Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Do You Accept Grace?

I stole a necklance whenI I was in the third grade. It glinted from the inside corner of Kim's desk across the aisle – an exotic choker with a black velvet strap an a single, brilliant faux sapphire. While Mrs. Chase bent over Kim's shoulder, I quickly reached over and slid my fingers into the open desk, grabbed the velvet strand and balled it into the front pocket of my corduroys.

According to my Catholic faith, stealing was a mortal sin – the worst kind, made especially egregious because I knew when I stole the necklace that it was wrong. Stealing was a ticket straight to Hell, unless I chose to confess the theft to my priest.

The problem was, I couldn’t bring myself to confess the sin. I tried, believe me.

I’d slip behind the red, velvet curtain of the confessional box and crouch on the plush kneeler, but when the window slid open and the quiet voice of the priest on the other side urged me to begin my confession, I froze. I’d rattle off my standard list of sins – disobeying my parents, antagonizing my sister – but I always swallowed any mention of the big one.

I lived with that sin hanging over my head for years, convinced and terrified that I would burn in Hell, yet even more terrified to confess the sin. After all, I was a good girl – someone who got good grades, delivered newspapers after school, always did her chores and visited Aunt Belle in the nursing home without complaint. I was polite and had polite, good girl friends. I wasn’t the type of girl who stole. That kind of sin, the hellacious mortal sin, didn’t fit into my good girl world. That kind of sin was too bad; it was the kind of sin committed by “other people,” very bad people.

It took me a couple of decades, but I finally got over the guilt of the stolen necklace. Yet I didn’t quite dismiss the notion that some sins are worse than others, and that the people who commit those worse sins are worse off than me. I couldn’t shake the assumption that some people – say those imprisoned for theft or murder or pedophilia – seemed more sinful than me…and less deserving of forgiveness. I had a whole hierarchy of sins worked out, and I figured if I stayed ahead of most of those sinners on the bottom rungs, then hey, I was doing okay, right?

That formula worked perfectly until I read Romans 3:23:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

It seems God doesn’t have the same hierarchy I do. According to God, all of us sin, and all of us fall short of the glory of God. God doesn’t say that the murderer falls further; he simply lumps all of together as sinners.

This means, of course, that if the murderer repents his sin, he gets the same grace I get. Part of me protests, “No fair! How can the murderer get the same grace as me? Shouldn’t the murderer get at least a little less grace?” But that’s the whole point, of course. It’s not fair, because none of us, no matter how egregious or inconsequential we consider our sins, deserves grace.

God doesn’t choose one repentant sinner over another. In fact, he chooses all of us, time and time again. In the end, the question is whether we choose to accept that grace.

With Jen and Soli Deo Gloria:

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rmoon2004 –   – (February 13, 2012 at 3:21 AM)  

Oh yes, a sin is a sin and I did plenty of them until the Lord got ahold of me and saved me by His Grace

Urailak @Living for God  – (February 13, 2012 at 5:06 AM)  

How grateful I am for God's amazing grace and forgiveness!

kendal  – (February 13, 2012 at 5:06 AM)  

we think so much alike. (and i stole lip gloss when i was 10.)

JosephPote –   – (February 13, 2012 at 5:29 AM)  

God's grace is so amazing, isn't it?  And so much more than we seem able to fully comprehend.

I like your description of the guilt of unconfessed sin.  My post this week discusses God's heart toward us when we have unconfessed sin in our lives.

Courtney Buxton  – (February 13, 2012 at 5:34 AM)  

You make so many good points here. Yes, I want to accept the grace, but I have that same human thought, "Not fair!" with regard to "other" people and their sin. I'm so grateful that God doesn't share that human flaw - that he loves me anyway and even forgives my small mindedness. 

Nancy Franson  – (February 13, 2012 at 6:03 AM)  

Thanks for sharing your story here, making concrete the scandalous, ridiculous, beautiful nature of grace. Taking a moment to pray, not knowing how God might use your words today. Blessings, friend.

kd sullivan  – (February 13, 2012 at 7:13 AM)  

I remember that kind of fear.  There is something pure and holy about it.  I wonder if a seared conscience keeps us from that constant urgency?  I wrote about fear of God today...does it still have a place in the church today?

Jen Ferguson –   – (February 13, 2012 at 8:07 AM)  

I'm learning, day by day, that perhaps life is not meant to be fair.  And sometimes that really irks my Type A personality, but at the same time, I realize that I am so desperately in need of mercy that I don't really care.

Julia  – (February 13, 2012 at 8:29 AM)  

Getting married is like having a big sin mirror put up in front of your face, but becoming a parent made that mirror HUGE!

Things I thought were strengths are actually shortcomings; I lose my patience, when I thought I was a patient person. I think ugly things. I see my total and utter depravity and my desperate need a for a Savior.

At church we are walking through Mark. In Mark 9, Jesus is asked to heal a boy with an unclean spirit. The boy's father asks Jesus, if you can, heal my son. Jesus says that all things are possible for those who believe, and the boy's father says, "I believe; help my unbelief!"

I pray that all the time. Help my unbelief! My unbelief that I'm unworthy, that I don't deserve grace. Those whispers that I'm a failure, that I'm doing a lousy job as a parent, as a wife. Grace---grace. All I have to do is believe it.

June Scott –   – (February 13, 2012 at 8:32 AM)  

Great story {and lesson}, Michelle! I think the fact that God sees all sin as equal is a very hard concept for many people to accept.  I think until we can accept that Truth regarding our "neighbor" it's difficult for us to fully accept God's grace and mercy for ourselves. Have a blessed day!

