Let’s love, forgive and be gracious, not from the peak of a spiritual monument that we have built for ourselves, but at the foot of the cross. Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.
Growing up in a Chinese Christian Youth Fellowship in Sydney, it had been drilled into my head that I must love others by forgiving and being gracious. Like many others in the fellowship, I robotically obeyed this teaching of loving through forgiveness and grace.
This obedience can’t be too wrong because it’s what the Bible has always been teaching, right? But as I grew older, I came to realise that it’s not that simple to just “love, forgive and be gracious”.
We love, not because it is a commandment; we love, because God first loved us.
I remember vividly one Friday evening at the youth fellowship held at the church hall, I saw a girl speaking with our fellowship advisor. As sobs punctuated her broken words, I could hear her say: “I will.. forgive her… because… I must… love my enemies.” Something didn’t feel right but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Fast forward a decade later, I settled in a local church here and the memory of the crying girl was awakened as I found myself hearing something very similar:
Because I’m a Christian, I must exercise grace.
I must be gracious.
I must forgive.
I must show love.
But if these statements simply reflect what Jesus taught, why do they bother me so much?
It was then that I realised that something was fundamentally wrong – I shouldn’t love because I must. We love, not because it is a commandment; we love, because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Just like the crying girl in the church hall, I forgave someone, because I must. I forced myself to pray for someone who threatened to run my parents over with his car the next time he saw them. My heart was hard but “I must pray for him, because I must love and forgive”.
Jesus didn’t tell us to brush off our emotions and robotically do as we’re told.
As I observe myself and those around me, I see two extremes on the spectrum of being a Christian. On one end, I brush away the anger or hatred by sugar-coating them because we are called to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). The other extreme is to be completely, utterly and sometimes rudely honest by telling them face to face that I’m indeed angry with them because we’ve been told to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
I’ve stood on spiritual high ground and extended a hand of love, forgiveness and grace to those that I thought needed it. I did it, not because I wanted to, but because I believed I had to.
I was angry at him. I could have scolded him there and then but I didn’t, because I must exercise grace. So I let him off the hook…
She betrayed me. I had many chances to reveal her ugliness but I didn’t, because I need to forgive her.
It was only when I looked deeper that I found the voice within: “I’m the righteous one, therefore I love, forgive and show you grace, because I’m better.”
On bended knee
Years ago, I met someone who was active in church, attended fellowship, represented the church in soccer matches, turned up at social gatherings for years, but had yet to accept Christ as his personal Saviour. Out of curiosity, I asked him what stopped him from accepting Christ, he simply said, “I don’t like how Christians make me feel inferior, as though they are better than me.”
Let’s love, forgive and be gracious from the foot of the cross, where our knees are bent and our hearts are bowed.
And that’s what happens when we do things out of our own strength and power, it’s just a sugar-coat of Christian jargon that rolls off our tongue. We struggle, because we are self-righteous. We become superior, because we think we are better than most. We stand on high ground, because we think we can.
Recalling the teachings of Jesus about love, forgiveness and grace, He didn’t tell us to brush off our emotions and robotically do as we’re told. Instead, He told us that in this world, we will face many tribulations, but take heart because He has already overcome the world (John 16:33). He alone will give us the peace that we need, peace not as the world can give (John 14:27). When we exercise and cultivate these attributes, the strength and will should be sought from our Lord Jesus because we can do all things through Him who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13).
Let’s love, forgive and be gracious, not from the peak of a spiritual monument that we have built for ourselves, but at the foot of the cross, where our knees are bent and our hearts are bowed.