Grace is a huge concept in the Bible, but I think that most people don't take a lot of time to dive into that topic and studying the Bible to see what grace is.
“Make me understand the way of Your precepts; So shall I meditate on Your wonderful works.” Psalm 119:27
Growing up with the AWANA program, I learned a definition of grace as follows: “A free gift that you don't deserve.” That's one basic tenant of grace that Christians generally agree upon: Grace is unmerited – if it was merited (deserved), it would no longer be grace. Some people will say that grace also means favor: God's grace is when God shows you favor. But none of those definitions go deeper than that, which leaves unanswered questions, such as: When God decides to give us favor and send us something undeserved and unmerited, what does He send us? What IS this unmerited grace that God gives us when He shows favor?
Some people give the answer that anything God gives us that we do not deserve is grace. Like, when He sends rain and sunshine to everyone on earth, that's undeserved and therefore a form of grace. However, this answer doesn't stand up because Biblically, both blessings and grace are undeserved, and yet they are not used synonymously. The word “blessing” is used for many things, mainly extras – like, you are already doing okay, and then God gives you an extra blessing that you can praise and thank Him for. God blesses people with children, for instance. The “grace,” on the other hand, is only used in situations where we need help and God is helping to fix that situation for us. When Noah received grace from God, it saved him from dying in a flood. When we are saved by grace, we are rescued from the sin and death we were wallowing in. In the christian life, we are told to come boldly before God's throne to find grace *in time of need.* Blessings are unmerited extras, while grace is unmerited help/rescue.
"Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16So, when help/grace is offered, there is still a choice: God allows us to accept or reject that grace. We can receive grace in vain when we are living under grace, as Christians, yet do not accept that help – Usually because God wants to help us become sanctified and Christ-like while we are still clinging to our familiar sins and being too scared to take up our cross and follow.
"We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain." 2 Corinthians 6:1Who benefits from grace? Well, who benefits from free help? Those who WANT help. In other words, only those who have humility and realize that there is a problem will even want to be rescued or helped.
"But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." James 4:6When the Bible says that God gives grace to the humble, it doesn't mean that God is somehow playing favorites. Rather, it means that He offers grace to those who *desire* grace.
In the Lord's prayer, He instructs us to ask God not to lead us into temptation. In this prayer, we are asking God to make right choices easier for us. We are asking for His help in keeping us on the straight and narrow.
Now, with this understanding of grace (unmerited help), we can start to make sense of the various passages of the Scripture that tell us to be gracious and to give grace to other people. What does it mean to offer grace to others?
"Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers." Ephesians 4:29
Here, we are instructed to speak in a way that gives grace to those who hear; our speech should make it easier for others to received the edification that they need. In short, grace is opposite of temptation. Temptation makes it easier for a person to make a bad choice, while grace helps make it easier for a person to make a right choice. All of our speech is to be gracious, and the Bible tells us to speak about doctrine, encouragement, correction, and instruction in righteousness. You'll notice that “correction” (ie godly confrontation) is included there. Accountability and confrontation provides grace because it makes it easier for us each to learn and grow – it makes it harder for us to make wrong choices. [See also: The story of The King and His Hawk]
I remember one friend I knew who was battling an addiction. After realizing that he couldn't fight it alone, he got involved in a (very helpful and kind) men's group. Each evening, his accountability buddy would call him – and would ask if he had had any temptations in that area or had sinned in that area. (If he said no, the follow-up question would be to ask if he was lying – which sounds harsh, but it's helpful because addicts struggle also with the temptation to cover up the situation.) Now, just *knowing* that there would be someone to hold him accountable made it tremendously easier for him to say “no” to temptation again and again, while kicking his habit. Accountability absolutely is a form of grace that helps us when we need help. None of us can do this life alone.
Both grace and condemnation start with acknowledgment that there is a problem present. The difference is that condemnation points a finger while grace lends a hand.
So that's grace. What is enabling?
“An enabler is someone who—despite knowing that a behavior is destructive or harmful—allows a loved one to continue to do it. It is frequently used in the context of addiction.”
“No one wants their loved ones to do things that hurt themselves. However, by excusing behavior or looking the other way, you can enable an addict to continue abusing drugs or alcohol. Enablers allow substance abusers to continue using drugs without suffering the negative consequences of their actions.”
I found a good quiz online that goes like this: Are You an Enabler?
