Debts of Grace

Many of you know that the last couple years have been very difficult for my family with health and financial woes aplenty. But where hardship did abound there did generosity and kindness much more abound. So many people have taken it upon themselves to lend a helping hand in ways both small and large as we continue to struggle through this time in our lives. We are as humbled as we are thankful.

Living through the charity of others, however, has revealed to me a twisting in my thoughts and a weight upon my soul that I had not realized I still bore from fundamentalism. The lesson that I learned there was simple: “Grace is debt. Blessings are debt. Kindness is debt.” Nothing in fundamentalism is free. Everything from the saving of your soul to the nourishing of your body must be repaid in full.

Who among us has not heard this charge laid to those who have left their fundamentalist church? We did so much for you! Remember when we helped your family with their electric bill? Have you forgotten those times we showed you kindness and love? Have you no shame to leave without repaying us what you owe?

So even today as my heart overflows with thankfulness for those encouraging words, that check in the mail, or those groceries given with a smile, my inner man is busy with his ledger adding credits of guilt to each debit of grace. I owe. I owe so much to so many. How can I ever hope to repay it all? I could work a lifetime and never come close.

But in my awakening soul I sometimes now can dimly see that kindness is not debt but joy. This is no ledger but only a journal, a history of thanksgiving. Here too is grace. Wonderful. Amazing. Free.

48 thoughts on “Debts of Grace”

  1. Very timely post.

    We just looked at Romans 4 this past Sunday and the very idea that grace and debt are two words which really don’t belong together.

    If we had to work for the kindness of God or others, it wouldn’t be grace or a gift that we receive at all, it would be our just wages or our due.

    Thank you for this message this morning, and the reminder to continue to apply the wonderful truth of the riches of God’s abundant grace as I begin the week.

    1. Joe, I’m going to disagree, but only because of the perversity of the human heart that Darrell is pointing out. Because we too easily assume the unnecessary burden, I’d rather leave out any mention of debt when discussing grace. I won’t disagree that receiving grace should move us to action for others, by the mechanism of gratitude. In fact, the surest sign of trouble in the Christian life is the ingratitude that is shown through ignoring the needs of others and unforgiveness of wrongs. But I won’t cast it as a debt.

      1. pay back = debt
        pay it forward =/= debt

        Apparently you saw it differently, but by definition paying back necessarily means there is a debt. Paying forward doesn’t imply there is a debt. It’s a continuation of the kindness or grace.

      2. If we are a true Christian, meaning we truly are one of Gods elect, then the Holy Spirit will dwell in us . If that is the case then we will have Christs desire to help others UNGRUDGINGLY. Notice I capitalized UNGRUDGINGLY because in churches (not only IFB) all around the country, most people who claim Christ crucified get angry when they are called to help. To say “debt” implies a “burden”. We are commanded by God Jesus Christ Holy Spirit not to withhold “bowels of mercy” from each other, but at the same time how many times have we heard others, or even ourselves say: “can’t you get someone else to do that?!?!” Helping others is not a debt nor is it grace. Helping others is LOVE….. and we are commanded to love our neighbour.

        1. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, BOWELS of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness,longsuffering;
          Colossians 3:12

        2. Depths of mercy would be a more reasonable translation for today.
          Bowels as in the bowels[depths] of the Earth, not bowels as your “innards”.

          It is a great pity that the KJVO crowd won’t allow Scripture to be in the people’s everyday language as it was intended.

          Not that I agree with much of what Clique has said, but the word bowels is technically correct, though archaic in this instance.

        3. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.
          Hebrews 13:8

          Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.
          Deuteronomy 25: 4

          In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
          The same was in the beginning with God.
          All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
          John 1: 1-3

          For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.
          Psalm 119: 89

          Then He said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:
          Luke 24: 25

          For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
          And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
          Revelation 22: 18-19

          This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
          For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
          Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
          Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
          Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
          For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
          Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
          Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.
          But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.
          2 Timothy 3: 1-9

          But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
          But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
          And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
          All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
          That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
          2 Timothy 3: 13-17

          The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever.
          Isaiah 40: 8

          We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
          Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
          For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
          2 Peter 1: 19-21

          For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
          Romans 15: 4

          For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:
          But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
          1 Peter 1: 24-25

          THEREFORE seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not;
          But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
          But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
          2 Corinthians 4: 1-3

          As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
          2 Peter 3: 16

          Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
          2 Timothy 2: 15

        4. Do you just randomly cut and paste verses blindly, or did your comments get deleted? I have read all of those verses and understand their context.

          You keep using verses. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

  2. We are experiencing lean times and the benevolence of others for a season as well. It is humbling (even humiliating) to be on the receiving end of charity at times.

    I am reminded, however, of the joy I felt when I was in the position to meet some physical need for another. I have swallowed my pride on more than one occasion and accepted help offered, because I know the giver will be blessed in the giving.

