The comma of grace.

As I’ve written about before, one Easter I got into a bit of a yelling match with a guy in a visor at an Easter egg hunt. The whole thing was exactly how Jesus imagined us honoring that day.

We were at my in-laws country club, which always makes me feel a little weird. We’re certainly rich in a global way, but I kind of think that they can all tell that I’m just a visitor. I feel like the real members can smell middle class on me. (Which kind of smells like sun ripened raspberry and feet by the way.)

So after I pointed to where a golden egg was hidden to my then 5 year old daughter, he yelled at me for cheating. I told him that his white visor made him look like a financial planner who was wearing his “casual uniform.” Whole thing got very out of hand. (I didn’t say that, but I thought it later when we were driving home, which is where most of my comebacks occur.)

This year, we spent Easter in Chapel Hill at my parents church. Standing there waiting for the egg hunt to start I had a flashback to that rugby scrum one from a few years ago. I might always remember that moment at Easter, but there’s a more important one I won’t forget. One I’ve written about before.

I’m talking about the “comma of grace.”

I found it in Luke 22. In that chapter, Jesus is being led away. He is headed to the cross. A million prophecies are coming true and chaos is breaking out a little amongst disciples that up to this point have sworn to serve until death. In the midst of that, he pulls Simon aside because he knows that Simon will soon betray him.

He says to Simon in Luke 22:31-32:
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.”

And then, he drops the 9 words that I can’t write about enough. The 9 words that I often turn to when I’ve failed and messed up again and feel hopelessly undeserving of hope.

Jesus tells Simon:
“And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Do you see what Jesus is saying in that first half of the sentence, And when you have turned back? He’s saying:

You are going to fail.
You are going to fall.
You are going to lose it.
You are going to make commitments and break them.
You are not going to always be the man you family needs.
You are going to sin.
But, but, but, you will turn back.

You will come back. You will know redemption. You will know return. You will know a God that not only allows the “comeback” but actually celebrates it.

When I read the phrase “And when you have turned back,” I read a loud, wild picture of what grace really looks like.

And then, if you go too fast, you’ll miss the comma. You’ll miss the gap that sits quietly between the next thought. You’ll miss it because like me, you might misread the second half of that sentence.

Here’s what it says:
“And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

But here’s how we write it sometimes:

“And when you have turned back, repent for a long time and stay a long way from me until you are clean enough to return to my presence.”

“And when you have turned back, please stay far away from any ministry opportunities. You are too broken to help other people. How can you minister to others when your own life is so messed up?

“And when you have turned back, here are the 57 things you need to do in order to earn back my good favor.”

But Christ doesn’t do that! He drops a comma like a grenade.

He gives us the gift of the comma and then asks us to strengthen our brothers. Not beat ourselves with emotional whips. Or lay in a hole of shame. Or stay to the shadows of church, afraid to be seen.

He wants you. In his arms. By his side. Surrendered and free in his presence.

Not because you deserve it or have earned it or are perfect.

Because of Easter.

That’s it.

We all get the comma of grace.

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Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for this. Just this morning I was reading Ezekiel 36. As God promised to restore & redeem Israel, He points out that He is not going to do that because they deserve it. He is doing it to prove how great He is.

    That’s the story of my life, too. 19 years ago, He gave me a new heart, new life, and His Spirit.

  2. says

    I’m so glad you shared this. I have been writing about my broken messed up past on my blog. Now people are reaching out to me asking for help. I feel unqualified to share anything with them because I got out of the drug scene from going to prison. I didn’t use a program. God spoke to me through a three year break from life. I can’t very well recommend this as a method. I just need to share with them that Jesus wants them as is. No perfect people allowed. I will be sharing this with someone who just contacted me yesterday seeking God out of addiction. Thank you Jon!

    • Jen Baierl says

      Because of your story, my husband has been pressing me to tell my own. I keep thinking… “its just a story of brokenness and redemption, but how do I tell it without glorifying the past?” God is helping me see through others that because of my brokenness, I am qualified to lead others to Him. I am truly blessed by your blog, David Mike!

