What is grace?

Recently I had a debate with one of my beloved brothers-in law (I am blessed–I have two sisters who married two great guys…the brothers I never had) regarding grace. It stemmed from a sermon we both heard last week at my mom’s Baptist church.

On the occasion of Thanksgiving, the pastor preached about the 10 lepers healed by Christ and then the one who returned. While I mostly agreed with what he said, I took some issue with a statement he made toward the beginning of his sermon about the 10 lepers being undeserving of the response of Christ, i.e. His basic acknowledgement.

My point to my brother-in-law in our subsequent discussion was that Christ could NOT have responded any other way to the lepers, who called out to Him in a very basic form of the Orthodox Jesus Prayer. He will always respond to those who seek something from Him and His response is always for our salvation. I said that in some kind of way, the lepers should receive God’s grace because of their positions as His beloved creation. For what Father when His son asks for bread gives him a stone? My brother-in-law disagreed, and at some point it digressed a bit into the pushing and pulling between my Orthodoxy and his Evangelical Protestantism.

This is what I am saying. As a Baptist, I had always learned that grace was by its very definition, undeserved. But this is what I am thinking now, that as a human I cannot possibly begin to understand something that is an attribute of that which is by its definition unfathomable–God. We can’t say that God’s justice demands that He do this or this because we don’t know. We can’t say that those who were sick and called to Him did not deserve His compassion because He defines Himself as love, and His actions demonstrated that compassion (and the Scripture is absent in any description of the lepers as depraved sinners).

Maybe that is another part of the problem I always had with Calvinism. It views mankind as totally depraved and hence unworthy of the love of the Creator by the nature of the Creator’s justice. But I hang up on that, for children misbehave–they play with matches and lie to their parents and fight with their siblings–but parents still love them by the very nature of the relationship and the character of those relationships. In a way, the child deserves the love of the parent for no other reason than it is a child, and it cannot be disqualified of that love because it is a child. Believing that He created us with free will, and He loved each of us before we chose to sin, and knowing that we will chose to sin, He loves us by the nature of our position as His children and we are no less His children if we chose not to acknowledge Him.

Right now all I seem to see is that I am me, and not He…So all I can do for Him is to call out in the words of the leper and the saints who have called out before me:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

If anyone still reads this, I would love to hear some thoughts. And Bob, continue to weigh in.