I guess I’ve always looked at the verse that says, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds more” (my ‘remembered’ version of it) as applying in a collective sense. To a nation, or a society, or some other group.
In the NLT, Romans 5:20 looks like this:
God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful kindness became more abundant.
The phrase “as people” was something I would read in the plural sense of people.
But the principle, to be true at all, has to also be true at the micro level as well as the macro. In my small group. With my immediate neighbors . Around the guys at work. In our extended families. In nuclear families. In individual hearts. In me.
In the place where sin is most evident, or working its hardest; grace is already at work, too. Theologians have an image or picture of the “triumph” of the grace of God. The verse in The Message reads,
When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.
God’s “putting everything together again” sounds like redemption; not a twelve-step kind of personal redemption, but a redemption of sin itself of the sinful nature. Where my sin is plentiful, His grace is already engaged.
In a 2007 blog post, author and pastor Mark Batterson wrote:
I don’t want to underestimate my sinfulness because all that does is cheapen the grace of God! But more importantly, I don’t want to underestimate the grace of God. We need to be reminded over and over again that the grace of God is so much bigger than our biggest failure!
Here’s how the normally-humorous author Jon Acuff describes it at his blog, Stuff Christians Like:
There was a guy in the Bible who was the worst. He was such a failure. He lied once and got an entire village murdered as a result. A priest and his family were killed because of his lies. He committed adultery. He cheated. He trusted in his own strength instead of the Lord’s. And when he did, when he failed, thousands and thousands of people died as a result. His family suffered from incest and murder and his hands were so covered with wrongfully shed blood that eventually God wouldn’t let him do something really important.
Now imagine if that person was a commenter on Stuff Christians Like. Imagine if they confessed to homicide and adultery and a laundry list of other sins. I mean there have been some crazy comments on this site, but no one has ever said, “I saw this girl online and thought she was really hot, so I slept with her, got her pregnant and then arranged on craigslist for her husband to be killed.” But this guy, the guy in the Bible, he could have left that comment. And if he did, would you or me or the writer of that email instantly think, “He didn’t take grace too far?” No, we’d be horrified. We’d be terrified.
So how is he referred to in the Bible? Here is what God says about him:
“I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart,”
What? Are you kidding God? David, the murderer? The adulterer? That can’t be right.
Surely David himself knows what a mess he’s made. Aren’t we all our worst critics? David knows that there is blood on his hands. How does he describe himself in Psalm 26?
“Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.”
No. No. No. David hasn’t led a blameless life. He hasn’t trusted in the Lord without wavering. He ran away and got people killed by trying to cover up his tracks when he was afraid. How can David say these things? How can God say these things?
Because grace is scandalous.
Grace does not make sense to our tiny human brains. We can’t control it. We can’t draw boundaries and borders on it. And when we try I think it breaks God’s heart.
I think we insult the cross when we act as if we can “out sin” it.
I think we wound our father when we think we can “out filth” his love.
I think we hurt our Christ when we believe that we have found the end of his grace.
I know, I know, I know that it is possible to mistreat the Lord. To blasphemy his name with our actions and our attitudes. David certainly did and he paid the consequences. I don’t think we get discipline or grace. I think we get both. I think discipline is a by product of grace and in my own life I have received large amounts of it.
But above that, I think God understood the grand risk when he offered us grace. A book called True Faced called it the New Testament Gamble. I think God knew the risk that we’d misunderstand grace and try to take advantage of it. I think he knew we’d try to find the limits of it with our sinfulness. Which is why he made it limitless, which is why he made grace infinite and never ending.
I don’t know what you’ve done. I don’t know your life or the bumps or bruises. Maybe you actually have murdered more people than David. I don’t know. But I do know, as many readers pointed out on this post, we serve a God who accepts our repentance and confession. We serve a God who when offered a chance to reveal himself to Moses, chose one thing to show, the most important thing, his goodness.
We serve a God who “rises to show us compassion.”
A God who delights in you.
A God who sent his son to the cross not to show the end of his grace, but rather the beginning.