An enabler is a person who, acting out of a sincere sense of love, loyalty and concern, steps in to protect, cover up for, make excuses for and become more responsible for the chemically dependent person. This can prevent the addicted individual from a crisis that might bring about change, and thereby prolong his or her illness. To find out if you may be an enabler, answer the following questions:
1) Do you avoid potential problems by trying to keep the peace? Do you do whatever you can to avoid conflict because doing so will solve problems?
2) Are you in denial about your loved one being addicted? Do you think his or her drug or alcohol use is just a phase and isn't anything to be concerned about?
3) Do you have a hard time expressing your feelings? Do you keep all your emotions inside?
4) Do you minimize the situation? Do you think the problem will get better later?
5) Do you lecture, blame or criticize the chemically dependent person?
6) Do you take over the responsibilities of the addicted person? Do you cover for and pick up his or her slack to minimize the negative consequences? Do you repeatedly come to the rescue — bailing him or her out of jail, out of financial problems or other tight spots?
7) Do you try to protect your addicted loved one from pain?
8) Do you treat him or her like a child? Do you enjoy taking care of your loved one and feel superior when you do? Do you still financially support him or her, even though he or she is an adult?
9) Do you try to control the dependent person?
10) Are you good at just enduring? Do you often think, this too shall pass?
11) Do you believe in waiting? That God will take care of this?
12) Do you give him or her one more chance, then another and yet another?
13) Do you join him or her in the dangerous behavior, even when you know he or she has a problem?
If you answered yes to even one of these questions, you may have enabling behaviors, which could be [increasing the power of addiction in the life of your loved one.]
Why am I comparing and contrasting grace and enabling? Well, to start with, they are exact opposites. Grace helps people to make good decisions, while enabling makes it easier for them to make sinful choices. But furthermore, people get these two concepts confused. Those who want to show grace want to avoid stumbling people, and a few believe that enabling is the only way to avoid stumbling people. They reason that if you do something and it makes another person upset, you have stumbled that person. They preach that we should avoid potential problems by trying to keep the peace – we should avoid conflict (not because that will solve the underlying issue, but because it won't trigger their anger).
Is there truth to their viewpoint?
“If a loved one is struggling with drug addiction, confronting your friend or family member about their addiction can be a challenging and emotional experience. At first, it may seem easier to deny that there is even a problem or to excuse your loved one’s behavior. These denials and excuses however, will only make the problem worse. Denying or excusing a loved one’s addiction enables them to continue using drugs, which hurts themselves and others.”
Ultimately, if a loved one is sinning, they need grace and not enabling. It may seem like giving them grace (confrontation in some cases) will “stumble” them because it will arouse their anger. Let me share an analogy:
A friend comes to visit a farmer on a rainy day. After being invited inside, he notices that there is a hole in the roof, and rain is dripping into the living room. “Why do you do something about that hole?” he asks his farmer friend. “Oh but it's raining right now,” the farmer replies, “I can't go on the roof because it's slippery.” This is a good point, and so the friend drops the topic and enjoys the rest of the visit.
A week later, the friend visits again. It's a bright and sunny day, but when he goes inside, he notices that the hole is still present. “Why didn't you fix that hole in your roof?” he asks. “Well, it's not raining,” the farmer explains, “there's no need!”
Now the question of the story is this: When would be the right time for the farmer to fix the roof? Obviously, it would be when it's sunny outside and there is “no need” because the problem is not causing any symptoms (no leakage). Those who claim that triggering anger is stumbling a person mistakes the problem (heart problem) with the symptom (anger). They think that by avoiding the symptom and preventing consequences, then things are great – the hole in the roof (heart problem) isn't a problem as long it's not raining (symptoms), right? Right guys?
The issue IS a heart issue, though, all sin is. If you are gracious and they get angry at you, that's a symptom of that underlying heart condition. To avoid confrontation and accountability (Biblical forms of grace) will irritate the symptom less, but it will enable the heart problem to get worse. If you go out of your way to protect someone from the symptoms of their issue (including anger), you are a textbook case of an enabler who prevents the sinning individual from a crisis that might bring about change, and thereby strengthens the power of sin in that person's life.
That's not grace. That's not offering help. That's not making a righteous choice easier. Rather, enabling makes wrong choices easier and offers to whitewash the world instead of washing the world. Chesterton wrote that one who is not truly loyal will “be less inclined to the reform of things; more inclined to a sort of front-bench official answer to all attacks, soothing every one with assurances. He will not wash the world, but whitewash the world.”
“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!”