A friend recently posed the question “How do you show grace and still hold someone accountable for their sins? And is it possible to do both?”
It’s not an easy answer to give. If we say we will give someone grace then there the misunderstanding that we are giving the transgressor carte blanche to make as many mistakes as they want to make. On the other hand, if we hold someone accountable there is the idea of dragging someone across hot coals and cut glass to make them penitent of their behavior.
I believe Scripture speaks of giving the wrong doer both. As a new believer I felt such shame, sorrow, and regret for my actions prior to my accepting Christ. I felt like I had to “earn” His grace and show that I was changed, that I was worthy of the grace and forgiveness He had given to me. Boy, was I wrong.
I started to study the verses commonly called the Romans Road which took me to verses like Romans 3:23, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and Romans 3:10 which says As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; so in otherwords, there was nothing I was going to do that was going to make God love me more, or prove that deserved the grace I received. That was the point — Ephesians 2:8-9 says so, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
As to accountability– that is a tricky one to handle well when dealing with someone who has sinned. We have a tendency to want to pass judgment over their actions, declaring often “I wouldn’t do that.” Well, maybe you wouldn’t, but I am sure there is something you would do that the other person wouldn’t do — it doesn’t make your sin any cleaner than than theirs– just different.
I am reminded of the best example of accountable grace from one of my favorite stories in the Gospels. John 8 shows Jesus holding the woman caught in adultery accountable to her sin, but He also offers her grace. He agrees with the Pharisees that the punishment for adultery is to be stoned, but He turns the Law on it’s ear when He says, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” When each person leaves, Jesus turns to her and says, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” She tells Him that they have left. Jesus responds with one of the most grace filled commands, “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” He doesn’t say her behavior was acceptable, but He also doesn’t make her earn the grace He offers.
We are not called to judge– but we do– all too often. However, calling someone out for their behavior is not judging either. It is the reality of holding our brothers and sisters in Christ to the higher standard set by Christ Himself. We need to encourage our brothers and sisters to be honest with God about our failings so we can grow in Christ-likeness while at the same time not dragging each other over the hot coals.
Jesus died “once for all” for our sins. We don’t need to “nail” each other for our sins.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.
Grace Greater than Our Sin lyrics by Julia H. Johnston