Recently, I had a question about what I believed grace to be by an individual who felt that, because of my writings, I didn’t know what it truly was. They thought I was getting confused with the word and act of atonement. Let me dig into this a bit.
Atonement: the doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and humankind, especially as accomplished through the life, suffering, and death of Christ. (from dictionary.com)
Grace: the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion (from merriam-webster.com)
I begin first with the definitions to flesh out this controversy, and what strikes me initially is that grace, which by the way had the same definition as sanctification, is a progressive process in our lives.
In the moment of realization that we are indeed lost and without hope, we invite Gods priceless salvation; then begins the journey of living, by which we gradually come to understand what we believe and how that affects everything we are.
We receive grace from God on a continual basis. When we make mistakes or sin in a willful or innocent way, and we confess those things to our Father in heaven, we are partakers of His bountiful grace to us. It is a gift that was paid for with His ultimate act of self-sacrificing love. With that comes responsibility, for if we are “growing in grace”, we are learning, we are becoming more like Him, our lives changing as our actions assimilate with our beliefs.
Atonement however is the selfless and loving life of Jesus personified by what he accomplished.
Philippians 2:7-8 (KJV) But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
If He is our example then we would do well to imitate His actions instead of excusing what we do by playing the “grace” card. I would assert that atonement also has meaning when it comes to our daily lives. Atonement: reparation for an offense or injury. (from merriam-webster.com)
It is here that I believe we may be getting the confusion from.
God’s atonement for our sins and the imparting of Grace does not free us from the responsibility of our future or even past actions once and for all. In fact, we should be more aware of our need to make things right when we have done wrong. In other words, yes, at times we still must atone for wrong-doing in our lives.
Gods grace indeed assures our salvation as we live for Him by our continuing to acknowledge our need for Him, our frailty as human beings, and confess our sins and grow as Christians. BUT, and it is a big but, that is not amnesty for any failings we might have as we walk though this tangled and at times treacherous life.
If we hurt someone, seeking forgiveness is only the first step to restoration with them. If we steal something, there is more than saying you’re sorry and moving on, there is restitution to be made. If we commit a crime, God’s grace forgives but there is still a penalty exacted by the authorities.
As someone in the process of making atonement, I can say it is a very difficult but rewarding process. I have wronged someone terribly, and I have spent the last 15 months working to make it right. That began with confession, and seeking Gods face; but it also involves making daily choices and adjustments that put the focus on restoration with the person I hurt. That process isn’t up to whether I think it is complete, but is dictated by the person I harmed. This isn’t “working for their approval or forgiveness”, but it is showing them my dedication to full restoration. Sensitivity to them and their needs above my comfort and pursuits is the telling sign that I am sincere. The valuable part for me is that I am being changed in a substantive way which could not occur without me being willing to be humble, and in effect, go the way of the cross.
I am growing and learning in areas that have gone untouched for decades. I know what grace is, and I know what atonement is; and I know that I am a better man today than I was before because I am living them both.