    As far as the ledger goes, God’s the accountant. He’ll make sure the givers are repaid beyond what I ever could! 🙂

    1. It is a blessing to be helped, but it is a greater blessing to be able to help others.

      Neither needs to be repaid– just rejoiced over.

  3. Yes, this is so true. Jesus made it clear that we are to give without expecting to receive back. The ones that remind you how much they did for you, expecting to receive back, are clearly in the wrong.

  4. This is the most wonderful thing about God. He has given us so much, quite literally everything, up to and including his own Son. We can never, ever, ever pay that back. Thanks be to God that He doesn’t expect us to! Now that’s grace!

    It’s been said before (by Veggietales, if by no one else 😉 ) that mercy is not getting what you rightly deserve, avoiding the punishment you’ve earned. But grace? Grace is getting blessing that you don’t deserve. Trying to repay it… well, we just can’t.

  5. Great insight, Darrell! I love the comparison of a ledger with a journal. I actually keep a journal of amazing blessings in my life (like, by the way, the generosity of SFL to me last year), but like you I still struggle with being able to freely receive.

    Debt, obligation, guilt, and shame are heavy burdens, but learning to accept genuine generosity brings freedom and joy.

    Love doesn’t demand; love just gives.

  6. Wow…great post! Makes perfect sense and it’s something I’ve not really thought a lot about. Another fundy thing I didn’t realize messed me up until just now. It’s ironic how some of this stuff gets embedded in your way of thinking, and you don’t even realize it until something happens to bring it to light!

  7. EXCELLENT piece, Darrell. I too struggle with the same concept, so I am trying something different with my sons…I always differentiate between a “gift” and a “reward”. I tell them that gifts are for no reason at all, and their only duty is to say “Thank you” and be appreciative. Rewards, on the other hand, are earned not given. So when I promise them something for a good report card, that is a reward rather than a gift.

    If someone expects something in return, that constitutes a “purchase”…and most times the repayment (which is in the form of guilt in fundamental circles) is far more than the original value.

  8. thank you!!

    stuck for now in a very conservative/legalistic church, and paying it back is what it’s all about here.

    thank you for reminding me once again that god’s grace is something i desperately need every day, but never can i repay it.(and thank god that i can’t…)

  9. My Milton professor told us, ‘Gratitude is the only gift you pay by owing it.’ Her point (made in reference to Milton’s Satan) was that gratitude and thus grace is not something that can be returned, that can be paid back bit by bit in favours and treats and good behaviour, that we do not ‘owe’ God for the good favours he bestows on us. The only appropriate response to grace is a heart of thankfulness and joy. She was a wise woman.

  10. As I ponder this I’m struck by the human need to keep score/pay back. It is so odd.

    It is also odd to to me that we pray for blessings when we are in desperate need but then struggle to receive them graciously. Strange lot we are, aren’t we?

  11. When my husband was dying from cancer I asked for help–a mentor for my teenaged son, and was first asked by the pastor what I had done for others. I don’t think God keeps a ledger; if God does, then we’re not receiving grace. But I didn’t know the pastor was viewing requests for help as transactions to be balanced.

    1. The sad part of his question, if he is like other Fundy pastors I have heard, is that they teach that our good works should be done for Heaven, not for others to see. But, since THEY haven’t seen any “works”, there must not be any. A grossly hypocritical view.

      I know one that uses his bragging of his gifts as a way to try to guilt others into giving to his pet projects. And to let folks know the proper way to give.(HIS WAY!)

  12. My comment apparently got stuck in moderation, so I’ll try again: My Milton professor taught her class that ‘Gratitude is the only gift you pay by owing it.’ In other words, grace is ruined when we try to pay it back. Responding to God’s goodness, or the goodness of other people, by trying to repay them or by trying to be very, very good denies grace. The only appropriate response to grace is thankfulness and acceptance, absolutely nothing else.

  13. Darrell: please don’t beat yourself up over “debt” you think you have incurred. We err when all we consider is money. Consider the time you have “spent” on this blog, and how many people (including me) you have helped.

    I suspect, sir, that your “ledger” has far, far more credit than it has debt — if you even want to keep score.

    I consider myself IFB, but I enjoy the mockery of some of the extremist IFB leaders. As I have told others before, I was in a very strict (“we have high standards!”) church for a very long time and struggled with overwhelming guilt for not going out on their soul-winning nights knocking on stranger’s doors and trying to talk them into saying a prayer to put more notches on the belt.

    Because of you and some kind people here (pastor’s wife is one; I know there have been others), the guilt is down to a more manageable level, and I hope that it will entirely go away some day. Getting out of that church and into a better balanced church has helped as well.

    You do your part, and don’t worry about accepting help when you need it. God has blessed some with money to care for people’s financial needs, and others write blogs that are a blessing.

    Merry Christmas!

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