- Eldon Peterson
Grace Is Not a Mulligan or Reset
As I tried to think of an image to communicate the concept of grace, I toyed with several possibilities. Some suggest that grace means getting a second chance. What they are saying is that grace means pretending that something didn’t happen –like a mulligan. A Mulligan, in a game, happens when a player gets a second chance to perform a certain move or action due to lack of skill or bad luck. A "Do-Over".
However, a mulligan does not capture the definition of grace; grace is something greater. With a mulligan the error is not overlooked it is simply not accounted for. There will be, however, a limit to the number of mulligans that my friends will give me! So, while there is a sense of a “Do-Over” in grace, it completely misses the meaning of grace because grace has no limits.
How about a reset button, does that get us closer? It does but it is still not close enough. The reset button take us back to a restore point – back to the original configuration. This is closer to defining grace because the reset is bigger than the mulligan for it gives us a fresh start rather than simply a do-over. Nevertheless, this too falls short of defining grace. Pushing the reset on something with faulty software does little good – it does not solve the problem it simply delays them.
The problem is in our “original configuration”. The Bible tells us that from birth we were sinners, “For I was born a sinner-yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” (Psalms 51:5) Ephesians 2:3 tells us that we are all “by nature children of wrath” because we are all by nature sinners. This is not how God originally designed the human race, but we fell into sin and became sinful due to the sin of Adam. Therefore, simply pushing the reset button continues the problem rather than solving it.
What we need is something even greater to liken to grace. Rather than a do over or a restart, we need to be made new. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul tells us that, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” Do you understand what Paul is saying? We need something more than a retrofit; we need a complete overhaul; this is grace.
Too often in home remodeling, homeowners believe they can save time and money by taking shortcuts rather than doing the complete overhaul recommended. Logically it seems cheaper and easier to patch the walls rather than stripping them down to the studs and re-sheetrock the room. However, this can be a poor choice as it may leave the walls looking like a patch job rather than finished as we desired. To some, grace is like this. They wrongly assume that the walls of their lives are straight and that the repairs needed are minor. They believe that with some hard work they can make it good as new.
While it is true that hard work can make us better, we will find that before God better is not good enough. God requires perfection and no matter how good we can become, we will still fall short of what we need. For the sake of argument, assume that we could possibly work off all our sin and reach a point of where we no longer sinned; it would still not erase our deficit starting place of being “born a sinner.” We need grace, because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Grace gives us what we do not deserve. While we deserve God’s wrath, it is likely that we desire forgiveness. Forgiveness is not like a mulligan that pretends that we did not sin, nor is it like a reset button that allows us to start over only to repeat the problem. Grace makes us a “new creation” meaning that we are no longer a slave to sin but are now a slave to righteousness.
When people tell you that grace is something that you need to earn or work for, set them straight. Tell them that if grace were something we needed to work for it would be a wage and not grace. Ask them if they want the wage they have earned or if they would rather have the gift purchased for them in Christ, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)