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Ungrace will kill you

Phillip Yancey coined the term “ungrace” in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace. It’s the response of unforgiveness, judgment, and combativeness. Bad stuff happens to us. How we respond is up to us, but ungrace is our natural reaction. Think about the most evil things you’ve heard about: …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Phillip Yancey coined the term “ungrace” in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace. It’s the response of unforgiveness, judgment, and combativeness. Bad stuff happens to us. How we respond is up to us, but ungrace is our natural reaction.

Think about the most evil things you’ve heard about:
  • the Nazis killing six million Jews,
  • the Khmer Rouge killing one fourth of their nation,
  • Stalin killing 23 million of his countrymen,
  • Mao killing as many as 78 million of his countrymen,
  • John Wayne Gacy raping and killing 33 boys,
  • Jeffrey Dahmer molesting, killing and eating 17 young men,
  • Child molesters of all stripes, especially Katie’s killer.
When you hear about such evil, what do you want to do? Katie was a 10-year-old girl who was raped and killed. Her killer was thrown into prison for life. There is an unwritten code in jail that child molesters “get what’s coming to them” in prison. So the inmates grabbed Katie’s killer and tattooed “Katie’s Revenge” on his forehead.
Justice or ungrace?
To be honest, there is a part of me that wants to cheer those inmates on. “The dude had it coming to him,” I think.
There’s a little Dirty Harry in all of us. True confession: I like watching revenge fliks. I want to see the bad guys get what’s coming to them. I like justice for others, but want grace for myself.

Yancey describes our world as being “choked with the fumes of ungrace.” But, he adds, “occasionally a grace note sounds, high, lilting, ethereal, to interrupt the monotonous background growl of ungrace.”

Grace forgives the unforgiveable, loves the unloveable, and touches the untouchable. It’s a moral scandal.
Maybe that’s why Jesus’ revolution got him killed.*  The purveyors of ungrace in his day couldn’t stand the threat to their systems of justice. 
Look at your life – is it more characterized by grace or ungrace? What would be tatooed on your forehead? If we want grace, we need to commit ourselves to dispensing it. Some of us need to repent of our ungrace and get on with the business of Jesus’ revolution.
*Remind yourself of just how radical Jesus was by rereading his first
recorded public words in Matthew 5. Measure your own life against those words and ask him if you need to repent of ungrace.

Comments (9)

  • **mArC** The Schifano Tribe

    Wow. Wonder what all of our foreheads would say if our brokenness was written on them. Glad its not. Thanks man.

  • Just what I was thinking. I know I wouldn’t want my brokenness tatooed on my forehead like some kind of a permanent scarlet letter.

    When I stop living each day remembering the grace I’ve needed in my own life, I find it easier and easier to live and project that “ungrace” on others. I have to remind myself of the measure of grace God has given me; which is a whole heap of it.

  • This posting reminds me of an allegorical book I love by Hannah Hurnard. It is the second in a series and is called, “Mountains of Spices.” The characters in the book are named for the traits they possess. One is “Craven Fear” and another is called, “Valiant.” At any rate, as the characters of the book determine to follow the “Shepherd” He gives them a new name and places it on their forehead for all to see. We too can be transformed into what HE sees in us.

    One of the challenges of life as a believer is to see what HE sees in others as if it were written on their foreheads. If we do, we will treat others and ourselves, with more Mercy and “Grace.”

  • “Thank you Jesus for wiping away my tattoos – forever…”

    It’s so hard to fathom the grace, mercy, and cleansing that he has bestowed upon me and you.

    “As far as the east is from the west…”

  • yancey is my all time favourite christian author.

    “Grace forgives the unforgiveable, loves the unloveable, and touches the untouchable. It’s a moral scandal.”

    you’re right on this one. my pastor is a preacher of radical grace and for that he has received much slander from people inside the church (usually traditional legalistic churches) and people outside (bcos the spirit of grace is againist our natural inclination). i am so thankful to be sitting under the ministry of grace ever since i was born again. it has truly set me free in so many ways and i have heard so many testimonies of lives transformed and released from bondage. even so, the spirit of the world can slowly creep in unnoticed if i’m not careful. the key is to keep putting my feet in Jesus’s nail pierced hands and allow him to wash my dusty feet (our daily walk in the world can get our feet dusty bcos we are constantly surrounded by delifing things) with the washing of water of the Word containing the ashes of the red heifer (symbolizing the finished work of Christ) and after that, allowing him to wipe them dry with clean linen cloth (symbolizing the gift of righteousness by grace). John 13:1-17, Num 19:1-3

    and yes, I agree with you, we need to infect the world with the the spirit of grace which we have received and experienced. that’s a great way to revolutionalize the world. it is not easy bcos it’s very counter culture and against our natural inclination so as members of the body, we need to encourage one another to keep oursleves plugged into teh source of pure grace – God himself.

  • This came at a good time, though not words I want to swallow. I’ve spent the past 6 months working with kids of abuse and neglect and the last 15 minutes reading a case file of a recent admission and what she’s experienced. Jesus was a revolutionary, and I think the impact of GRACE hits me when I realize just how far it extends.

  • The thought of anything evil is revolting, just as revolting as how we harbor unforgiveness… It seems to come so natural, this sense of entitlement and an easy ride. I can’t help thinking of woshiping before the throne, when eternity is put into perspective – all the bad stuff will seem so small. Our Father is infinitely faithful, and His Love so powerful. Freedom from feelings of what we dispise…

    Lord cleanse the Dirty Harry in us and fill us with a double portion of Jesus!!!

  • Grace. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense? Sometimes I grow weary of the cliche acrostics flowing from today’s pulpits that seemingly cheapen biblical realities. Grace is the absolute strength of the character of Christ. Mercy and grace are partners. Mercy will not impute to one what he truly deserves, while grace will bestow upon him what he does not. Where would I be apart from the Grace of God? I can fall on God’s glorious mercy and not be charged for my sin but, without grace, that’s as far as I could go. I am so thankful for the grace of God that accepts me as I am. I am all the more thankful for His grace that refuses to leave me that way. We grow in grace.

    Seth, you mentioned the Sermon on the Mount. What a powerful tool in the bag of every Christian witness to not treat people as they deserve to be treated (or as we suppose they should be) but, rather, to treat them as we would like to be. Father God is teaching me and I am learning (slowly) to make myself of no reputation. This blog gives me much to chew on in this regard. Thanks Seth!

    …Growing in grace…

    Peace and Blessings…


  • When you look with natural eyes grace is something very hard to grasp. With our human understanding thrown in with a sense of justic we see the evil, we see the sin done to others or ourselves and we cry out for people to “get what they desreve”.

    If we can just take a moment and see what it looks like in the spiritual…bearing in mind, Grace is recieved in the spiritual…the picture is very different. People bound up in spiritual prisons being fed and decieved by the enemy of our souls.People so deceived that they now believe what they are doing is right. People who have made wrong choices, or have had others do things to them and now their spirit is held captive and bound and influenced by demonic beings hell bent on bringing that person destruction, yet they do not understand why they feel “led” to behave a certain way.

    Now ask yourself this question…if I was in that place of such deception and my soul is bound for ETERNITY in hell but I didnt know would I want someone who loved me enough to come and set me free?

    Jesus on the cross said “Father forgive them because they do not know what they are doing”…..no truer word spoken.

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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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