You know that woman, the one at church who serves on every committee and attends ladies bible studies faithfully? The one who, with just the quirk of an eyebrow, will dish up the latest gossip faster than her own delicious apple pie. And what about that man, the deacon who never misses a Sunday, who serves as an usher—and cheats on his taxes. What about that teenager, the one who lifts his hands during worship, whom you saw in a not-so-innocent embrace with his girlfriend. You know the kinds of people I’m talking about. The church is filled with them. And we have words for them, don’t we? Gossip. Cheater. Immoral. Hypocrite.
I have another word I’d like to suggest for those people: Human.
Today, we’re going to talk about grace for the church. Not just your own small community of believers, but the church as a whole, the followers of Jesus Christ who are saved, redeemed, justified, and reconciled, but who still have the unmitigated gall to sin, anyway.
Why do we do it, we believers who should know better? I’d like to suggest just a few reasons. Maybe those folks are:
Immature: Not all believers are mature in Christ. 1 Peter 2:2. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” The idea that we need to grow up into salvation tell us that some of us have done more growing up than others. Some newborn believers have recently come to the faith. Others might have been Christians a long time, but for whatever reason have not craved that pure spiritual milk, and so have not matured as quickly. As babies, believers can still hold on to addictions from their previous lives. They can be selfish, ungrateful, and angry. They can also be judgmental and foolish. But do you judge your infant for not eating solid food? Do you look at your two-year-old and say, “Act your age”? If you did, she might just respond with a chubby-cheeked, “I am.” Babies are babies and need to be loved, nourished, and protected. The same is true for spiritual babies who don’t yet understand the things you do. They need help, not judgment. They need grace.
Experiencing a moment of weakness: God called David a man after His own heart, and yet David fell into grievous sin when he brought Bathsheba into the palace. Nathan confronted him, and rightly so, and God took the child who was the product of that sin. You may be called to be the Nathan to someone, in which case, I recommend you study Matthew 18:15-17, which will counsel you as to how to confront that person in his sin. If you are not called to be the prophet in that person’s life, then pray for him and offer him grace.
Walking through a time of testing: I went through a period of depression a few years ago that was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I questioned my faith, my salvation, and my worth. I avoided church like a sick child who closes his mouth to the very medicine that would heal him. My thoughts were always turned inward, examining and finding myself wanting. I didn’t serve—didn’t feel I had anything to offer. To the outsider, I was self-absorbed and aloof. And yet, I was struggling like I’d never struggled before. People who are struggling with their faith often sin, and they need support and prayers, not judgment. They need grace.
Not saved: Matthew 7 tells us that there will be people who, when they face Christ at the end of their lives, will be surprised when Jesus turns away with the words, “I never knew you.” I wonder how many people sitting on the pew with me are in that crowd. How many of those people do I silently judge, wondering why they don’t behave better? Fact is, unbelievers can’t behave better. They don’t have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide their actions. It’s hard enough for Christians to stop sinning; it’s impossible for the lost. Do they need your judgment? If you’re not sure about this one, check out my last post, Grace for the Lost. The lost are not saved by haughty looks and turned up noses. They are saved when people look past their sins and tell them about Christ. They are saved when someone extends them grace.
Yes, you will encounter sinners at church, people who have not yet learned the lessons you’ve learned, and people who have forgotten what they used to know. Teach them, guide then, pray for them, and love them. If you feel led to, gently point out the truth in response to their behavior. Keep in mind that, though you may feel strong right now, there will come a day when you will be the one going through the time of testing or the moment of weakness. It’s possible that you, too, have some maturing to do. So give your fellow believers a break. Like God does for you, offer them grace.