Why Grace isn’t Leniency

I get the impression that when most followers of Jesus hear the word “grace” what comes to mind for them is more akin to “leniency.” This makes me sad and mad. kidsnosepick.jpg

A lenient father lets his kid get away with murder, while smiling and nodding and affirming, “Boys will be boys.” When his boy does wrong, a lenient father looks the other way. Or cleans up the mess himself. Or relaxes his standards so that his son’s wrongs aren’t really wrongs at all. In no case does a lenient father get in his child’s face, confront him with his wrongdoing, and demand a change of life. From the standpoint of leniency, “it’s all good.”


To be lenient means to be permissive and tolerant to others who violate standards.

How far from the heart of God and his grace! God is not and cannot ever be lenient. He would throw the cosmos out of balance if he showed leniency. If God were lenient he would be permissive. But he is not permissive. He has clear standards of right and wrong, and has revealed them to us in his Word. If God were lenient he would be tolerant. But he is not tolerant in the true sense of that word. Yes, he waits to execute his judgment, but his judgment will be executed in the end. Only our limited temporal perspective causes us to think for a moment that God is lenient, or that he tolerates those who violates his standard.

Which is why GRACE is such an amazing reality. Grace has absolutely nothing at all to do with lenience.

cross1.jpgIn his grace, God sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. In that saving role, Jesus Christ absorbed the full weight of God’s infinite hatred of sin. On the Cross, God poured out his perfectly measured wrath against the sin of the world. Every sin was punished. In full. No leniency there, right? No tolerance there. No permissiveness in sight.

Leniency would be God ignoring our sin. Grace means that he stared it in the eye and blasted it with the hot breath of righteous indignation.

Leniency would be God permitting sin. Grace means that God, having judged our sins in Christ at Calvary, now expects us to live as Jesus lived–but, thankfully, he gives us the power to do it.

Leniency would mean that Calvary was unnecessary. But grace REQUIRES that somebody has to die: either the sinner must die, or God’s holiness must die, or a substitute must die.

  • If the sinner died, that would be justice. It is what we deserved, and none of us could complain. But that would make us awfully hot forever, wouldn’t it?crossvandyke.jpg
  • If God’s holiness died, he would cease being God, and the universe would be thrown into chaos and evil.
  • If a substitute died, then God can maintain his integrity and holiness while simultaneously accepting sinners instead of condemning them. This is the option God elected. All grace. Pure grace. Free grace.

This is grace, and only the Bible teaches it. There is no other faith-system, there is no religious system in all the annals of history that even comes close to this simple, logical, beautiful message of God’s grace.

swindle-prodigal-son.jpgNever subtract Calvary, never subtract the Crucifixion and the shed blood of Jesus, never subtract the imputation of your sins to Christ, and Jesus’ consequent sacrificial death in your place, from your conception of grace. For God to be kind to you, for God to forgive you, for God to embrace, accept, and love you, REQUIRED THAT A BRUTAL EXECUTION TAKE PLACE. Never forget it. And never doubt that Christ’s death is all-sufficient.

Grace minus the Cross equals leniency. God is not lenient.

But he is gracious. And that is his glory.


6 thoughts on “Why Grace isn’t Leniency

  1. Beautifully said, Dr. G. Please add the resurrection because without it, the death is meaningless. (I know you know this!!!)

  2. I hate to admit this, but at the very moment I realized the kids in that first pic were picking their nose… I was picking my nose.


    Well, it’s true. And I’ve come clean. Well, perhaps a little more clean after I’ve washed my hands. My poor keyboard.


  3. Good distinction here, Bill. I remember the time a Christian student of mine plagiarized her senior research paper in my English class. She failed the course–but her dad, a motivational Christian speaker, explained that the Christian thing to do was extend grace and ignore the instance of dishonesty.

    It got ugly.

    Because grace doesn’t mean we can cheat our way to God–or a high school diploma.

    Thanks for visiting GoodWordEditing.com!

  4. Beautifully, beautifully said.

    God confronts me with my sin. Doesn’t allow me to “get away with” it. But He does extend amazing, costly grace.

  5. Started reading a new Tozer book & thought you’d like this. Maybe this is where you got if from?
    Tozer says, (The Knowledge of the Holy pg. 27)
    “To this I reply that, because we are the handiwork of God, it follows that all our problems and their solutions are theological.”

  6. Sean,
    Great book (The Knowledge of the Holy, by Tozer). Read it years ago, so I’m not conscious that this is where I got today’s post from. But I’m sure it has influenced my thinking. Thanks for the comment.

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