“THE MATHEMATICS OF GRACE”
“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” –Matthew 18:21-22
These words of Jesus reflect something that seems to be drifting from our vocabulary, a kind of math that is not new, but ancient as the Godhead, treasured up in the person of Christ: it is the mathematics of grace.
Grace reveals God’s way of keeping score which goes against the grain of our natural reasoning. Grace disengages a catch 22 situation that occurs between people who love one another. It is a math that Satan hates because it reconciles irreconcilable differences; accepts the prodigal home; frees the woman taken in adultery; calls a murderer to become an apostle; places Rahab in the royal family; and forgives a repentant fornicator in the Corinthian church. Jesus is saying, “Peter, you forgive, I’ll keep the books.”
If you will notice, Jesus did not give Peter an “out”. He didn’t say, “Peter, when they ask for your forgiveness you may then extend it.” He just said, “Forgive”. That’s God’s mathematics. To forgive whether we are asked to or not.
Paul had been taught this “higher” math as well. He offered grace to sinners because it was the best thing he had ever experienced. To the Ephesians he wrote, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you”-Eph 4:32. How did Christ forgive us? Did we ask Him to descend from glory? Did we ask Him to take on the form of flesh? Did we ask Him to bleed and die for our sins against Him? Did Christ go to the grave with hard and angry feelings toward those that injured Him? He was “full of grace and truth” as He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. His last words were in the form of a petition for forgiveness for those who did not ask for it nor deserve it.
Grace is a wonderful word. As one writer has recently noticed, it is the “last best word”. It carries with it a sound of dignity as well as holiness. He wrote, “Many people ‘say grace’ before meals, acknowledging daily bread as a gift from God. We are grateful for someone’s kindness, gratified by good news, congratulated when successful, gracious in hosting friends. When a person’s service pleases us, we leave a gratuity. In each of these uses I hear a pang of childlike delight in the undeserved.” That is what makes grace so “amazing”. It is a blessing for the “undeserving”.
Our problem with “grace” is that it seems unfair. This much grace might serve to encourage one to sin. While Jesus never condoned sin, He offered His grace freely and called upon sinners to repent. Listen to His words to the woman taken in adultery, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more”-John 8:10-11. Grace opens the cage to the one who has been caught and says, “Fly away, you are free, visit this place no more.”
Grace is more than theology, it involves be-ology, what we are to be. C.S. Lewis wrote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Some say that being a Christian is believing a particular doctrine. But being a Christian is emulating Christ. The best testament that explains grace to others is not the New or the Old. It is the living testament. As Knute Rockne said, “One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than 50 preaching it.” Are you keeping score today? Jesus says, “quit multiplying and start forgiving”.
Grace does not offer an advantage to those who have offended us. Grace diffuses; disarms; disengages; restores. That was the subject of the conversation between Peter and Jesus in Matthew 18: restoration. Grace, and grace alone, offers that blessing. Grace calls upon nations; races; families; and leaders to forget yesterday and focus on tomorrow. Grace releases the tension between opposing factors as it cries: “All that counting is giving you a headache and keeping you awake at night. Quit keeping score”.
Grace is expensive. Though it did not cost me anything it cost God everything: His Son. Someone must pay for sin. I could not. I did not have the assets to cover the cost. But God did. He gave it freely in the person of Christ and I receive free pardon. That makes the mathematics of grace add up and 70x7 becomes a very small number.
Come and worship with us at Harmony Primitive Baptist Church, at Donaldson, where God is sovereign, and salvation is by His abundant and amazing grace. Services begin at 10:30 each Sunday morning.
By His mercy and grace,
Neil Phelan, Jr., Pastor