My daughter and I had a theological discussion this morning. Granted, she did not start the conversation expecting it to turn into a Thursday morning sermon from Dad, but she’s experienced enough in our relationship to know that is always a high risk. It struck me that she thinks of grace as “getting an exception” versus, well, grace. She’s the most empathizing ten-year-old in the world and she’s always feeling sorry for somebody, even if the punk is likely to be the first to snub her. So, today she vented her displeasure at the harshness of the teacher’s rule that backpacks in the classroom when the bell rings constitute tardiness. Apparently, one student is always just a little bit tardy because of a host of reasons beyond his control and my daughter thinks it’s unjust that an exception is not made for him.
Now, clearly a fifth-grader’s tardiness is usually the fault of other human beings in his life. I get that. Perhaps my daughter subconsciously knows that when she’s late it’s really her parents’ fault. I don’t know. Therefore, from a fifth-grade perspective her call for an exception seems not only magnanimous, but reasonable. However, giving her tardy classmate an exception would be, in fact, unjust. The rule applies to everyone.
The reality of the matter is that grace is impossible to give in his case. The teacher can be gracious, yes, but she cannot really show grace in the purest form.This is because grace requires a substitution. And this is why too many evangelicals do not understand grace. They think grace is “getting an exception” from the Teacher Most High. But getting an exception results in more self-love and aggrandizement. If the tardy fifth-grader gets an exception he thinks he’s exceptional. He might be inclined to say, “I shall continue in sin that grace may abound.” If, however, real penalties are applied to a real substitute fifth-grader he might be a lot more inclined to feel indebtedness to the substitute and a gratitude-driven ambition to be on time.
My daughter doesn’t want grace because when I ask her if she would like to assume the penalties of tardiness on behalf of her friend she flatly refuses. Ah! So, she doesn’t want justice; she wants an exception. That’s not grace. But grace is exceptional because it is just.
God did not make an exception for me. He made a substitution, took the penalty, and met justice’s demands. For me. That’s grace. I don’t feel exceptional. I feel graced.
I’m not sure my daughter understood my morning sermon. We had to cut it short as we rushed into the school building to beat the bell. The thought occurred to me that I should appeal to her teacher to give us an exception because we had been discussing profound gospel truths in the parking lot. Then I realized that I was not much smarter than a fifth-grader.
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