By John Dunne, former UGM Recovery Counselor
“Hey, I hear they got this thing called ‘grace’ down at the Mission, so I guess you can get away with doing anything you want down there now.”
This is a conclusion that frequently surfaces when we begin a discussion of our grace-based environment at UGM. It is the natural result of the fact that in our everyday culture, the word “grace” is usually synonymous with license—when we fail to hold someone accountable for his actions, we say we are giving him “grace.”
In fact, this is a distortion of the biblical concept of grace and actually describes the unhealthy practice of enabling.
Jesus gives us an extended metaphor to help us understand how He heals us and what grace is in the
healing process. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”(Matt. 9:12,13)
In this metaphor, Jesus is the physician and we are all “sick” in our fallen humanity and in our personal sin. Some of us (especially the Pharisees in the crowd) deny our sickness and pretend we are healthy. This denial means we don’t receive the physician or his medicine.
Now for the good news (literally, the “gospel”). Those of us who admit we are sick - broken, addicted, hurting, out of control - we place ourselves in a position to receive the Physician and His medicine, His grace. The medicine is the very life of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
So how does this work on a practical level?
First, I admit the fact that I am addicted, broken, powerless over my unhealthy habits of sin. Then, I ask Jesus into my life, not just to get a salvation ticket, but to change my life in the here and now--changing choices and behaviors. When I do this, I receive the power to do the things I cannot do on my own.
And how does this work in our programs at the Mission? It is definitely not the “let them off the hook” grace that creates enabling and promotes irresponsibility. The grace-based culture involves a commitment to Christ-likeness as a standard of behavior and a commitment to total accountability for our choices. This means that when I choose to do something that is un-Christlike, I am open to accountability from the community, and I evaluate that behavior, with the help of the community, to see what is underneath it.
When I publicly evaluate poor choices, I might have to admit that there are some old emotional and psychological wounds that are driving that compulsive un-Christlike behavior. I need to be willing to let Jesus into those areas of my life to heal the wounds and to give me the strength to change my behavior. Jesus usually works not only directly in our minds, hearts, and spirits, but he also works indirectly through other people who touch these areas of our lives. That means we experience Jesus and live our Christianity as a community - the whole of which is on a journey of transformation.
Is this something new? Not really. When Jesus spoke of “church,” He used a word that referred to the community of Hebrews who were “called out”(the ecclesia) from slavery in Egypt, journeying in the desert, directed toward the Promised Land, and totally dependent on God for their miraculous food and drink. As a community of people who are coming out of slavery to addiction and sin, journeying in this desert of a secular culture, being purified before we enter the Promised Land, we are all, staff and residents alike, a grace-based community following the call of Jesus.