Whatever happened to grace?
Not God’s grace for us. That’s more sure than tomorrow’s sunrise.
But what about giving grace to others? Assuming the best of them instead of the worst? Giving people – especially fellow believers – the benefit of the doubt?
It seems like we’re growing more polarized every day, not more grace-filled.
Memes Aren’t Facts – And YouTube Isn’t Research
Too often recently, I'm confronted by angry Christians – both online and in person – because I committed the supposed sin of commenting positively about someone who’s been declared a heretic. Not by an ecclesiastical counsel that dispassionately assessed actual evidence, but by a random blogger’s hit piece.
They attack with red-faced outbursts such as "I can't believe you support someone who said (a misquote from a Facebook meme)!" and "Didn't you see the YouTube video exposing them as a false prophet? I'll send you the link."
It's not like they’re angry at me because I was supporting actual heresy or heretics. This was because I dared to quote or affirm a fellow Christian minister with a stellar track record of Christian ministry who misspoke once.
Sometimes the minister in question didn’t even misspeak, they were misquoted or lied about. But that one error, real or imagined, carries more weight with some people than a lifetime of faithful ministry.
Want To Tear Down Other Believers? Count Me Out
In the era of social media, there's nothing I can do to stop the naysayers and self-appointed moral/theological police from outing you or me for offenses, both real and imagined. But there's one thing I can do about it.
I can refuse to be one of them.
So here’s my pledge to my fellow Christians.
If you say you love and serve Jesus, I'm not going to look for reasons to doubt the sincerity of your faith.
When you misspeak or you are misquoted, I will believe your apology and/or explanation, rather than your misstep or misquote.
I won't give greater credence to the negative words others say about you than I will give to the positive words and actions you’ve spent a lifetime exemplifying.
Better Naïve Than Cynical
We tend to get what we look for.
If we look for the worst in people, we’ll get bucketloads of it. If we look for the best, we’ll get that.
I know that sounds naïve to a lot of people. But I’d rather be naïve than cynical.
I’d rather trust people who claim to be fellow believers and occasionally be proven wrong than assume the worst of them and constantly be proven right – even if I’m only right in my own mind.
One of the biggest problems of assuming the worst of people is that it leaves us with no way to ever find a footing for the truth. After all, if I’m going to believe Person A was lying just becasue person B told me they were, why should I trust Person B who told me Person A was lying?
Without some level of trust, at least in fellow believers with strong reputations, backed by evidence, everything is suspect.
Plus, when I put myself in the role of assuming someone else’s motives, I’ve put myself in the very dangerous position of assuming knowledge that belongs to God alone, since he is the only one who knows anyone's heart.
I will not ignore evidence to the contrary, but until that evidence presents itself, overwhelmingly and persistently, I will assume that you, as a person who claims to follow Jesus are, in fact, what you claim to be.
And that makes you family.
This doesn’t mean we won’t ever disagree. Of course we will. That’s what families do.
But when I disagree with you I will confine my criticism to content, not attack you or your motives. When we argue, I will seek to listen and learn, not to just yell and win.
Even if you are a member of the self-appointed theological/moral police, I won’t assume you’re trying to tear down the body. I’ll believe you’re trying to defend the faith. Badly, but sincerely.
Make no mistake. You’re not helping, you’re hurting. But I’ll still treat you as a fellow believer and family member.
Run To Grace
I’m not naïve. I know there are wolves in sheep’s clothing. People who claim to be believers, but aren’t. There always have been.
But that’s not automatically the case for someone who has a doctrinal difference with me. I won’t assume that your doctrinal difference comes from a bad heart, but from an honest difference of opinion – again, until that is shown not to be the case with consistent and reliable evidence.
If that does happen, I will not gloat. I will sorrow.
Discovering actual sin or heresy in someone’s life is never a reason for gloating, smugness or “gotchas”. It is a time for sadness, prayer and, if possible, reconciliation.
But people don’t run back to be reconciled to people who have belittled, abused and ostracized them.
They run back to grace.
Outrage is easy. And cheap.
Grace is hard.
Grace is better.
Copyright © 2017 by the author or Christianity Today.
Click here to read our guidelines concerning reprint permissions.