What does grace look like lived out. Firstly, lets do the basic housekeeping and define grace. Grace is unmerited favour. It is the provision of goodness and blessing that you did not earn or deserve in any way at all – big or small. Grace points to the extraordinary kindness of the giver of grace. It does not obscure the undeservedness of the one to whom grace is extended. The absence of grace (if the giver did not extend it to you) would leave you without a case for complaint to anyone. If it did, the grounds of your complaint would be the very ground on which you could actually say I do deserve some of this kindness even if only in a tiny tiny measure. Grace is the filling of empty hands with gifts abundant.
Tullian Tchividjian is my go-to guy for thinking through what Grace is and is not, how it works or how it deals with works. For clarity, works are your best bits in action – your kindness and all round greatness and stuff like that – the things you do that make you think “you know what? I am an alright person, I’m going to be ok. I know it and I think God probably knows it too.”
Tullian writes extensively about grace and has provided may wonderful pictures of grace at work extraordinarily in real life that I want to share with you. For now here’s one of them.
During a radio interview last week, the interviewer told me a story that gets to the heart of how grace transforms.
He was a camp counselor one summer and one of his responsibilities was to go around with another counselor and check the cabins every morning while the students were at breakfast. In order to motivate them to keep their cabins clean, awards were given at the morning assembly to the students who had the cleanest cabin. One morning the counselors walked into one of the cabins only to discover that it had been intentionally trashed. The students thought it would be funny to “break the law” and do the exact opposite of what they had been asked to do. Clothes everywhere. Food all over the floor. Words written on the bathroom mirrors with soap. Wet towels balled up in every corner. The place was a complete disaster.
The two counselors were speechless. The one looked at the other and asked, “What should we do?” After pausing for a moment, the guy who was interviewing me finally answered, “Let’s clean it up.” His buddy looked at him like he was crazy: “Clean it up? Are you kidding? These punks need to be punished! I’m not cleaning up their mess.” The other one said, “Well, I’m going to clean it up. And by the time I’m done with it, these kids will win the award today for the cleanest cabin.” After some moaning and groaning, his buddy decided to help him. They cleaned the whole cabin while the students were at breakfast. Picked up and folded all the clothes, scrubbed all the soap off the bathroom mirrors, vacuumed up all the food, made all the beds, and hung all the wet towels up to dry on the clothes line right outside the cabin. Then they left without saying a word to anyone.
When the students came back from breakfast, thinking they had pulled off a great prank, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They were the ones who were now speechless. They initially thought they were now going to be in double trouble. They sheepishly made their way to the morning assembly. When the award for the cleanest cabin was announced and they won, they couldn’t believe it. Instead of being punished, they were rewarded. They all found the two counselors who had cleaned up their wrecked room and begged for forgiveness. And, according to the guy who was interviewing me, those boys kept the cleanest cabin for the rest of the week.
What those boys experienced was what theologians call “double-imputation.” Not only did someone else bear their punishment (having to clean up the miserable mess they made) but they were rewarded for someone else’s “righteousness.” As my friend Scotty Smith recently said, “The gospel isn’t merely the absence of all condemnation; it’s also the fullness of God’s delight lavished on us in Christ.”
And notice…the result of this irrational act of grace toward these boys was NOT worse behavior. It was sorrow and transformation. These punks were punk’d by grace…and they would never forget it.