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paying your tab, or, how I don’t owe anything for grace

“If you can imagine enjoying God, instead of trying to repay him, then you can imagine grace.” – Max Lucado

My parents treat Rob, Naomi, and me to lunch every Sunday after church. They’ve been doing this since I moved here to Virginia. I don’t think I could even begin to quantify how much money they have spent on this for these 7+ years. And though my parents are very money wise and conscious, I don’t believe they are adding up our bills and expecting repayment or even that at some point we will take them out an equal number of times. At least I’m hoping not… or we better get on that.

Even in thinking through what it takes for a parent to get a child through life to adulthood is not easily accounted for. How do you figure out how much money you spend raising a child? Even just in the year of Naomi’s life, it is a monumental task to determine just how much we spent on her existence. It becomes very real with divorced parents and figuring out child support. There are entire divisions of social services accountants who determine these figures trying to put dollar amounts to things like utilities (how much electricity and water do your kids use in a billing cycle?) or how much more toothpaste you go through when you have the kids. (Generally not a lot more because they forget to brush their teeth unless you remind them and then stand there to make sure they actually do it.) By the time your kid gets to 18, there is no good, solid dollar amount that you can indubitably say is exactly what you spent to get them to 18. Accountant and IRS types have tried to give some stats and figures, but for the most part, it’s beyond calculation.

And this is where the analogy begins. How much more is the grace of God totally unquantifiable? I think we get in trouble because we either attempt to repay Him (or at least think that we are making some kind of dent in our tab) by all our efforts for His kingdom, or we try to quantify what OTHER people owe God and make them pay, as if we can even know the sins of others in any great depth or be able to calculate just how sinful they are. We can’t even calculate our own depravity and as any growing, maturing believer knows, we are only confronted with MORE of our own sinfulness and the true heinous nature of our souls the more we dig in and the longer we live. And by the way, if you aren’t experiencing this eye-opening truth, you are doing the Christian life wrong.

I learned some time ago to never even attempt to be a sin accountant. I don’t tabulate. I don’t keep records. Not on myself, not on anyone else. When I have been wronged, I strive to remember how much I have wronged others. When I feel overwhelmed with my own sinfulness and shame, I look to the invoice sent by God Himself with my account number on it. It says $0.00 balance. Paid in full. AND account closed!!  This is your account too, for all those who believe in the work and the power of the cross through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are made whole and redeemed with the best coupon ever.

But now what? How do we live now? What do we do with this new account? What’s in the account? It’s filled with grace. Grace enough to hand out all willy nilly to others. Grace to cover ourselves in from head to toe when we need to move out of our sinful behaviors. Grace to kick us in the butts when we become too complacent or too judgmental. Grace to see sin as God sees it, but also sinners as God sees them. Those two things cannot be separated. Grace is so much more concerned with souls than with deeds. Always has been. Always will be. And so should we.

And just like Rob and I are always grateful for my parents’ generous standing date, we have learned to simply enjoy their company, and show gratitude (not to be confused with restitution, as it often devolves into) for their gifts. We then are given an example of generosity and hospitality and are reminded of the freedom of giving to others without the expectations of a return. In the same way, God has given to us freely, and all we can do is to live in a way that gives Him all the glory and enjoy Him forever. It is, after all, our chief end.

[Stay tuned for the next post which is titled, Why are we afraid of grace? in which I ponder if there is such a thing as too much grace.]

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