Grace is totally unexpected.

When we look at the servant in the parable in Matthew 18 we find that he did not expect grace from his master. He expected the punishment that the master ordered. He begged the master for patience – for time which he thought would enable him to eventually pay off his debt.

He did not expect grace.

It did not enter his head that the master would fully cancel his debt. It did not enter his head that he would be set free from his debt. So far was this grace, this free gift, this full release, from his mind that when it was declared he did not hear it.

He went out as one still having to pay the debt. He went out still carrying the burden of his debt. Law, not grace, dominated his thinking. He could not rid his mind of the driving principle of this world and of this world’s religions: that you get what you deserve, that you have to pay what you owe. With this mentality, with this tit-for-tat principle dominating his perspective, he went out demanding what was rightfully his, imposing on his fellow servant the full burden of a miniscule debt owing to him, and exacting full punishment for its non-payment. 

Although grace had been declared, grace had not been received.

Like this servant, we do not expect grace. We expect that God will relate to us on the basis of what we have deserved, earned or merited. Even when we hear of forgiveness we understand it in legalistic terms, as if it depends on us somehow making good and meriting it by our much praying, or our long itemized lists of confessed sins, or the absence of known sin in our hearts. Forgiveness, we are told, is ours only if we fulfil certain conditions. It is no longer a gift. It is no longer grace.

Yet the Scripture teaches us that forgiveness of sins is ‘according to the riches of God’s grace that he has lavished on us’ [Ephesians 1:7,8]. Not according to our merit. Not according to how much forgiveness we have deserved, but ‘according to the riches of God’s grace’.

Because it is determined by God’s grace, forgiveness is the Christian’s constant possession. It is not on-again-off-again according to our fulfilment of conditions, according to our merit. It is something that the believer has in Christ: a permanent, present possession.

Sheer gift. Sheer grace.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009