Grace lays an obligation upon us. Isn’t that a strange concept? When we think of grace as God’s free gift of mercy, love, and unmerited favor, does it not seem strange that what was given freely creates an obligation of indebtedness?
In the Christmas season, all of us know the discomfort created by someone giving us a gift when we had not planned to give them one. An awful lot of last-minute shopping is driven by being sure we are relieved of the obligation incurred by an unexpected gift. Many people, in order to deal carefully with the etiquette of no unreciprocated indebtedness, actually will be spend a little more on the return gift in order to subtly shift the obligation back to the original giver.
Of course, nothing we can do in response to grace could outdo what God did for us in Jesus Christ. Our indebtedness is too great; and even if we “surrender all,” as the gospel song writer suggested, that response is but a drop in the bucket in comparison to God’s greatest gift.
A lot of people accept this grace and recognize that any response they might make is inadequate. So they give back to God symbolically—many a dollar or two in the offering plate at Christmas or Easter. Others think the only way to repay God is to follow the law, so that give back exactly 10 percent of their incomes as their tithe and feel they had adequately paid God back. Jesus, of course, raised that bar considerably: “If you would be my disciple, go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor; then come and follow me” (see Matt. 19:21; Mark 10:21). Of course, even that cannot repay the gift of God’s grace.
God’s grace has not been bestowed on us so that we will try to repay it, nor was it bestowed to keep us indebted to God. Instead, grace is an invitation to walk with Jesus as one of his disciples, knowing that he is trustworthy to guide us and to care for all our needs.