GATEKEEPERS OF GRACE (PART 1)
Written by Jessica Ponder on December 27, 2015
Concerning Givers and Gatekeepers of Grace
I used to work at a Christian bookstore—the kind with crocheted Bible covers, shofars, and towers of Babel made from Max Lucado books. I remember it was always equal parts hilarious and frustrating when someone would come in looking for a particular album or track. They often would say, “Do you know this song? It mentions God, and grace a lot. It might say holy too.” I always laughed because that basically described every Christian song ever written. (But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)
Christians sing about grace, “say grace” before meals, and preach about grace. That’s because Grace is the cornerstone of the Christian faith because it is the free and unmerited favor of God. We receive this grace from him in the form of abundant life and free forgiveness—not because of anything we have done, but through Jesus’ sacrifice and holy life. We bring rags and he brings royal robes; we bring sin and he brings holiness; we bring shame and he brings glory; we bring brokenness and he brings healing; we are runaway orphans but he brings the eternal adoption papers.
In short, grace is beautiful and is something to celebrate and give to others. In a way, God calls Christians to be the “dispensers” of his grace. It’s not that grace is ours to give. But Jesus has made us the “hands and feet” of his body, and the same open hands that received God’s grace are designed to extend it to the world with words of truth and our actions of forgiveness, healing, and generosity.
Unfortunately, instead of being grace givers, many of us speak the word “grace” while our daily actions actually bring down the law on others. What I mean is that our lips praise the free gift of Jesus but on the daily we are ungracious in the way we treat others. Whether we mean to or not, we set ourselves up as the “gate keepers of grace,” acting as if we have the authority to decide who deserves grace and who doesn’t.
Signs You Might Be an Ungracious Gatekeeper of Grace
The following signs are strong indications that you withhold from others the grace God has freely given to you:
1. You frequently assume the worst in people’s motivations.
Instead of assuming the best or giving someone the benefit of the doubt, you find yourself reading a negative tone or anger or malicious motive into conversations. This kind of tip toe stance-defense is exhausting, because instead of being gracious and loving you are always behind your fort assuming your friend, loved one, or neighbor is trying to hurt you. If you are an easily-offended person, this is probably the reason why
2. You keep records of wrongs (and rights) in relationships.
Perhaps you are frustrated that your friend has not reached out to you as much as you have reached out to them. You count text messages or phone calls. You count the hours since a Facebook messages was viewed but hasn’t been responded to. You remember how many instances someone has sinned against you in a particular way—and you may remind them that you know or self-righteously count yourself better than them. Alternatively, when you sin against someone instead of admitting blame and asking for forgiveness, perhaps you try to do good things to appease them in the hopes the good will make them forget about your sin.
3. You make people earn our forgiveness.
This may demonstrate itself in a cold shoulder, or isolating the individual who has sinned against you. It may mean withholding sex, or anything good, until you feel that someone has been punished. It may be reminding people of the sin that they’ve committed against you so that that individual now feels they are in your debt. Instead of forgiving freely, you want people to prove they are really sorry. In short (although you may never say it that way), you are the punisher, not the forgiver.
4. You harbor bitterness.
Do you have many burned bridges? Do you hold grudges? Are you the type who takes a “long time to forgive”? God says to not let the sun go down on your anger, but some bitter people can hold onto things for years. Ultimately the sin of bitterness stems from a lack of grace. At some level you feel “the right” to hold a grudge against someone that Jesus died to save. God looks at their sin and says, “Paid in full,” but all you see is a debt they still owe you. What you fail to see, however, is that this kind of thinking puts you in God’s place and makes you a gatekeeper of grace.
God Can Make You a Grace Giver
Withholding grace from others is dishonoring to God, unfair to others, and toxic for us. But the good news is this: you don’t have to be a gatekeeper of grace! God can make you “grace giver” in all your relationships, whether marriage or friendships or folks in your church.
But this doesn’t happen automatically over time. The change from being stingy gatekeepers to joyful grace givers only comes through a deeper appreciation of the grace we have all been shown in Jesus. In other words, it is only the good news of God’s grace that spurs us on to become more gracious with others.
As we remember the grace of Jesus, his Holy Spirit begins to reverse our gatekeeper tendencies and replace them with a heart of grace:
We come to see that we really are fully forgiven in him, so there is no need to keep a record of wrongs in relationships. We have been forgiven of lists and lists and lists of sins, and Jesus gives us grace upon grace.
We also eagerly are free to give others the benefit of the doubt, not with devil-may-care naiveté but with the kind of grace that honors the other person as a flawed human being who is made in the image of God. Assuming the best in others words and motivations frees us to stop making conversations about us and instead try to understand and love those we are in relationship with.
Freely giving forgiveness and not making others “earn” our favor says to the world that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for that sin and willingly absorbs the consequences for that sin and forgives.
And instead of being bitter, petty people, Christians are free to be gracious, kind and loving people who forgive even when others don’t ask for it and for things that many would deem inexcusable. Indeed, the famous Christian author C.S. Lewis rightly said, “To be a Christian means to forgive is the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
Jessica Ponder is a wife and mother to two (so far). She loves reading, singing, baking, and urban walking. In her dreams she is a piano player with time to practice, a gardener whose plants don’t die, and someone who could hang out with the entire world at the same time, all the time. Follow her on Twitter @MrsJessPonder.