Suspicious of Grace
By Wendy Alsup
We are by nature suspicious of grace. My pastor used this phrase in a recent sermon and it stuck with me. I have a long history in the church and have experienced my share of conflict. Though I can’t remember a time where I was actually in the middle of the conflict, I’ve observed much conflict from the sidelines. And I’m becoming increasingly convinced that it is our suspicion of and lack of endurance with grace that is the turning point in each conflict. When we loose hope in grace, conflicts become unreconcilable and deeply wounding.
We label our brothers and sisters in Christ as wolves. We treat them as enemies. And we take a hammer and chainsaw to those who are ears, or thumbs, or elbows, or toes in the Body of Christ. Then we wonder afterward why the pain is so deep and the blood doesn’t stop flowing. And we live in denial that we just knifed the dear, sweet Body of our beautiful Savior in the back. I have 25 years of experience in such church conflicts. I’m a veteran. There is nothing new under the sun, and I sadly recognize the cycle well.
However, instead of citing examples of how I’ve seen God’s example of grace abandoned in Christian conflict, this week I saw an example of God’s grace embraced for the long haul. And you know what? It worked! Forbearing long with our brother in Christ in love, forgiveness, humility, and grace actually worked to bring someone to repentance.
But despite those moments when we see grace work, we often remain suspicious of its power. The argument I hear against such longsuffering grace usually goes something like this. “Well, aren’t you tolerating sin if you bear long? At some point, don’t you have to stop enduring or others will think you are condoning their actions? You need to separate yourself and take a stand against their sin. Otherwise, everyone will think it’s OK to do what they are doing!”
And you know what? I’d probably agree with all of that IF Jesus hadn’t died on the cross to atone for our sins. Jesus’ payment for our sins demands a different response.
Colossians 3:13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
When I heard how grace worked with my friend, I wept. Because I too am suspicious of grace. I want to be gracious. I want to bear long with people and have hope for their repentance and transformation. Instead, I often despair. But I was reminded this week that grace works. That it is the goodness of God that draws us to repent, and that our longsuffering love with our unrepentant brothers in Christ ministers grace to them that will draw them to repent as well.
Beware of viewing your brother or sister in Christ as the Pharisee to be shamed and rebuked with scorn. That is a response reserved for the unelect, and there is serious warning in Scripture against presuming to know who is and who is not of the elect. Love God. Love others. Period.