I often say this to understand the differences between judgment, mercy, and grace:
Judgment is getting what you deserve.
Mercy is not getting what you deserve.
Grace is getting what you don't deserve.
Many teach grace is getting what we don't deserve, but that is only the 'warm and fuzzy' part of grace. Love is unconditional, but grace always has conditions. Many don't know or don't teach it, resulting in some very off-balance teaching and understanding in the body of Christ.
People think grace means freedom, and it does. But the freedom of grace doesn't mean free to do anything we like, but rather freedom to serve the Lord. God told Moses to tell Pharaoh; "Let my people go that they may serve me." Not just take them out of slavery to freedom for freedom's sake, but free so they may walk with God. Exodus 7:16
Grace always has conditions. You may love your puppy unconditionally, but your grace to them has conditions. At some point you expect them to stop pooping all over the house, to stop chewing up the pillows, to stop biting the ankles of people who enter your home. Grace expects them to grow up. You may love your child unconditionally, but you expect certain things of them. Love is unconditional, but grace is not. Grace always has conditions.
Grace has limits
In every instance of grace seen in scripture, the conditions and limitations of that grace are stated. The foundation of everything relating to salvation is this truth:
John 3: 16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that all who believe in Him will not perish, but have everlasting Life."
"God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son" - that is grace - the condition is this: "That all who believe in Him will have eternal life." The consequences are clear; God loves you so He sent Jesus; If you don't receive the grace through believing in Jesus, you won't have God's Life. God's love is unconditional, the grace of salvation is not. There are conditions attached. Salvation comes through Jesus.
Consider that the rich young ruler was invited to become a disciple of Jesus - that was grace. The condition was that he had to sell everything and give it to the poor. He wanted 'warm and fuzzy' grace only, and backed away when the conditions of that grace were told to him.
Grace has expectations
Grace always requires the recipient of grace to responsibly handle the grace offered. There is always accountability within the bounds of grace.
If a parent gives the car keys to their 16 year old, that is grace. Expecting them to be home at 9pm (21:00) with car clean and intact is the purpose and limitation of that grace. Cross that line where grace ends, and the 16 year old will face judgment. Maybe no more car for a week, maybe grounded, maybe worse.
There are expectations within the grace of salvation to grow up in Christ, to want to walk with Him, to get to know the Father, to be morally upright. Grace has expectations attached.
If that 16 year old matches the grace offered with responsible behavior, they will never see the 'angry side' of the parent.
An employee is supposed to be at the office at 8am, but they continually show up around 8:30. The boss and coworkers notice and give grace for a time in the hopes they will change their ways. If they don't, they receive an oral warning, then a written warning which is still grace - so they may know the time of grace is nearing an end. If they don't accept the grace....they enter into judgment and lose their job.
The writer of Hebrews says in 12:15: "...lest anyone fail the grace of God..." This shows us grace is extended, but it is possible to fail that grace's work in our lives. That 16 year old with the family car can fail the grace shown to them. The employee can fail the grace by refusing to come to work at 8am when everyone else does.
We can fail grace if we do not rise within the boundaries grace offers, and do what is right (which always requires growth as a human being and Christian). If we don't meet the conditions within that grace, we can fail the grace, fail the opportunity for growth, and suffer the consequences as a result. Jesus said of the woman nicknamed Jezebel in Revelation 2:21, "I gave her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling." Consequences followed.
Jude 4 speaks of supposed Christians who: "...have turned the grace of God into a license for evil."
There are many who have turned the grace of God into a license for *sin (*Greek: lewdness, open indecency). Some have used God's grace to proclaim 'hyper-grace'; No sin, no accountability, which is incorrect. They see only the freedom extended in grace without recognizing grace has purpose, boundaries, and consequences.
There is an old error from the 1st century we see also in our day, for people haven't changed and neither have demons. It is called 'gnosticism', which means 'to know'. Early Christians who were faced with their old sinful ways but didn't want to discipline themselves to overcome those sins, started accepting themselves as 'God made me this way' so they felt they could live however they wanted and God was okay with that.
The core belief (which came from pagan cults) was that matter was evil - the natural world was evil. And being spiritual was good. So because Christ paid for sins they were in grace and free to live however they wanted, for the natural world including their earth-bodies, were evil, so passing away. To them, freedom came from 'knowing' their body is evil and their spirit is born again and good, so they were free to live sinful lives because they knew 'the Christ' was in everyone down deep inside, and the natural world would one day pass. Sound familiar? Gnosticism removes the requirement of accountability to our fellow man and to God, because they 'know better'.
Some then and now explain away verses in the epistles and the words of Jesus that tell us to confess (admit) our sins or 'faults' to God and one another, to justify their sinful behavior. Repentance is one of the foundational principles* in the doctrine of Christ and the first word of salvation. To say otherwise is turning God's grace into a license for their sin. *Hebrews 6: 1-2; Acts 2: 38, Matthew 18: 15-16, James 5: 16, I John 1: 7-9.
The failure to understand grace always has limits and boundaries also causes many well meaning Christians to be taken advantage of. They show grace over and over to family or friend, yet the recipient never uses that grace to change their lives, to change their situation - they just keep coming back for more. Christians who don't understand grace think God wants them to give and give until they are broke and exhausted. They feel caught between what they think God wants them to do and their grace abusing friend or family member.
We'll pick it up there next week with the fact that grace is intended to teach and empower us... Until then, blessings.
www.cwowi.org and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org