      • says

        Sometimes the past has to be told to talk about the redemption. That is where the glory is. I do not know your story (yet) but you should tell it. People will respond and God will use it for his glory! Start now! Thank you for your kind comment and your support.

      • says

        I think “glorifying the past” is an attitude more than the telling of the events. If you are doing it in such a way TO glorify the sin then that will come out, but if you are doing it to share God’s redemption then that is what will be heard. By all means share it!

        • says

          I struggled with the same concept at first. I discuss in detail what landed me in prison. I did not want to make it sound like it was cool or fun, but I had to describe the situations in a way that people would understand how low I fell. Blogging about it is harder because you have to wait for the redemption. Excerpt from where I left off in the story follows:

          “For the first time since I ran away, I made the decision to face my fears.

          I would walk through the fires that I had lit for myself.

          Taking too many easy ways out, had made my life the mess that it was.”

  3. says

    It took me a LIFETIME to discover that THIS is the heart God has for me. Literally! At age 64 God finally got me to the place that I listened when He told me (again, I’m sure) “JIM, I want to begin teaching U how I Love U”. That was 5 years ago.

    I had earned a Master’s Degree in rewriting the comma. I knew God Loved me, but thought He “didn’t like me very much”. I could come (back) into His Presence ONLY after I had earned the right to do so.

    Now, I not only KNOW God Loves me, His Son is my best friend. We like to take walks together in His Garden. Sometimes He asks me to lie down in a green pasture and rest for awhile. When we do that, we have some awesome chats together. He tells me about His Daddy and I tell Him about my world of troubles.

    He then gives me a hug and says: “Yeah, I know, that’s why I died for you”.

  4. says

    Excellent article! Too many times we look at failure as an end, a let down to the Father. We tend to become our failures. Yet, God is a redeeming Father. I didn’t see that for so long and sometimes still struggle with it. I know all about “staying out of His presence” until I get cleaned up enough. It’s funny that I have grace for others but I struggle to receive it myself. May the Father help us all see the comma of grace!

    • Ellen says

      Me, too! I work at a church full-time. I am 58 years old and have struggled most of my life with being able to accept that GOD LOVES ME.

  5. says

    Jon. Yesterday sucked. It really did. I told a bunch of my friends about it in #TheRealManCave. They lifted me up. Today, I’m turning back. You, my friend, have strengthened me. Now, I will strengthen others. Thanks. #Next3Decades

  6. says

    I was forwarded the body of this article with no author and it cracks me up to do a “google search” and find that it was written by you! It really doesn’t surprise me that you authored this awesome encouraging piece.

    I’ve been struggling, blindly struggling, for 4+ years in regards to my “walk” with Christ. Caught up in the “dos” and not realizing I need to simply “be”. Monday (yes, 4/21/14) I finally received and felt the peace of the Holy Spirit in the midst of what I would like to consider an unnecessary storm. I got a small scent of what heaven will be like: complete peace and rest from any possible troubles. It’s got to be the closest thing to heaven on earth.

    One thing I have realized in my case is, for a heart to be healed, it must be broken.

    Thanks for your awesome words of encouragement!

    With love in Christ!

  7. Jeff says

    I too am thankful for this post. Sure was like looking into a mirror and getting slapped in the face to wake up. So often I forget to accept grace. One other thing I drew from the passage is when Jesus said Satan had asked to sift him as wheat. That sure made me ask or wonder what has Satan asked to do to me or any of us? I love the response of Jesus when he comes back to basically say, but don’t worry I spoke for you. Another window to his grace, that He constantly goes to the Father on my behalf and others. I’m also reminded by your post that I need to extend the grace that has been given to me. So thanks again.

  8. says

    I never understood why Simon is said to have “betrayed” Jesus, just because he denied knowing him when the soldiers showed up. It’s not as if he went to the Romans and told them where to find him, or offered to testify against him.

