I think that’s the danger for the church. If grace is not explained, experienced and celebrated in the church, it plants poisonous seeds, which root and grow and things get toxic. A lot of times grace gets put on the opposite side of sanctification, but that’s not biblically true. In Scripture it’s all about grace. Titus 2:11-12 says: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.” In the church we want grace to be the motivation for our godliness; we want grace to be what inspires how we treat other people.
The story of the unforgiving servant takes a strange turn.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’” (Matt. 18:28-33)
You talk about how the church should be outraged by “ungrace.” Outraged?
In Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant, the guy is forgiven this great debt, but when he refuses to forgive the debt of a fellow servant, the rest of the servants were outraged by it. That’s what I’m talking about. In our community, the one area where we should have some outrage when it comes to sin is when grace is being withheld. As a church, you want to confront that.
In Grace Is Greater, Idleman shares a true story of unconditional grace.
Elizabeth and Frank Morris’ 18-year-old son, Ted, was home from college for Christmas break. He had gotten a job to make a little money. It was late, and Elizabeth was worried; he was supposed to be home from work. That’s when the phone rang. Elizabeth answered and received the news no mother wants to hear. On Ted’s drive home a car coming the other way had crossed the median and hit him head-on. Tommy Pigage was driving the other car. He had been at a party where he got drunk. He blacked out and never saw Ted Morris’ car coming.
Tommy reached a plea-bargain that allowed him to be freed on probation. Tommy was now free, and Elizabeth began having revenge fantasies in which she would kill him.
But Elizabeth had a problem. She was the recipient of grace. A Christian, Elizabeth took her pain to God and as she prayed she realized that her heavenly Father had also had his innocent son murdered. She knew she had to forgive Tommy as God had forgiven her. Elizabeth went and met with Tommy. She told him she wanted to help. Tommy came from a broken home and struggled with alcoholism. He needed help. Elizabeth and Frank began building a relationship and talking to him about Jesus.
One night, the Morrises and Tommy drove to their church, where Frank Morris baptized his son’s killer.
You believe reconciliation best demonstrates the love of God through his divine grace. Why?
Grace at its deepest level—and that is what the Morrises represent—is reconciliation. When it doesn’t just end but there is this new beginning. The church has the most potential to model the gospel when we go to that level of grace and forgiveness. There is a willingness not just to let go of bad feelings and the debt that is owed, but also to actually reconcile with the person who hurt you. Sometimes, reconciliation is not possible. You can’t take it to the next level if the other person doesn’t repent. But when reconciliation happens, it’s pure grace. It’s what God has done for us. He didn’t just forgive us but calls us into loving relationship. When the church models that—whether it’s in our homes, our marriages, our neighborhoods—it is a beautiful image of the message of the gospel and is a powerful and profound witness.
As a pastor, what have you learned about grace?
The way we word it at Southeast is: Stop thinking about what’s been done to you and start thinking about what’s been done for you. It involves taking a thought captive—Hey, this is what this person has done to me—and replace it with a focus of what Jesus has done for me. The experience of that kind of grace transforms our closest relationships, either current ones or from a long time ago. When that light goes on, and we really get hold of that, we experience supernatural power in our lives.
Rob Wilkins, an Outreach magazine contributing writer, is the founder and creative lead for Fuse Media in Asheville, North Carolina.