any other person in order to be adopted by God as a beloved son or daughter. The gift of grace that God freely gave us is most starkly demonstrated by the unconcealed public stripping, beating, mocking, humiliation, merciless and bloody execution of the one and only individual who needed no grace whatsoever in order to affiliate with a holy and perfect God. He held back nothing, even to the extent of literally pouring out his very life … one drop at a time. What this means is that the kind of grace that God dispensed to all of us that day could only be described in one way … infinite … (i.e. unmeasured, unlimited, having no end, unquantifiable). You see, God dispenses only one kind of grace. In His economy there IS no other kind. Thus, there’s only one amount of grace available to anyone who chooses to access it … infinite. And that’s exactly how much grace it takes to make me ok, to make you ok, to make Judas Iscariot ok … or to make even a certain predatory football coach ok … no more … and no less.

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6 Responses to Grace on a Scale

  1. Doug Tennant says:

    Wow. I never thought of grace in such a quantitative way. Yeah, sure, sin, as I’ve come to the conclusion that in God’s eyes there is no measuring stick for each of our accumulated sins. What He sees and forgives us for is our sinfulness, the fact that we are unquestionably capable and do commit sins, period. In His love he pardons us that if we will accept it. But I never considered that His grace is something we all receive in the same equal measure. Well, of course, it would be, wouldn’t it? Makes sense – but the conclusion is a stunning example of our equality in His eyes. He loves us all the same. Which is a lovely footnote to your last blog about feeling as if we never are good enough. We all get the same grace. Wow.

  2. Karen A. Fentress says:

    Randy, thank you for your posts. Good ideas to chew on. Keep writing. Blessings..

  3. Anita says:

    Another remarkable blog to contemplate, and so true.

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