    If standing beside Jesus would have actually accomplished something, I could see it being called a “betrayal”, but it would have made absolutely no difference, except that Simon might have ended up on a cross alongside him. What was so wrong with living to fight another day, instead of pointlessly sacrificing himself to achieve nothing?

      • says

        To me, “betraying one’s beliefs” would be something like preaching generosity and charity and then voting to slash food stamp funding. Or in his era, preaching charity and then telling a poor person to get lost when he asks for help. I don’t see what moral principle is violated by feigning ignorance to avoid the Roman sword.

        • Kathleen says

          Betrayal is an interpretation by people. In the Bible passage, Simon is told that he will deny knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crows, after Simon says he was prepared to stand by Jesus and go to prison with Him.

          Judas was the betrayer.

          • Caleb says

            Good post Kathleen. I think that the issue is not with the word “betrayed” but with what he did. In Mat 10:26-33 we’re told “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (28). By fearing the people he was putting more on what man can do instead of resting his faith on God. Jesus was very clear that following him meant dying to one”s self, and Simon was only caring about himself. I hope this somehow blesses you.

    • Danielle says

      I think that this is a very interesting point. I don’t know enough to agree with it, but it’s thought provoking.

  9. Tiffany says

    Jon,
    Wow… just wow…. Yesterday I was laughing out loud, today I am in tears. Thanks for all of your articles and thanks for sharing them with us all.

  10. Allen says

    Great post! But honestly when I first read this my brain saw “Grace Coma” . I had to read it just to find out what a grace coma was….lol

    Nice job, funny and inspiring as always.

  11. says

    You are so right Jon. I just shared my story of sexual abuse and it was a struggle for several days to go back to that time. But many have reached to me for help and it has gone a long way in the healing process. The broken help lead the broken and everyone gets to heal. Blessings :)

  12. lilbouf says

    Hi Jon – I love your posts (and I don’t know you personally). I like the theme of this one. This comment is NOT meant to deter from your overall message. However, please let me say that one issue that I’ve had since my earliest Bible study days is when people put too much emphasis on the grammar of the Bible.

    I question whether, in the multiple translations, and thousands of years since it’s writing, and variety of languages that it has been interpreted into, that the “comma” is not actually where it “originally” was (if it was ever there at all).

    I had one pastor who ALWAYS talked about commas and I always thought: “What if you found out that God didn’t intend that comma there and some medieval monk was trying to put his own poetic spin on things added it?” (Which is something that monks DID do to lots of manuscripts).

    Commas, periods, colons, exclamation points, italics. Some of these things we put too much emphasis on (no pun intended) and forget that nobody actually sat down at a word processor and typed out the Bible. It evolved through hundreds of stylistic interpretations over 2,000 years and to say that a piece of punctuation is exactly the way it was in ancient Hebrew or Greek is, to me, kind of ridiculous.

    Again, it’s not just you, I’ve heard this kind of thing my whole life and it really irks me.

    • Danielle says

      I think he is being more metaphorical and less literal.

      I think he is saying that the effect of the comma is the powerful, regardless of the origin.

      I could also very likely be wrong.

  13. says

    Thanks for the reminder, Jon. (you made me cry!)

    I think the biggest lie we hear whispered in our ears is that because of our mess ups & mistakes, we’re unqualified to get back in the ring.

    Sometimes the voice is spoken from our own feelings of inadequacy. Sometimes it’s the flat out lies of Satan. Sometimes it’s well-meaning Christians.

    But God is a God of second-chances. And sometimes getting back up is the hardest–but most important–thing to do.

    Because your story isn’t over yet.

  14. Ellen says

    Oh, my, how I needed to hear this. I shared it with family and friends. We could all use a good dose of patience with ourselves and an outpouring of God’s grace. Thank you, Jon. You are my favorite blogger.

  15. Brooke says

    Just last night I asked God to let me stop praying for someone who has turned their back on Him, their family, on everything they had that was good. This person has just bailed out on the faith. But God keeps prompting me to pray for this person. Then today, I read this. Maybe God is getting ready to drop that comma of grace on them like a grenade. Maybe I need to be ready for that too. I haven’t wanted to pray, but this pricked me. Thank you for making me accountable to my friend, and for convicting me. Jon, you are so good when you are funny, but you are so good when you are not. Thank you.

