The other day I saw a mother whose son had acted out at school. The boy snapped and made some poor choices in words and attitude toward a classmate. He was emotional about what happened, as was his mother. Taking him by the arm, she pulled him aside where she spoke to him quietly and then hugged him tightly.
As she returned to her group of friends, she sheepishly started her Rolodex of excuses. He did not have enough sleep the night before. The classmate who started the argument is not a nice kid. A strong sense of justice is inherent in her son’s demeanor. He really likes his other classmates. The list was received by caring faces who coddled soft excuses for her son’s behavior.
Haven’t we all been here? The inexcusable child. The coddling mother. Friends who struggle with telling other friends the hard truth.
Enter, grace. Ah, amazing grace. Such indelible grace makes us feel better about our lackluster selves. [Pause] But God’s grace didn’t hide in the shadow of excuses for our behavior. It stood on a hill in our shame, bloodied and naked for the entire world to see. God’s mercy came to earth for our deeply depraved souls. So, if we minimize our personal “crud” as a way of feeling better about ourselves, the sober awareness about our redemption gets sidelined in the process. We miss out on why grace was so amazing.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Have you ever avoided a conflict for fear of the outcome? Have you ever sidestepped honesty and opted for being liked instead? Have you hidden who you are or how you really feel because it would cause discomfort and wouldn’t fit the image of how “Christ-like” you are trying to be?
I can answer yes to all of these questions. I have made excuses for saying certain things or acting certain ways to avoid the truth about myself and those around me. I have valued “kindness” over truthfulness, but let’s face it: caring dishonesty coming from my honey-filled mouth is untruthful at the end of the day. And it weakens my understanding about who I am and why I need salvation.
I might ponder why grace was so lavish a gift delivered only by way of a bloody cross. Why was so incredibly heinous an event the exchange? Because the prerequisite for my soul’s salvation requires some icy cold facts: the truth about me. Honesty is tough. That is why grace is so extraordinary. Sure, I can create a nicer presentation: one where I am inviting or becoming or clever or warm and friendly. But grace did not come for that cleaned up version of me.
You see, God’s grace does not coddle our sins— it covers them. It looks at the truth about you and me and it says we are worth it still. It doesn’t diminish or lessen us in terms of our desperate needs, but acknowledges fully the sinful nature we’d all prefer to play as pleasant music in the background of our lives. It pulls that truth forward into the light and gives it razor sharp focus, allowing it space to be seen for what it is. And then it says, “I see you fully.” Grace made a way for life from pain and pardon— a sacrificial gift more complex than the human effort to be kind or accepted or loved or favored. We don’t need to coddle our shortcomings because God’s grace makes large open space for them, so that telling the plain old truth about our uncomfortable selves becomes a stark and rewarding reality.
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.
God, help me create wide open spaces for my shortcomings and for the shortcomings of others so that I can share the extraordinary grace Your Son gave on the cross.