Do I want God to give me GRACE or CUT ME SOME SLACK?

2 02 2012

Read honestly, the Sermon on the Mount is perhaps one of the most unsettling pieces of scripture in the entire Bible.  Who can come across such passages as those below and leave with a comfortable feeling?

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fire of hell.  (Matt 5.21-22)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Matt 5.27-28)

But I say to you that everyone who divroces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery (Matt 5.31)

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5.48)

Perhaps making these passages even worse, is that they are not spoken of by some Pharisee, or even by some uptight apostle.  The above verses were spoken by the Savior himself.  Who would’ve thought that gentle Jesus, meek and mild would have such harsh things to say to us?

Well, Jesus says such demanding things because this is the standard God himself has set for our lives.  He has set a standard of perfection, that standard being his own holiness and righteousness, by which all of humanity will be held accountable by.  “You must be perfect,” says Jesus, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now I know very few people, if any, who would claim to be perfect in the sense that Jesus means perfect in Matt 5.48.  In fact, I think we would acknowledge that we are not perfect in this way, nor have we ever known anyone to be perfect in this way.  In this regard we are in agreement with the Apostle Paul, who quoting the Psalms reminds us:

None is righteous, no, not one;

no one seeks God.

All have turned aside; together they

have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one (Rom 3.10-12 see also Psalm 14 and 53)

How then are we to live under these demands, which even the Bible agrees are impossible for us to satisfy?  Well the obvious answer is that we need grace.  But when we ask for grace, we need to make sure that we’re asking God to give us grace rather than cut us some slack.

Asking God to cut you some slack:

Parents will know the feeling well.  It’s past your child’s bedtime, he’s very tired, and he begins to act up in ways that he normally would not.  The parent says, “Johnny’s tired, it’s past his bedtime.”  What the parent just did was cut his child some slack.  There was an absolute demand, which might be something like “thou shalt not throw temper tantrums” which the child has transgressed.  But there were extenuating circumstances!  Little Johnny was tired, because it was past his bedtime.  Let’s cut him some slack!

Now this is not a parenting piece and I’m not advocating for any particular approach to little Johnny’s late night temper tantrums.  Rather I’m drawing an analogy to how some people think grace works.  For example you may find yourself directly implicated in some or many of the verses listed above.  What do you fall back on?  The truth is, many Christians trust in their extenuating circumstances rather than the grace of God.  “I was really tired and lost my temper,” some will say.  “We just fell out of love,” others will say.  “Young men have strong hormones!”  Indeed!  And many will say, “who can be perfect?”  God knows, he understands. Sure, Jesus said that those who call their brother a fool are subject to the fire of hell, but I don’t deserve that.  I was tired and cranky.  Cut me some slack!

This sounds gracious, but it is not grace at all but the very worst and most vicious form of legalism.  It’s the very worse form of legalism because you’re asking to get what you deserve.  The implication you’re making, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is that you still want God to judge you according to your works.  This is why we some times offer such a plethora of excuses.  We’re hoping to justify ourselves before God and man.  You want God to cut you some slack, but let us be very clear on this point, you have not requested that God give you any grace.  Quite the opposite!  You have asked him to judge you according to what you have done, according to your works, according to what you deserve.

Asking God to give you Grace:

How then do we confront such difficult passages as above without asking for slack, but for grace?  Well, we ought to begin by reading these passages honestly, without twisting their words to make us feel more comfortable.  Have you called your brother a fool?  You deserve the judgment of God, and more so!  The fire of hell.  Did you look upon another person lustfully?  You are an adulterer.  You’re not perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect?  Well then, you’re condemned.  You have no excuse.  You have no justification.  There is no argument or extenuating circumstance that can save.  You have nothing.

If you have any hope at all from this point forward, it is not that God will give you what you deserve based on some extenuating circumstances but rather that God will give you what you don’t deserve based upon his free grace.  Paul writes:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart form the law, although the law and prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom 3.21-24)

So when we fall short we don’t ask God to cut us some slack.  We don’t say to him, “well I was in a tough spot.”  Not only are you twisting scripture by slackening the demands of God, but you are blaspheming his grace! (Gal 2.21).  Rather we honor God’s grace by saying, “I have sinned.  I have no excuse.  Don’t give me what I deserve.  Give me what Christ deserves!”

To make this very simple, asking for grace consists consists mainly in two parts.  The first part is an unqualified confession and apology.  “I have sinned.  I am sorry.”  No excuses please.  This is followed by an appeal for God’s mercy, which we are assured to receive based solely and exclusively on the gift of God in Jesus Christ.

Resolve today not to trust in your wavering commitments and extenuating circumstances, trust rather on the solid rock that is Christ.  His grace is unwavering, always available, always unconditional, forever free and eternally unchanging.  Here is something to stand on and believe in, and more so, to be transformed by.

Let’s not settle for anything less than grace.