  16. GraftedByGrace says

    Right in the midst of the comma is a good place to shout with a voice of triumph! Hallelujah to the Lamb for His grace and (pre) forgiveness!

  17. Hannah says

    ‘Here I am preaching and talking about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ’ Eph 3:10 (Message)

  18. says

    I almost fell out of my chair when I came across this passage a few years ago. Thanks for the reminder. We are going to fail, but then we need to not only accept grace, but share with others to strengthen them.

  19. Denise Jackson says

    Thank you for sharing your enlightenment from your study. I am sure I have read those very words, and never grasped the magnitude of the meaning, or how they applied to me. I am touched this morning. Thank you.

  20. Jennifer says

    This was so awesome!
    I’m a post-abortive woman and I help facilitate a post-abortion support class/Bible study 2-3 times a year. Sharing God’s message of healing and forgiveness is essental to help a woman, or a man return to effective service for Jesus Christ.
    The lies of Satan tell sinners that you have nothing to offer if you’ve sinned. That, even if you’ve repented, your sin makes you unusable by the Lord.
    I offer that He has come to bind-up the brokenhearted. That we will be oaks of righteousness, a planting for His glory. There is no glory in sin, but it’s not the end of story. As believers, His righteousness is our righteousness. By the sufficiency of His sacrifice, we are made whole and fully equipped by Him to serve; to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.
    “And when you turn back, strengthen your brothers.” How beautiful! “Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin!” Amen!
    Let us throw off the yoke of unforgivenes and embrace the throne of grace!
    Let us serve Him now and with confidence!
    Again, thank you for your post.

  21. says

    Such a beautiful expression of what it truly means to be a child of God. Forgiveness and sacrifice. Reminds me of the three parables Jesus told related to the subject. The prodigal son, the lost coin, and the lost sheep.

    Beyond the parable, the sacrifice of Jesus is one big story of the redemption of humankind. We failed. God forgave through sacrifice.

    Thanks for this post Jon, it truly exemplifies what Easter is all about.

  22. says

    This is a great story. Each of us has a story, sometimes it’s ongoing, but the truth of our story and the transparency of it is what is impactful to others these days. Stories have permeated our culture so it seems fitting that we tell our own and include the impact that knowing the risen Christ has had on us through our experiences. Thanks for illustrating just how beautiful Grace really is.

  23. says

    This simply rocks, and I am partly disgusted at myself (not really…well…a little, because I’m like that) for just opening this email today. Bet I really needed it now though. :)

  24. Je Ann says

    Wow. I am blown away by how powerful that message is! Like stunned into emotional shock! Thank you so much for sharing that Jon!

  25. Greg Dressel says

    One thing I’ve come to understand about Abba is His favorite hobby is redemention. The bible is full of accounts of redemention, even Jesus’ geniology screams redemention.

    It doesn’t matter how you start the race or how you run the middle of the race. It matters how you finish. We need to learn how powerful our testimony is in reality. Revelations says they overcame by the Blood of the Lamb and thier testimony. Thier testimony is only powerful because He shed His Blood to redeem us. The story of the prodigal, is my story and yours. We are the son who wasted so much, but Abba literally is standing waiting for us, love motivates His heart. Love set us free, by The Lord of all becoming the sacrifice for our mess, once and for all. Good news indeed….

  26. Jim says

    I really appreciate your words. I can’t tell you in my words just what this means to me. Please accept a heartfelt thank you from the very depths of my heart.

Trackbacks

  1. […] The Comma of Grace :: “He gives us the gift of the comma and then asks us to strengthen our brothers. Not beat ourselves with emotional whips. Or lay in a hole of shame. Or stay to the shadows of church, afraid to be seen.” Being a grammar geek, I love this illustration of the comma of grace. We don’t deserve it, yet we all need it. […]

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