Grace is a word that I didn’t come to understand until recently and then primarily by benefit of my small group. In the church in which I was raised, grace was not a strong theme. In my mind, we were taught to feel guilt and then receive forgiveness…pretty much on a weekly basis. You had to wait until Sunday for the pastor to absolve your sins (and guilt) to wipe the slate clean. Aside from saying Grace at dinner, I don’t recall that I really thought about grace all that much. It certainly wasn’t a key component of my faith.
One of the first books my small group read was What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey. If you haven’t read this book, I can’t recommend it enough. I would say that, apart from the Bible, it may be the most amazing book on faith and Christianity ever written (well, top 10 at least) and it is written in a way that lends itself well to a small group study. Grace is the dominant theme in most all of Yancey’s books.
In an interview, when asked to define grace, Yancey responded:
I don’t even try. Jesus talked a lot about grace, but mainly through stories. I remember once getting stuck in Los Angeles traffic and arriving 58 minutes late at the Hertz rental desk. I walked up in kind of a bad mood, put the keys down and said, “How much do I owe?” The woman says, “Nothing. You’re all clear.” I said I was late and she smiled, “Yes, but there’s a one-hour grace period.” So I asked, “Oh really, what is grace?” And she said, “I don’t know. [They must not cover that in Hertz training classes.] I guess what it means is that even though you’re supposed to pay, you don’t have to.” That’s a good start to a definition.
As we all know, we are supposed to pay for our sins but God, through Jesus, paid for them for us. It’s by his grace that we are saved.
Yet how often do we pass that grace along to others? Or, rather than offer grace, how often do we instead offer up grace’s alter-ego of judgment?
After reading What’s So Amazing About Grace? and other books on the topic of grace in our small group, I’ve started to understand what grace really means and come to realize that it is the cornerstone of my faith. Grace is not just my faith in and thankfulness to God, but also how I should represent my faith to others. Yet, for those of us who should know that it is by God’s grace we are saved, how quickly we can turn around and become hypocrites, judging others without a shred of grace.
Yancey cites a story in several of his books about a friend who was a counseling a prostitute and, at one point, in regards to getting help, the counselor asks her if she had ever thought of going to a church. The woman replied “Church! Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”
Sadly, I’ve been to churches like that – quick to judge and exclude. Fortunately, SFC isn’t that way. I believe we’re a grace-filled group that strives to share the grace we’ve received with others around us and welcome anyone into our fellowship.
As I come to understand what grace means, I realize I need to be appreciative of it and comprehend the responsibility I have to share it with others. Doing so does take practice, and from reading, talking and listening to stories in my small group, we’re learning how to show grace with each other without passing judgment. A small group is a great place to start showing grace. When we share our challenges in a grace-filled group, we receive support, encouragement and – when necessary – forgiveness instead of judgment and condemnation.