Grace is a beautiful thing. We do injustice to the Scriptures when we pass over Romans 3:21-6 whimsically;
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the 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 fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (ESV)
But do we take this grace for granted? Erring on the side of grace is a good side to err on, but what repercussions does this have on our culture as the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus, the ambassadors of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation?
We are oft quick to grace and not to judge. But what meaning do we give “to judge”? I am convinced that, whether it is teaching that affected the culture or the culture that affected the teaching, we have made dangerous associations with judgment. We are in a culture that starts to become defensive when any hint of a person passing judgment is perceived. “Who are you to judge,” we are quick to say when another brings something before us. We quickly remember the passage in Matthew 7 where Jesus reminds us to look at the plank in our eye before we help our brother with the speck in theirs. This is all well and there is a point to why Jesus brought this up, but are we forgetting something?
Are we forgetting that some things are just wrong? Do we forget that there is a community of believers to correct us when we are wrong and support us when we are right? Have we become afraid of confronting people we love and of being confronted by those we love?
When we hear or use the word judge we seem to group two different types of judgment that are connected yet distinct. You have judgment in the way that I have appealed to you in the rhetorical questions- the judgment between right and wrong. The second form of judgment is the dangerous one- the qualitative judgment of a person.
The connection comes from how we perceive who a person is. In psychology this particular view of personhood comes from B.F. Skinner and behavioral psychology; what a person does defines whom they are. At least this is what the connection seems to be, because it is a very sensitive matter today to judge what a person does on any level. On either a conscious level or subconscious level we as the church either forget or misunderstand that a person is defined by how they are defined by God (what do you think we mean when we beg people to find their identity in Christ?). I do not think behavioral psychology got it wrong. I believe its desire is to define a person by action has been developed because it is a concrete way to scientifically explore the human psyche, but I do think it misses something when it does not take into thought the internal processes of man. But I may be wrong in the belief that action follows identity.
But this “judgment” that connects the two separated uses does not even make sense in Christendom. We have all heard the phrase, “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but how can we do that if on some cognitive level we believe that the sin is the sinner? It’s hard to argue that sin does not implicate there is something deeper that is wrong in the person who commits the sin. The connection is so close between person and action it is hard to hate the sin and not have some lingering feeling for the sinner.
But how does this affect grace? The question is not why or when do we give grace because grace is an unmerited gift. Grace was freely given to us so we freely give to others.
We cannot help, though, what people do with grace. At what point when nothing is changing in a person’s life does grace turn more into a cover up? By this I mean often the bad or incorrect continues to exist under the banner of “giving grace”. Can we say when people do not repent after they receive grace, that they really received it? Do they really understand what that grace has done for them?
Maybe being able to judge is a part of grace. In the Matthew 7 passage we often brush past verse 2 to get to verses 3-5. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you”. Is a standard a bad thing? The standard God gave was to help us all realize that we fall short, to humble us all. But then, in humility, should we not all encourage one another to pursue holiness, to pursue sanctification? God was gracious in sending Jesus to take our place. He was gracious to send the Holy Spirit to guide the authors of the New Testament to help us understand what that means for us as Christians. He was gracious to give us community so that we would not be alone in the working out of our faith.
My last and most important point is this; the interaction of grace, judgment, and a Christian ethic only makes sense within the context of the great love of God.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:5 ESV)