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The Risky Face of Grace


God’s grace is powerful! But so is dynamite. Both can be used for good or for devastating destruction. I’m a dedicated fan of grace, but today I explore its seldom-mentioned dangerous side.

God’s grace means we are free. “Love God and do as you please,” wrote St. Augustine. Contemporary Presbyterian pastor Steven Wedgeworth writes what most of us think; “The answer is shocking at first. It sounds like a way to avoid responsibility and a license to sin.”

Freedom – whether spiritual, political, economic, or social – demands personal responsibility, maturity, and a firm grasp of the relationship between actions and consequences. I’ve known long-time Christians who fear too much “grace talk” because they’ve seen too many train-wrecked lives that resulted from unbridled freedom in the hands of novices. There’s a reason we don’t give young children unsupervised freedom with fire, automobiles, or large bank accounts. They can easily get carried away and destroy themselves or others. So, we train them on those powerful tools until they can be trusted to use them wisely.

Alfred Nobel invented dynamite as a safer alternative to unstable nitroglycerine. Even just transporting nitroglycerine was hazardous, as a single jarring bump could detonate it. Dynamite, on the other hand, could be transported safely yet still deliver the power to shape rock for miners and builders. To Nobel’s regret, though, dynamite’s stability also meant it could be flown aloft in bumpy aircraft and dropped as bombs.

The power to shape rock also became the power to destroy and kill. The power and freedom weren’t bad. The misuse of them was.

God’s grace grants us powerful freedom. Our mistakes aren’t permanent, and God couldn’t love us any more intensely or Jesus’ blood cover us any more completely. But, to quote Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Some respond by yielding to their fear of failure, giving up their freedom, and hiding behind a leader or religious rules. They choose safety over freedom.

I chose a different path: Face down my fear of failure, learn from my mistakes, and find ways to use my freedom to love God, as St. Augustine said, as I please.

In Jesus’ parable of the talents, the master was angry with the servant who hid his treasure out of fear of failure. Not so the servants who pushed through their fear and figured out how to produce blessings. (Matt 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27)

I choose the latter’s company because there’s nothing so risky as playing it safe.

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Mike Pulley

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