I once knew a woman who had a way of dealing with her kids that was very different from the way I believed in dealing with mine. (This is not to say that I was a great mother, because I was not, but this is for illustrative purposes only.)
She would tell them, "You must have your toys picked up by 3:00, or no snack." They would ignore her. She would remind them that 3:00 was in ten minutes. They continued to ignore. 3:00 would arrive, and she would say, "Well, it's 3:00 and your toys aren't picked up. No snack." They would cry and throw themselves prostrate on the floor, "I'm so hungry, Mommy," they would whine. "I can't pick up my toys when I am so hungry!"
She would look at me and say, "What about grace? God is gracious with us." And she would serve her children a lovely snack. They ate it quickly and returned to their toys, while she swept up their crumbs. She prided herself on her grace.
Can I just say? Yes, God is gracious. But gracious does not mean indulgent. Gracious does not mean giving in to our whims or ignoring our sins. That is indulgence, and indulgence is not the same as grace.
Mercy, they say, is when we do not get a bad consequence that we deserve. When we go off to school leaving our research paper on our desk at home, and we are going to have to take a late grade as a result, but our mom drives the paper in to school, arriving before the the pertinent class so that our grade will not be penalized, that is mercy.
Grace, they say, is when we get a good result that we do not deserve. When we argue with our mother about how much money she should spend on our back to school wardrobe, and complain that the sneakers she has suggested are stupid, but she goes ahead and spends what she had originally promised to spend despite our ungratefulness, that is grace.
Indulgence, however, is to give in to a desire or to gratify a whim.
There may be a fine line between grace and indulgence, but it is definable.
Indulgence allows people to wallow in selfishness, but grace demonstrates unselfishness in a way that challenges people to emulate it.
Indulgence trains a child to throw a tantrum because it gets results, but grace offers a child a dignified way around a tantrum.
Indulgence costs a parent very little in the present, but yields a staggering debt of conflict in the future. Grace is costly in the present, but yields fruit of peace and joy in the future.
Indulgence is crippling to the people who are indulged, but grace offers its recipients a hand up to a better way of life.
If you are out at a party with your child, and it is late, and she (being tired) begins to misbehave, you can indulge her by loading her up with sugary treats and trying to find a colorful cartoon to amuse her while you pursue your adult entertainment a few feet away. Or you can give her grace by recognizing her need and stepping aside from your own pleasure to take her home while she still has some dignity, kindly putting her to bed in a calm, quiet environment that is just what she needs.
The thing is, grace always demands a sacrifice by its giver. Grace is dying to your own wants for the good of someone else. Indulgence is finding the quickest, easiest way to put a lid on a conflict, at the lowest possible immediate cost to yourself. Indulgence seems cheap and easy at the time, but you will pay in the future; oh, you will pay.
When God extends grace to us, He doesn't ever say that our sins do not matter. Our sins matter so much that Jesus, the perfect, unblemished lamb of God, had to pay the price for them with His own priceless blood.
Grace is, by definition, somewhat insulting. The only way for grace to be grace is for the recipient to be undeserving: plainly, undeniably undeserving. If the benefit were deserved, it would not be grace when it was bestowed. However, the human nature is to believe that we always deserve the best.
God gives us grace so that we can be both saved and sanctified. Grace purifies us, cleans off the muck and makes us new, better people.
Grace changes us, but indulgence leaves us in the same, sorry condition.
If we are to emulate our heavenly Father in offering grace to those around us, what should we do? Here are three questions we can ask ourselves:
1. How does this action on my part help the other person learn and grow in a productive way?
2. How does this action on my part demonstrate the worth of Christian virtues (such as faithfulness, truth, perseverance and self-control)?
3. What sacrifice am I making, and for what greater good?