What To Do With Grace?

Don: Jesus taught the principle that in judgment, grace triumphs over destruction. That is God’s way. Man’s way is the substitution of his own works, instead of accepting God’s grace; in part because we are suspicious of free gifts and undeserved forgiveness. Is grace really free, unencumbered, and available to all? Jesus said “Yes, but…” to all of the above.

Grace is to the soul as oxygen to the body. There is a bountiful supply and if you need more, it is there for the taking. As Paul said:

The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,… (Romans 5:20)

The manna (bread) provided to the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt through the desert is a metaphor for this abundant grace. But…

This is what the Lord has commanded, ‘Gather of it [the manna] every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.’” The sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little. When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat. Moses said to them, “Let no man leave any of it until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them. They gathered it morning by morning, every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt. (Exodus 16:16-21)

Manna (grace) is free, is delivered fresh daily, and there is enough for everyone. But to be effective, it must first be internalized and then it must be externalized—made usable, actionable. It cannot be stored, it cannot be hoarded. Even the thief on the cross was able to pass on the grace he was given near the end of his life, in saying to the other criminal who was cursing Jesus for not saving them:

“Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:39-41)

The theme of actionable grace is central to the parables of Jesus; for example, the Parable of the Talents:

“For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“Now after a long time the master of those slaves *came and *settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

 “Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

“And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

“But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’

“For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:

The talents were given with neither instruction nor condition. The first two servants operationalized the gift (the grace) they received—they turned it into something more. The third servant (who, perhaps significantly, claimed to understand the master well) hoarded the talents/grace and ended up losing everything.

James contrasted faith (which he took to be evidence of grace) with works:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26)

Yet Ephesians seems to say the opposite of James:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as 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 so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

To James, Man is the creator of works; to Paul, God is. This is illustrated in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which was the response Jesus gave to a lawyer who asked Him:

“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

Jesus … said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he [a lawyer to whom Jesus related the parable] said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37)

The road from Jericho to Jerusalem is a metaphor for the road of life, which we all travel. We each may find ourselves playing the roles of the victim, the robber, the priest, the Levite, the innkeeper, and the Samaritan at various points along the way. Bear in mind, though, that to Jesus’s contemporary audience, the priest and the Levite would have been recognized as people lavishly endowed with God’s grace by virtue of this Scripture:

“The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the Lord’s offerings by fire and His portion. They shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the Lord is their inheritance, as He promised them.

“Now this shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice, either an ox or a sheep, of which they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach. You shall give him the first fruits of your grain, your new wine, and your oil, and the first shearing of your sheep. For the Lord your God has chosen him and his sons from all your tribes, to stand and serve in the name of the Lord forever.

“Now if a Levite comes from any of your towns throughout Israel where he resides, and comes whenever he desires to the place which the Lord chooses, then he shall serve in the name of the Lord his God, like all his fellow Levites who stand there before the Lord. They shall eat equal portions, except what they receive from the sale of their fathers’ estates.” (Deuteronomy 18:1-8)

In return for such lavish grace, they were expected to serve others, therefore to walk past a man in dire straits would have been seen as flagrant hoarding of God’s grace. The Samaritan, in contrast, would have been seen by the Jews of the time as the least-endowed with grace, yet he it was who unstintingly passed on such grace as he had been given.

The free dispensing of grace to others as God has given it to us is the kind of “work” that actualizes grace. We all have been given some level of grace and a toolbox with some assortment of wealth, bandages, emotional supports, oil, wine, and so on, that enables us to share our grace with others. It is important to recognize that not all of us have all the tools all the time in our toolbox—that there may be times when, however much we might want to help, we are just not equipped to pass on the grace. We may come across victims whose needs are beyond our resources, at that moment in time, to meet.

But this is the judgment: That there will be persons at the side of the road who need our help and whom we are able to help. What we do at that moment in time with the tools and grace we have been given is what will be judged.

Robin: It seems that grace is there for everyone. It’s a matter of whether we accept it. Is this the difference between sheep and goats?

Donald: I wonder if the Internet or the radio could be a metaphor for grace? It’s always there, yet in a sense it’s not there until we access it. What we then do with it becomes very important. We keep talking about grace, but it’s only there if we accept it and only beneficial if we do something with it. There would be little point talking about the Internet—or about grace—without accessing and using it.

David: I still feel that there are two kinds of grace: Grace that is available during life—manna to sustain us in our journey of life, and grace available at the end of life—a sort-of drug to ease our transition to the afterlife. We can discard or hoard the first kind of grace, but we can only discard (or not) the second—there is no time left either to pass it on or to hoard it.

The priest and the Levite showed no grace to the robbery victim on their road of life. But how will God judge the priest and the Levite when they reach Jerusalem, the end of the road, the end of life? I don’t have any doubt that God’s ultimate grace will still be available to them, at the Wedding Feast. Scripture seems clear on that point.

I think Jesus and His parables are telling us to try our best, to use the grace and tools we are given to help others during life’s journey. But they (e.g., the Prodigal Son) also tell us that at the end of the day, we are assured of God’s grace anyway—if we want it.

Mikiko: Grace is mercy and kindness. The Samaritan showed both to the injured Jew. Jesus was encouraging us to love our neighbor. But often we fail.

David: Indeed. Most of us are not Good Samaritans. Most of us (at least, to my shame, I) drive past the beggar on the street corner. So is there no hope of good judgment for me? Again, Scripture makes it perfectly clear that there is indeed hope for me and for everyone else (including the dying beggar) of receiving grace at the end of our roads.

But if we don’t distinguish between life-sustaining grace and the life-ending coup de grâce then we introduce needless dissonance into the discussion, it seems to me.

Mikiko: Jesus told the lawyer (Luke 10:37) to “Go and do the same” as the Good Samaritan.

