Can we lose God's grace?
Ask a Pastor
Can “grace” be taken away from us? A lady in my Bible study keeps insisting that if you do bad things or lose your faith, you also lose God’s grace. Since grace is a gift, it never occurred to me that it could be taken back. Is she right? —Debbie Kendall, Messiah Lutheran Church, Cypress, Texas
David: Great question, Debbie! The Lutheran tradition has gone back and forth on this; at some times insisting that God’s grace is stronger than any action of ours, at other times saying that we can choose to reject God’s grace.
Here is where I am at. God’s grace is a gift — even the faith to receive God’s grace is a gift of God. Our salvation is wholly and completely dependent upon God. And I believe that God’s grace stands firm. In the face of my sinfulness, God’s grace stands firm — inviting me to be the person God has called me to be. In the face of my doubt, God’s grace stands firm — inviting me to bring my questions to God and live into a deeper relationship with God.
St. Paul tells us that he is “convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing. God’s grace stands firm.
We can walk away from God. We can refuse the gift of grace. And like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), God will wait for us to return, running to us and welcoming us home. God’s love, God’s grace is stronger than anything we can do or say or think.
Ron: Dear Debbie, grace is amazing. Maybe, that’s why it is so hard to talk about. As you know we use the word “grace” quite a bit in church settings. I’m thinking that whatever the woman in your Bible study is talking about, it isn’t grace. It might be comfort or hope, but it isn’t grace.
The best example of grace is the story of the Prodigal Son or, as Helmut Thielecke referred to it, the “Prodigal or Waiting Father.” As you remember, the son in the story did all sorts of things that most people would consider to be “bad.” Certainly his older brother had “dis-owned” him. But the grace in this story that comes from the father is all about the love the father had for his son. Obviously, we may not always know what to do with an amazing gift like grace, but that doesn’t change the reality of the gift.
Elizabeth: God can do whatever God wants. Grace is God’s gift to give and to take away. But God has decided to give God’s grace as a gift and, to date, has never taken it back. Here’s the wonderful, remarkable thing — grace doesn’t depend on us. God’s grace is given to us precisely for those times when we do bad things or lose our faith. St. Paul knew about this when, in his weakness, he besought the Lord to take away the thorn in his flesh only to hear the Lord say, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is not a free pass to behave despicably, but it is the solid ground that makes it possible for us to live and love and serve — and even doubt — boldly.
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