Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Grace and Forgiveness

I haven't blogged in a while. A long while. And I haven't written a lesson in a long time either. But this one is burning inside me tonight, and it needs to come out; since I have no other teaching outlet at the moment, it goes here. I hope it benefits someone besides just me.

So I was thinking about grace because of a song that was playing on the radio in my daughter's room when I went in to kiss her goodnight after Tae Kwon Do tonight. I've heard grace defined recently as "unmerited favor", and favor recently defined as "undeserved kindness". Therefore, if those definitions are correct, and we'll assume for the moment that they are, then grace means "unmerited, undeserved kindness". Well, let's do some research and see if we can back this up.

While I did, in fact, find "the free and unmerited favour of God shown towards man", it was in a subsection headed "Christianity", so I will discount that as it is what I would consider an esoteric or specialized definition. However, I did find the following definitions (among others; see

  • Favor or goodwill
  • A manifestation of favor, especially by a superior
  • Mercy; clemency; pardon
I believe we can use those definitions to create a working definition of grace for our discussion, as follows: "a manifestation of favor in the form of mercy, clemency, and pardon by a superior (God)". Note we have not included "unmerited" here - but we may find that as we proceed.

That leads us to the second part of our original definition, "favor". What does favor mean? Again referring to (, we find (again, among others):
  • Something done or granted out of goodwill, rather than from justice or remuneration; a kind act
  • Friendly or well-disposed regard; goodwill
Hmmm... Let's consider what "goodwill" means, then. "Friendly disposition; benevolence; kindness" ( "Hmmm" again.

OK, then, let's revisit our working definition of grace and make a substitution for the word "favor", thus: "A manifestation of kindness in the form of mercy, clemency, and pardon by a superior (God)". Not quite what we came into this with ("unmerited, undeserved kindness"), but close. Very close. In fact, based on the definitions of "favor" above, we can make one more change to our definition: "A manifestation of unmerited kindness in the form of mercy, clemency, and pardon by a superior (God)". There we have the return of "unmerited".

But there's something very specific here: "mercy, clemency, and pardon". Which means?


God shows us kindness we don't deserve by forgiving us - something we also don't deserve.

But so far, we only have a word study; what does the Bible say? "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8,9 ESV, emphasis added.) Oh, look, there's the "unmerited" part right there. Does it make sense to substitute our definition? Let's see:  "For by a manifestation of unmerited kindness in the form of mercy, clemency, and pardon by a superior (God) you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Wordy, but yes, it fits.

How are we saved? "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7 ESV, emphasis added). Back we come to forgiveness.

That is an awesome thing. The Bible teaches elsewhere that every sin (trespass) we commit causes God pain (it's getting late, and that would be a whole lesson itself, so I'm not going to go find passages to reference). And yet...

And yet He chooses to forgive us for them. Not because of anything we did. Not because of our otherwise sterling character. Because He is kindly disposed toward us. Because He wants to. And we don't have to ask - we just have to believe that Jesus is who the Bible says he is, and confess out loud that he is, and we are forgiven. (But as we continue to sin, because it's a moment by moment struggle, we do need to confess our sins so they will continue to be forgiven - again, another lesson).

But here's the kicker: we have to give this same grace to others. That's right, folks, we must forgive other people. "And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." (Mark 11:25 ESV) No matter how many times they do something wrong: "Then Peter came up and said to him, 'Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.'" (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV; note that other translations may use a different number in place of 77. The number rendered 77 here is not intended to be taken literally; instead it is a literary/storytelling device used in the time of Jesus to indicate an unlimited number of times.)

Let me interject, though, that you  might want to use good sense: if you find yourself forgiving someone over and over again, especially for the same thing, you might want to reconsider your association with that person. Just saying...

Notice in the passage from Matthew that there is no mention of the person asking for forgiveness. The same is true of the passage above it from Mark. However, the Luke version of the Matthew passage has a slightly different message: "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him." (Luke 17:3b-4 ESV). I think this means 2 things.
  1. We need to forgive people in our hearts even when they don't ask for it. I believe this is a direct application of the "unmerited" aspect of the grace we are giving. This doesn't mean we need to pursue the person and say "I have forgiven you even though you haven't asked" - it means that we purpose within ourselves to forgive them.
  2. There is room for us to (kindly?) point out to someone when they have done wrong, especially against us. Then, if they repent (which is not a big theological thing - the word just means to turn away from a course of action), or even say they repent, we are to not only forgive them in our hearts but, in that case, tell them we have done so.
In conclusion, it's OK to forgive. In fact, it's imperative for the believer. Don't keep that undeserved kindness God has given you to yourself. It's also OK to tell someone they've hurt you - it's easy to go overboard with "meek and mild" (again, yet another whole separate lesson). But forgive them if they ask. Heck, forgive them if they don't ask - you don't deserve for God to forgive you, so what do you care if someone else deserves your forgiveness? 

Grace = forgiveness. Forgiveness = freedom... for the forgiver.

Accept grace. Give grace. Love freely. Live free.

Please note: this entry is copyright 2014 by the author (Rex Arnold). Please do not copy in whole or in part without express written permission from the author. All quotations are copyright by their respective copyright holders.