Grace or Justification?

The other day Roman came home from school, and with a woe-begone look on his face said, “Mom, unfortunately I have some kind of bad news. I sort of got on ‘red’ today.” In school language that means he had to have at least 2 corrections for well-known offenses and therefore missed recess time. In home language it means an additional consequence from mom.¬† Then he quickly added, “But I have been praying and praying for grace!”

“Well, Roman,” I answered gravely, “What did you do?” In answer to this¬† inquiry he gave a well-sanitized explanation of the events at school which landed him on ‘red.’ According to him, it was mostly misunderstanding and simple mistakes that nothing could really be done about. “Hmm…Roman,” I responded, “It seems there must have been something more. Were your squirming in your seat or jumping up and down while you raised your hand? Did you maybe talk out of turn or get out of your desk?”

With obvious offense he answered emphatically, “No, Mom! I’m telling you, I’m not like those other kids!” (Somewhere ringing in my ear I hear the echo of a Pharisee’s prayer.)

Only later did I begin to wonder what in the world was he praying for grace for when he really thought what he needed was a dose of understanding and maybe a bit of justice. After all, getting on red, could be explained away. It wasn’t really his fault. He was practically innocent of any wrongdoing. If only I could understand that, I might not mete out a consequence!

Roman’s declaration that he is, “not like those other kids” may carry some truth as far as behaviors go. But the bottom line is we are all exactly alike in more ways that we want to admit. Because as humans our natural bent is to deny God’s grace and demand justice! Our own version of justice of course! The humility required to admit our need of grace does not flow naturally from this human heart. The Pharisee in me wants to declare my own unique superiority.

Oh, how often I find myself, just like Roman, asking with deep reverence for grace, when what I really mean is justification. I want to be exonerated. I want to be understood. I want to be excused! And by that very posture, I close my hands to the grace of God. I ask for grace with a tightly clenched fist. And that very posture is yet another reminder of how desperately I need His grace!

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