David: Jesus urges us all to do the same, but He also recognizes that we cannot be perfect like Him, that we will sometimes be unmerciful, unloving, unforgiving. Yet He still assures us of God’s grace when we most need it ourselves.

Donald: Did the master in the Talents parable intend ultimate grace for the hoarder? Or was this a final judgment? And have we not decided that grace equals love?

David: Mikiko searched the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower magazine archive for the word “grace” and was redirected to a heading “Undeserved Kindness”, with a list of Watchtower articles beneath it. I think that is an apt translation of “grace.” But as for ultimate grace and final judgment, the parables only serve to confuse IF we don’t separate them into parables dealing with life-sustaining grace and life-ending grace. The Wedding Feast is (to me) about grace at the end of life. Everyone, without exception, is invited to it and is allowed in, no questions asked, provided they accept the wedding garment of grace; presumably, that must include the man who hoarded the talents—who hoarded his life-sustaining grace. Unfortunately, and most confusingly, that presumption is dashed when the master condemns the talent hoarder to outer darkness, which seems to be the Scriptural metaphor for the fate awaiting those who refuse to accept life-ending grace. I remain confused.

Robin: There is one person thrown out of the Wedding Feast banquet for not wearing the robe. Is that Satan or just someone who refused grace?

David: As well as him, there were all the worthies and dignitaries who refused the king’s first and second invitations to the Wedding. So although everyone who chooses to accept the invitation (the robe) gets in, they may well be a small minority:

For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14)

I have to believe, on the basis of the Scriptures we have read, that “chosen” means self-selected. Those who accept the robe choose the banquet; those who don’t choose the robe choose outer darkness.

Don: A central core of virtually all the parables of judgment is that everyone is included in the invitation. Nobody is judged who is not first given the opportunity to be included. Exclusion occurs only after judgment and only to those who reject inclusion.

Dr. Singh: In my language the word for “grace” is conditional. We are given 24 hours of life daily. That is why we pray for our daily bread, not for our weekly or monthly or annual bread. Jesus said we are not alone; that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide and protect us. That too is a daily blessing, but we have to sacrifice worldly things for it. Other denominations believe all we have to do is accept Jesus, that we do not have to keep the Sabbath, we don’t have to pray, and so on. To me, grace is conditional upon our sacrifices.

Donald: I agree. Manna was provided daily. It seems that God wants us to do something on an ongoing basis, not just once for all time.

Don: This sounds like the life-sustaining grace David is talking about.

Anonymous: Maybe grace is given at every moment in the day when we fall short, but I can’t accept that this is all there is to it. Maybe I am given grace no matter how many times I fall, but between the fall and accepting the grace, there has to be something—some responsibility on my part. My conscience would surely tell me that I cannot keep falling and expecting grace to bail me out. At the very least I ought to stop wanting to do the things that cause me to fall. It’s in our nature to keep falling, but conscience dictates we also have to sacrifice something in return for the grace we receive when we fall.

It may feel materially comfortable to live a fallen life but it is not spiritually comfortable. I have to give up something on my material side to balance accounts with my spiritual side.

Robin: It is the difference between confession (admitting what you have done wrong) and repentance (wanting and trying not to do it again). Grace is not cheap.

Anonymous: Grace gives us the ability to repent.

Mr Singh: God meets all our material needs, but we have to help meet our own spiritual needs. We ask for God’s guidance and blessing every day, but we have to sacrifice something in return. Other religions worship nature and idols, but God is not there—He is within us, in the form of the Holy Spirit. When we pray, the Holy Spirit blesses us.

Donald: Old folks find it hard to understand the Internet, but many of us have at least some understanding of its uses and potential. We need to access it, use it, and share its potential with other people. Is this a metaphor for grace? Are we concerned about dealing with life or about dealing with the end of life? Or both?

Mikiko: Paul linked conscience with the Holy Spirit:

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit,… (Romans 9:1)

The Watchtower has this to say on the subject of conscience, which seems relevant to our discussion:

The word is translated from the Greek sy·neiʹde·sis, which is drawn from syn (with) and eiʹde·sis (knowledge) and thus means co-knowledge, or knowledge with oneself. Conscience is a capacity to look at oneself and render judgment about oneself, bear witness to oneself. The apostle Paul expresses the operation of his conscience in this manner: “My conscience bears witness with me in holy spirit.” —Ro 9:1.

Conscience is inherent in man, having been made part of him by God. It is an inward realization or sense of right and wrong that excuses or accuses one. Hence, conscience judges. It also can be trained by the thoughts and acts, convictions and rules that are implanted in a person’s mind by study and experience. Based on these things, it makes a comparison with the course of action being taken or contemplated. Then it sounds a warning when the rules and the course conflict, unless the conscience is “seared,” made unfeeling by continued violations of its warnings. Conscience can be a moral safety device, in that it imparts pleasure and inflicts pain for one’s own good and bad conduct. (Link to the whole article is here.)

Don: Is grace the same as forgiveness?

Anonymous: Forgiveness, acceptance, love,… Everything.

David: Forgiveness is part of grace. I still like the JW rendering of it as “undeserved kindness,” which subsumes forgiveness.

With regard to conscience and the Internet: It strikes me that society is turning to the Internet—to social media, to like-minded peer groups—to decide what to have a conscience about. The professionals who understand the Internet the most (Mr. Zuckerberg and others) seem to be the people using it to do the worst. It reminds me of a line from G.K Chesterton’s Father Brown, a fictional Catholic priest and amateur detective. When a detective told him to leave police work to the professionals, he replied: “Professionals built the Titanic, Inspector. An amateur built the Ark.”

Don: As it happens, next week we will be continuing our discussion of grace in relation to Noah!

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