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The upsidedown logic of grace

I’ve been thinking about grace and why we find it so scandalous. Grace, when it shows up, is usually a big surprise. We expect an equivalent response – an eye for an eye, tit for tat. We expect to say, “He got what was coming to him.” Something inside us expects reciprocity, just as one note foll…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
I’ve been thinking about grace and why we find it so scandalous. Grace, when it shows up, is usually a big surprise. We expect an equivalent response – an eye for an eye, tit for tat. We expect to say, “He got what was coming to him.” Something inside us expects reciprocity, just as one note follows another in a song or a pendulum swings back at the end of its arc.
It’s the opposite of our carry-a-big-stick foreign policy. It says, “Unilateral disarmament is better.” It says weakness makes room for spiritual strength.
Of course Jesus began his ministry by standing our human logic on its head. “Do not resist an evil person,” he declared.* “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he said.* And then he proceeded to illustrate what that looks like with his life.
Grace runs so contrary to our experience that we need illustrations of what it looks like. Showing what grace looks like in real life may be the main work of a discipler. Me writing this blog or preaching you a sermon at best just provokes you. Across the internet or in the pew I can heighten your awareness (and in so doing raise the  odds of my complicity in your hypocrisy if nothing changes in your life), but I can’t show you what you need most – that is a counter-intuitive demonstration of grace.
We know we should have it. We include the word “grace” in naming our churches and our Christian radio programs, and then we spend an inordinate amount of time defining why exactly others are not recipients of grace, why our understanding of Scripture is superior to theirs.
It was this sort of behavior by the religious establishment that so incensed Jesus. Grace comes when you throw the rule book away and dare someone to throw the first stone. It almost always feels like a high wire act, like you could lose your balance and fall and you’d have no net underneath you. Like there’s no one to set things right when you allow someone to slap the other side of your face.
Think about the last time you saw a true act of grace – didn’t it surprise you? The apology when you expected sulking, the smile when you expected an argument, the kindness on a cold New York subway. Grace is the surprising evidence that wins the legal case our enemy makes against us.
We who are bold enough to follow a master who made grace his central tent pole, would do well to examine our lives and look for the fruit of grace. Is it there? Can anyone see it? Could they name an example if I asked them?
When Jesus describes the kingdom as treasure buried in a field and the rare pearl of great price, I think this is what he means. The evidence of the kingdom is the surprising fruit of grace. The people who hurt you don’t deserve your forgiveness – give it to them anyway. Those unavenged cruelties are not your responsibility – set them down.
Put other people’s needs before your own when they don’t expect it and watch their eyes widen in surprise. Bring grace into your home and you’ll find yourself an answer to Jesus’ prayer that the kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.
If the world seems like a dark place and our eyes have grown accustomed to it, it’s the soft candlelight of grace that restores our vision and enables us to see the kingdom coming.

Comments (11)

  • Well said, Seth!

    Living a life of grace is essential to evangelism, without it, outsiders often see us as insincere.


  • Can you ever get used to grace? Reciprocity is so deeply ingrained in me, I still don’t expect grace. I still wait for the catch. I still don’t expect God to want to be nice to me. I wouldn’t be if I was Him!! Not when He observes everything I do, say and think and misses nothing of who I am.

    It’s a tough one to get your head around, eh? Like trying to hold on to a wet bar of soap! It’s easier to give it away than to receive it for yourself. Yet it is easier to give away if you DO receive it for yourself. Catch 22! Wonder if my Learner Plates will ever come off……..

  • Carol,

    For me, it is easy to accept that God has shown me grace through Jesus, and that I am saved simply because God accepts me, and loves me, warts and all. What is hard for me is to show that same grace to others that wrong me, or let me down.

    I think it’s easy to receive grace, but much more difficult to show it to others. If we are truly to live a Christ-centered life, however, I think we have to constantly strive to do this, above all other things.

    I do agree with you, however, that none if this will ever be easy.

  • st. mark of the Cross

    Good word Seth… I am understanding more now than ever before the life/word – grace. And our beloved Jesus is using my prodigal son Donnie to teach me about his grace. He never gave up on me when I have gone astray all these years, whether it was for seconds or minutes…he kept loving & accepting me back. So he teaches me to be like him and be grace personified in Jesus Christ to all, and right now for over 2 years…my prodigal son Donnie. thanks for the word.

  • Yes, yes – awesome word. His grace is so very amazing – hard to accept this grace for ourselves and harder still to live it out consistently with others – especially those who wrong or let us down within the Body, those who we think “ought” to know better. But every experience can lead us to grow in grace.

  • Posted this the day of your blog Seth…JUST read your blog…I love how God is speaking to this weary woman’s heart…truth in the eye of the storm…

    “Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.” Luke 6

  • Thank you so much for this reminder. I am gearing up to lead a team on the HT WR as you know and this is who I want to lead. . . . one who is filled with grace and gracious words. please be praying for me. thanks!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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