Friday’s section of “The God of Grace and Judgment” asks the question, “What’s the deadly spiritual trap of thinking that because we’re saved by grace, it doesn’t matter what we do? How can you protect yourself against falling into that deception?”
On the golf course we have another word for grace. It is called a “mulligan.” After you make a terrible shot, your partner may offer you a mulligan. You take another shot and the first shot does not count. It’s like it never happened. I love grace and I love mulligans. However, one day, when I first took up golf, I was golfing with Ron, my good friend and golf mentor. We were on the 6th fairway at the Rivard Golf Course in Brooksville. It is a par 5. I was about 50 yards away from the green and about to make my third stroke. If I hit the green I would be on in three strokes, and with two putts could easily make par. My third stroke went wide left and hit a tree. Ron, who is very gracious and forgiving told me to take a mulligan. I graciously accepted and dropped another ball at the original spot and tried again. I hit the tree again. Frustrated I grabbed another ball and dropped it and hit again with the same result. Now I was becoming very frustrated because I knew I could do it, it just wasn’t happening. It was just bad luck and I was determined I wasn’t going to let bad luck control my scorecard. I dropped another ball and got ready to experience more “grace” by taking another mulligan. Then it occurred to me that I may have been taking advantage of the mulligan system. Many take one mulligan but I was taking several. I asked my friend Ron, “Does anybody else do this?” Referring to taking multiple mulligans. Ron shook his head in disbelief and with a hint of frustration in his voice firmly said, “no!”.
Grace is a wonderful thing, but it is not intended to let us make the same mistakes over and over. Sure, there is always forgiveness. When our heart is broken because of sin, the Psalmist declares in Psalms 51, “a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” I know with all my heart that God will never turn away a heart that is broken because of a sin no matter how many times sin has broken that heart before. At the same time grace is more than just forgiveness. Grace is a power that helps us overcome our failures.
Grace gives us power to obey and do good works
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10
By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith. Romans 1:5
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. Titus 2:11-12
We have a relatively new senior pastor at our church who likes golf. Pastor Brad allows me to take mulligans, but he never takes them himself. He holds himself to a higher standard than what he requires of me. To me that is a model Christian. Freely forgiving others while holding himself to a higher standard. Funny thing is he wins all the time.
One day we were playing on the Babe Zaharias golf course near our church in Tampa. The second hole is a par 4. My first drive went short and wide left towards some trees. I wanted to take a mulligan, but since Pastor Brad wasn’t taking them, I thought I better just play it straight and accept another double or triple bogey. Strange thing happened on my second shot. Using my fairway wood, my second shot sailed close to 200 yards and the ball landed next to the green. I chipped onto the green and my first putt fell in the hole for par! I walked off the green and thought, “Wow! Even with a bad drive I made par without taking a mulligan.” That felt good.
To me, my friend Ron and my friend Pastor Brad, make a good combination of grace. Ron sitting in the golf cart patiently as I kept hitting the tree over and over with my chip shot, and Pastor Brad challenging me by holding himself to a higher standard. I have learned in golf, that what I need instead of a mulligan is a really good second stroke. I have also learned that when I make double par the world does not come to an end. I need both Ron and pastor Brad in my life as well as my golf game. They give me the proper balance I need to improve my game.
While I may not always need mulligans, I will always need grace, because grace is more than a second chance. Grace is the power to improve my game and my life.