Sometimes truths are best learned in the hard places of life. I went through a season when I became the offender in a couple of relationship difficulties, and my sincere attempts to make things right again were not working. In sorrow I cried out day after day, “God, is there a place of grace and mercy anywhere for me?”
He finally responded with a Scripture: “I called upon the LORD in distress: the LORD answered me, and set me in a large place” (Psalm 118:5). He proceeded to show me that He surrounds each of us with a very large buffer zone of grace, and that when we move, our “zone” moves with us wherever we go. As we learn to continually walk in this grace, we not only are free from condemnation ourselves, but we spill grace onto others, not the judgment we once were inclined to spew on them.
Grace is the opposite of legalism. Let’s look at a few ways these two radically different mindsets act themselves out:
1.) Legalism seeks to please God and man through performance of do’s and don’ts.
Grace lives in the knowledge of God’s perpetual acceptance and forgiveness, because Jesus already completely fulfilled the Law and paid for our redemption from it. We freely pour out to other people that same acceptance and forgiveness that we have received from God.
2.) The person caught in legalism holds over himself — and the others in his world — a rigid set of standards that are impossible to achieve. Often, these standards have little to do with what God expects.
As trying to live up to these perceived standards becomes too hopeless, the person in bondage to legalism sometimes copes with his sense of futility by shifting blame entirely over to other people who do not fit the standards he has set in place. He makes a habit of judging others over small things.
A grace mindset lives in the confidence that if we mess up, God still smiles on us. He lovingly lets us know where we could do better, and He helps us to get there. The grace-conscious person has ceased striving to get “the rules” right. He is after heart-relationship with the Lord and people, not trying to please through performance.
3.) Legalism, because of its performance mentality, produces fear of punishment or withheld love if standards are not met.
Grace enjoys the knowledge that we are loved for who we are, weaknesses and all, not for whether we do things right all the time.
4.) Legalism never forgets when offenses are perpetrated against it.
Grace chooses to forget the sins of others, as God chooses to forget our sins: “For I will forgive their wrongdoing, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).
5.) Legalism produces misery in the person caught in it and causes him or her to demand misery of others around him, too.
Dwelling in the place of grace causes us to breathe grace on others. Grace is the breath of heaven.
Happiness and enjoyment of our relationship with God and other people are blessings that God intends for all His children. They are available to us as we step into – and remain in – the place of grace.