December 5, 2020

iMonk Classic: Has Grace Made Me Gracious?

The Unforgiving Servant, Bube

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
from May 2009

I’m thinking about grace a lot today after a bit of a mystical experience in church Sunday.

As we were preparing for communion, I was praying. The Spirit brought to mind a series of dark incidents from my own life where God was miraculously gracious to me. I’m not talking about small matters. I am talking about incidents and character failures- most of which I’ve exiled from my mind and memories- where God alone is responsible for the fact that I was not fired, humiliated, divorced, dead or immersed in grief and suffering. Incidents that, if God had allowed them to be, would have been life defining in consequence.

These are moments and situations I know about. Only God knows the very many I don’t know about. These are crossroads moments where my life could have easily gone the route of people whose names we all know for their failures and mistakes, but God graciously intervened or overruled.

These incidents processed through my mind while I prayed, some of them embarrassing and humiliating to recall even momentarily. Others were astonishing in the new mercies revealed as I review them. How often my own failures and stupid choices should have brought about another outcome, but God’s grace had the last word.

The Wedding Feast, Bube

Let me be honest: I am amazed at the grace of God in sending Jesus to the cross as my substitute and sin offering, but I am somewhat professionally jaded at the emotional impact of the Christian story. I am not ashamed to say that, because most of us struggle with how unmoved we are in comparison to all of God’s mercies and kindnesses. Every sin I commit is in full view of the cross. My heart needs the awakening power of the Holy Spirit to be freshly humbled by Jesus and his cross.

Remembering and re-experiencing these instances of God’s grace to me, particularly the fresh revelations of those experiences in the light of time and reflection, was arresting. My heart beats faster and my blood pressure surely goes up. Why has God been so gracious? So kind? So willing to see me through? It is nothing in me or about me. In fact, is there a person who is more deserving of loss, derision, failure and painful consequences than me?

Has all that kindness really been good for me? Would I be a better Christian if my missteps and sins had caught up with me and changed my life, my marriage and my ministry? Has the kindness of God led me to the right kind of repentance and the right sort of worship? Or has it “spoiled” me?

I sat there wondering, “How can I understand God’s grace when I have seen so many others fall down these same traps, stumble over these same obstacles and suffer far more from these same mistakes?”

I’m not sure that God’s grace is ever understandable. It’s amazing in all its forms. It doesn’t do interviews or supply answers. Grace is unpredictable and mysterious.

This far along in the journey, I’m wrestling with the meaning of grace almost every day. I’ve spent a year in the grip of resentment toward Christians who were unkind and selfish when I was dealing with an unthinkable rift in the spiritual unity of my marriage. It’s very easy to contemplate the enjoyment of ungracious bitterness and petty paybacks.

Situations come to me where grace is God’s clear word, but give me a few moments to consult with other Christians, and grace isn’t quite so clear after all. With the right kind of counsel, getting my way and forcing others to feel the pain of their mistakes can seem like the obvious way to go.

As a teacher and a preacher, I realize that almost every Christian my students know will give them law, law, law, morality, standards, behavior and the impression that Christian is a word award to nice people living a good life. Will I have the backbone and the honesty to let grace out of the bag? Will I let grace and the Holy Spirit define what it means to follow Christ, or will I hide behind that very convenient message of moral reformation? Will I present Jesus and the explosive good news of grace, or I will I present Jesus as the nodding, pale patron of a law-saturated religion of rule-following and practicing principles?

The big issues that face me as a teacher, writer, husband, father and employee are all about grace. Grace in everyday life. Grace to people who don’t deserve it. Grace as a way for me to live in the power of the Gospel when I’d rather be controlling things and determining outcomes. All day, every day I have to live in an atmosphere where the use of the law, guilt, manipulation and punishment are the standard ways of doing business. But I want my life to be more and more and more about grace, not to lessen the law, but to accomplish what the law cannot accomplish: create followers of Jesus and create lives- individually and communally- shaped by his Spirit.

When I remember the grace of God in my life, particularly at those moments when no one could rescue me from my sin and foolishness but GOD ALONE, it fires my heart with a hunger for grace in my relationships, actions and heart-motivation. (Thank God he didn’t treat me the way he advises that fools be treated in the book of Proverbs. Praise God for his wonderful inconsistency!)

The question for me today and from now on is “Has grace made me gracious?”


  1. Wow! I too, should recall God’s Grace when I am tempted to look upon other people’s sins ! Afterall, God in His Grace has done the same for me as He has for Michael.

    Thank You, God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

  2. David Cornwell says

    Ahh– you have hit the nail on the head Chaplain Mike. Because our Lord is gracious to save us– a wretch like me, in fact– that I have such great hesitation these days when it comes to subjects like church discpline. Unless we dare acknowledge God’s grace to us, even in the most undeserving and most unlikely times– and to examine closely our own hearts once again for motive, lack of love, and our own hidden agendas and sin– then we have little or no right to sit in judgement of another. I’d rather stray on the side of grace, than on thie sde of judgement.

    Yet this desire for defensive vengence and self righteousness is just beneath the surface.

    John Newton said once “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly. I’m a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”

  3. such a great post- I always appreciate MIchael’s extreme honesty.

  4. Like.

  5. It is a very gracious thing indeed, that our graciousness, or lack thereof, is not the point. But that in the ups and downs of our Christian walk, He is always there…and always gracious.

    Thanks for sharing that great post by Michael.

  6. Sadly, NO…..the Grace I have been showered with, no, not showered, DRENCHED with has not made me but of a conduit of this grace to others. And….that makes me feel ashamed. The unforgiving servant is a perfect text for this idea.

    Ok, I now know yet another failure that I need to resolve…with the help of MORE grace!

  7. Adrienne says

    As I am reading this post it is Pentecost Sunday morning. And I truly felt the joy of the Spirit “bubbling up” in me at the tremendous freedom and release that grace gives to us. Each day, each moment is new, fresh. His compassions they fail not ~ they are new every morning.

  8. Here on the west coast, I get up and do my usual paging through the “puter” and suddenly like a sudden warmth floods my soul that renews my spirit. Reading this is like coming in from the cold and drawing me close to my Lord Jesus that fills me with joy unexpressable(sp?). To hear a brother share this so encourages me. I too have those few but important Spirit-filled moments to say how thankful that God loves us when I didn’t love him. This renews my spirit as God is only want to do if we continue to be faithful in obedience. Thank you writer who was used by God to express grace in our own limited ways

  9. i’m seeing the site only now and really loved it! i love your post is so cool!