Marianne Sunderland  – (February 13, 2012 at 8:50 AM)  

I think I have a similar story from when I was a young girl!  I stole lifesavers though!  So grateful for God's grace.  I am linking up here for the first time.  Enjoy your blog immensly.  God bless your day!

donnapyle –   – (February 13, 2012 at 9:21 AM)  

I remember being shocked when my pastor once said that we are all in the same sin boat - Osama bin Laden sitting on one side of me and Hitler on the other. All have sinned, was his point. There aren't degrees. It certainly put things into perspective! So thankful for God's amazing grace.

JoAnne Potter  – (February 13, 2012 at 9:22 AM)  

Given the nature of our inherent weakness before God and the very real possibility that we will, at some point, commit one of the 'really bad' sins, aren't you glad that God gives the murderer the same grace as He does us?

Megan Willome  – (February 13, 2012 at 9:28 AM)  

It's so hard to grasp this, isn't it?

Have you ever read C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce"? There's a scene between a murderer and his victim, and it's the murderer who is repentant. The victim is filled with bitterness and lives in everlasting torment.

KathleenBasi –   – (February 13, 2012 at 9:44 AM)  

Against my better judgment, I waded into a discussion recently on Joe Paterno, and was basically ripped a new one for suggesting that our sins hurt God as much as J.P.'s. So this has been on my mind a lot. It is really tempting, even now, for me to think I'm so much better off than others. And I think that's the real danger--comparison. It's not our business to worry about other people's sins, only our own.

Shanda Oakley –   – (February 13, 2012 at 10:40 AM)  

Well written  I think we even find the grace to forgive those with the 'big sins' easier than we find the grace to forgive our 'lessor sins'.  Not that there are bigger or smaller, but we tend to be harder on ourselves or maybe don't have the faith needed when it comes to our own sin.

Joanne Palm –   – (February 13, 2012 at 11:35 AM)  

Michelle, that is the best explanation of the "fairness" issue of sin that I have ever heard.  Making the comparison to the inequity of the grace that Christ provided for us makes it all "fair".  Thank you once again for some great insight!

Laurie Collett –   – (February 13, 2012 at 12:17 PM)  

Thanks for the excellent post! None of us deserve His unmerited favor, but praise God that while we were yet sinners, He sent His Son as the perfect sacrifice for all our sins.


Alyssa Santos  – (February 13, 2012 at 12:56 PM)  

Isn't it a gift to live with that conviction? Without feeling that guilt, you could never have responded to grace AND could not then, in turn, pass the message of perfect forgiveness through Jesus to everyone else. God even uses our sin to his glory. I love this!

Hazel Moon –   – (February 13, 2012 at 3:03 PM)  

I once stole a scarf, but was under such conviction, that I had to return it.  No one knew I took it, so I did not announce the return delivery.  I simply snuck it back where it came.  What a relief!  Taught me a good lesson too. 

soulstops –   – (February 13, 2012 at 3:18 PM)  

Thankful for His grace time and time again...your post made me think of Luke 7:36-50 about the penitent woman and Simon the Pharisee -which I've been praying over this past week.   Thanks, Michelle :)

Linda Chontos –   – (February 13, 2012 at 5:13 PM)  

Perfectly, wonderfully said Michelle. I can easily identify with every word. What a great writer you are!

Denise J. Hughes  – (February 13, 2012 at 6:10 PM)  

So well said. It's good to be reminded that we are all sinners, at the foot of the cross, in need of mercy.

Michelle DeRusha  – (February 13, 2012 at 7:09 PM)  

Yay, Marianne - so glad to meet you here - thanks for joining the Hear It, Use It community. I am looking forward to coming by this week to read your post and getting to know you better!

Michelle DeRusha  – (February 13, 2012 at 7:10 PM)  

Wow, Donna, that is a shocking image, isn't it? But still, it's true, that God's grace would cover even them, too.

Michelle DeRusha  – (February 13, 2012 at 7:11 PM)  

I haven't read that one -- but it's been recommended by more than one person, so I'll take it as a God-nudge and get a copy from my library asap!

Michelle DeRusha  – (February 13, 2012 at 7:13 PM)  

I totally know what you mean. I think pedophilia is the sin I have the hardest time with - I just really, really struggle to forgive that and have to remind myself time and time again that EVERYONE gets God's grace. None of us is entitled to grace, and yet we are all offered it. It's not up to me to decide.

Michelle DeRusha  – (February 13, 2012 at 7:14 PM)  

Thanks, Joanne- I appreciate your kindness!

Jan Macy –   – (February 13, 2012 at 8:23 PM)  

Wonderful post.  Where would any of us be without God's mercy and grace.  I hate to think of it.  

Rachel @ Shepherd's daughter  – (February 13, 2012 at 9:02 PM)  

I am always encouraged by you, Michelle. Thanks for sharing! 

Emily Wierenga –   – (February 13, 2012 at 9:23 PM)  

i love that you speak the truth in love, friend. thank you.

Connie@raise your eyes  – (February 14, 2012 at 12:06 AM)  

In CHRIST Alone. Amen.

Good thing too, because I could never stay on the upper rungs of that ladder...

Kathleen Jaeger  – (February 14, 2012 at 2:29 PM)  

I can relate. It took years of unfolding by the Lord  to show  me: the prejudices of my own heart, my need as a sinner that is the same as everyone else. Being a good girl sure has deceived me!!

Thanks for sharing. Visiting from SDG today.

Laura Boggess  – (February 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM)  

I have a story kind of like this one too, Michelle. I didn't grow up Catholic but it didn't matter because I was found out immediately. Seems I never could hide my feelings well. Confession was not an option, it was a form of discipline. I never did that again. Grace. I can feel the heavy lift just breathing the word. So thankful for His.

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