Not so simple to err on side of grace

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

I’m going to confide in you now, or maybe ‘confess’ is a more appropriate word. We’ll see as we go along.

I have always tried to err on the side of grace, particularly in the context of raising my family, and I think I got it right most of the time, although it might be interesting to see what my wife and family have to say about it!

However, in the broader context of life, what I find difficult is this: having identified what you might call a ‘moral absolute’ – something you believe to be just plain wrong, like sexual promiscuity, or stealing money from an old lady that you care for – you discover that someone you know is doing exactly that.

Does erring on the side of grace call you to turn a blind eye? Obviously not, but how do you defend what you believe to be right without coming across as judgmental, self-righteous and moralistic?

And have you noticed how it gets complicated when our lives change? For example, we might have behaved in a certain way 15or 20 years ago that we now recognise as far below acceptable standards; we have grown, changed, become more like the Master whom we love, but our past has returned to bite us on the bum, for now, that is how our son or daughter is behaving. The question is, does our past behaviour render us powerless to act or advise? And if we do, are we being hypocritical?

Take adultery as an example. A relative of mine had an extra-marital relationship over 30 years ago. He says he isn’t proud of himself, it’s in the past, he stands forgiven by God, by the injured parties and by himself. He is not crushed by guilt, but if his son or daughter were to pick someone up in a pub, and expect to bring him or her home to sleep with that individual, does my friend’s past indiscretions mean that he doesn’t have a voice? Must he now compromise what are his firmly-held values?

I have a friend who is wrestling with exactly that problem as we speak. He and the woman who is now his wife had a full-blown sexual relationship before they were married. Now their son feels entitled to bring his girlfriends home, but when Dad attempts to put his foot down as a matter of principle, his wife looks at him in disbelief and calls him a hypocrite. But is he?

Not necessarily, except that for him to stand up for what he now believes to be right, even though it is at variance with the man he once was, would be hypocritical if he is not prepared to admit that his past behaviour was wrong. He lacks integrity if he rejects his son’s conduct while excusing his by saying, ‘...but that was different!’

‘No my friend, the act wasn’t different, it is the man who is different, so my advice is, acknowledge your wrongs, accept forgiveness and move on.’

That I do believe is the breathtaking extent of divine forgiveness. God’s position regarding my wicked past, and yours if you have one, is: ‘I have cast those things into the sea of my forgetfulness, never to be remembered against you, not ever!’ But isn’t it strange how it takes courage and can cause conflict when we act on the fact that we are thus forgiven?

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