“I hope he rots in prison…”
“He’s carving his own millstone for around his neck…”
“She deserves to go to hell…”
“I’m glad she’s finally getting some of her own medicine…”
These are some of the statements we have heard from followers of Jesus, who have personally received an abundant measure of grace from their redemptive Savior. Where does grace and forgiveness fit in the scheme of things when sin has been involved or where others have been hurt? What should our response be as Christians? I have been challenged and have examined mine own heart to see if I really understand and exemplify the true meaning of grace. In my opinion, Christianity is greatly “watered down” today because of two very dangerous misconceptions of this beautiful word, GRACE. This blog looks at it from OUR perspective to others and, in my next blog, we will look at it from GOD’S perspective.
One of the dictionary definitions of grace is: “the free and unmerited favor of God.” Grace is something we absolutely DON’T deserve. It is NOT something we can work hard to gain. Grace is the salvation for our souls. Grace is being reunited in our relationship with God after our choices, (our sins) have separated us from Him. It is found ONLY after we have repented and turned away from our sins. As Christians, we should realize that we experience grace from God every day, because each of us will struggle with our sin nature until the day we die. When we truly recognize our daily struggle with the ugliness of our heart conditions (pride, anger, bitterness, selfishness), God’s forgiveness and His grace is certainly nothing less than AMAZING!
So why are Christians known to slander, gossip, and show contempt towards anyone? Should the greatest sinner, pedophile, homosexual, idolater, terrorist, or mass murderer feel contempt or maliciousness from God’s children? There is a big difference between lovingly dealing with someone involved in sin and judgmentally “casting stones.” Haven’t you ever wondered why the accusers of the adulterous woman started picking up stones, rather than allowing Jesus to deal with her issue? He was actually the ONLY one who was qualified to judge her. How many times do we see Jesus angrily casting stones? Didn’t He spend time talking and relating with the sinners, lovingly showing them the error of their ways? The same is true for us today. When we allow God’s word to be the judge, rather than our own condemning and judgmental hearts, we will be less likely to have a “Pharisaical” attitude.
So, does this mean we should NEVER report wrong or address a sin issue? Absolutely NOT! When there is a violation to what God’s word teaches and it violates others, we need to take it to the authorities that God has set up for this very reason. We, obviously, believe the men and women in prison need to be there for the crimes they have committed. There needs to be justice (another quality of God) served by the proper authorities, but then there is never a justifiable reason for us not to show grace and forgiveness, even when there has been a terrible hurt.
One of the common mindsets that is prevalent in prisons is the “victim” mentality. Each of us are victims of something. Abuse, infidelity, loss and many more forms of pain, have taken its toll, and we have been greatly hurt. Each of us also need time to grieve and heal and find God in the midst of our hurts. However, we have found that a person is never able to find true healing until they are willing to give up the “victim” mentality. This doesn’t mean that you have to forget that it ever happened to you or that you have to be completely “over it.” It does mean that you need to stop blaming your wrong choices and responses on the painful situation or on your offender. Our family has faced MANY situations in life where we have been “victims,” and we’ve had to choose not to allow the injustices of others to determine our responses. Some of our journey is in our book, “Big Mountain, Bigger God.”
We have heard multiple prison officials say that this “victim” mentality will keep an inmate from ever finding healing in their lives. As long
as they blame their offenders, it validates their own bitterness and sin. The first step is choosing to forgive and no longer allowing their offenders to control them any longer. I can guarantee that many of us have never faced the kind of hurts, injustices, and horrible abuse like many of the men and women we have met recently. Our minds can’t even begin to grasp the magnitude of their horrific experiences. However, once again, it is incredible to see the freedom and healing they encounter as they begin to forgive and release their right of living as a “victim.”
Do you remember the story in the Bible about the man who was forgiven a big debt, yet he refused to forgive his offender? (Matthew 18:21-35) Jesus was making a very clear statement that is still relevant for us today. First of all, we need to identify the “debt” that occurs daily, as we scrutinize our hearts and lives under the magnifying glass of God’s word and His Holy Spirit. Yes, Jesus blood does cover our sins and His grace is poured out, WHEN we repent.
Jesus spent time with the sinners, teaching and instructing them how to love and follow Him. The “least of these” were the focus of Jesus’ ministry. The Pharisees or the “religious” weren’t the ones who realized they needed Jesus, but it was those who were caught in adultery, sorcery, and other sins. Matthew 9:11-12 says, “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” In the Bible, we can see that Jesus always extended grace and forgiveness when there was repentance.
So what should our response be when there is no sign of repentance? Jesus is the only one who can see into the hearts of people and offer His forgiveness. He never gives us the responsibility or the “right” to determine if a person should receive grace and forgiveness. (and aren’t we glad!) No, forgiveness on our part is never dependent on the offenders response. Remember, we are still “debtors” ourselves until the day we die!
This is a quote by David Wilkerson…
“The most difficult thing in all the world for Christians to do is forgive. For
all the talk in the Church about forgiveness, restitution, and healing, very
little of it is truly demonstrated. We all like to think of ourselves as
peacemakers, lifters up of the fallen, always forgiving and forgetting. But
even the most deeply spiritual are guilty of wounding brothers and sisters by
not showing a spirit of forgiveness.”
In my last blog, “Death Row Women Find Life” I shared the story of how these women are finding forgiveness for the terrible crimes they committed. We have received many affirmations from others, blessing us, as we minister and share God’s love and His story of grace to those behind bars. Why do we find it so much harder to forgive and extend grace and forgiveness to our brother or sister who falls? Many of these men and women haven’t shown prior signs of repentance. Yet, when we share God’s word and what it means to walk in holiness, in obedience to Him, God does a beautiful work in their hearts and lives. The same is true for anyone! If some of these hardest and worst criminals can find God’s grace and forgiveness for the unthinkable and unfathomable sins they have done, why can’t everyone? If God’s grace and forgiveness can be seen in such a beautiful way by these same men and women towards their offenders, who inflicted them with years of horrendous abuse, should we do any less?
So, what is so amazing about grace? Especially the grace that others see in us as God’s children? Does our definition of “grace” make nonbelievers want to be a part of the “family of God?” Are we shaming the name of
Christ by responding in a way that is contrary to the spirit of meekness and love that He exemplified? Instead of focusing on what others have done to us, we should be focusing on what WE have been forgiven– what our “debt” is. When others disappoint or offend us, we should be showing the unbelieving world what true grace and forgiveness looks like.
What’s so AMAZING about the GRACE you are demonstrating? Before we pick up our first stone, may we find the GRACE that is written on our own!
~Cindy (For The Mullett Family)