As a kid I used to get grace confused with excuses. Like when mistakes were made, explanations were offered, and the wronged party was expected to say “That’s ok,” and repeat the explanation back as an accepted excuse for whatever happened. If the explanation was accepted like this, it was grace. If it was not accepted then it was an excuse.

This social dynamic always bothered me. If “grace” happened, the mistake wasn’t actually addressed and nothing changed; in fact the mistake was usually repeated somewhere down the road. The hurt experienced by the wronged party was devalued and also unaddressed. To me it looked like “grace” meant if you had a good enough story you could get away with anything and experience unending acceptance. On the other hand, if you were bad at storytelling there was no grace for you.

This was especially confusing when trying to learn about the grace of God. This false understanding of grace applied to the grace of God meant silver-tongues were the only ones heading up to heaven. I was relieved to read the bible for myself and find out that statement wasn’t true, but I still did not understand grace.

It wasn’t until I met someone who challenged me and told me excuses were excuses. The quality of the story and explanation did not change an excuse into anything other than an excuse. When you make a mistake, own it and do your best to not only make it right with the wronged party but also to change. They told me how corrosive excuse making can be to your character over time, and that it was important to cut excuses off in your life.

At first I was uncomfortable with this new perspective on excuses. I decided not to throw it out, but to sit with it and think on it a while. Ultimately I came to agree with the fact that excuses are excuses and nothing else.

I felt liberated.

If an excuse was and excuse and not also means of grace then I didn’t have to cling so tightly to excuses for acceptance. I could just be me, my mistakes could just be mistakes that I could work to change. It meant that all the times my feelings had been hurt counted, and deserved a grieving process. All the cover stories could be let go. Whether they were my cover stories, or those from others. I didn’t need them anymore.

I realized that all those excuses I had curated over the years became a sort of bondage. Without realizing it, the excuses I accepted kept me from healing; and all the excuses I offered kept me from growing. I tried to use excuses as a short cut to grace and ended up stunted and confused.

The truth is, there is no shortcut to grace. Because grace meets you where you are. Not the story of where you are, but where you actually are.

In Ephesians 2 Paul describes where we all are before Jesus enters our hearts and lives:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NASV)

The “children of wrath” life may look different for everyone in their day to day reality, maybe even downright banal. The truth is, underneath we’re dead. Whether keeping all the rules of culture, or breaking all the rules. Whether rich or poor, glamorous or plain, in a big family or alone, all are influenced by the spirit of the age and what we feel like at any given moment. No matter what all the media platforms say, none of these influences seem to bring life into the situations we are living out.

The story doesn’t end with “Dead in sin,” though. There’s good news, and spoiler alert, it’s Jesus:

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” (Eph. 2:4-9 NASV)

God gives us some of Jesus’ resurrection life. So even though we’re already dead inside, we’re made alive. We’re saved from all the wrong turns and shame that’s killing us little by little, and it’s not by any cover story or excuse – not by anything we can do or offer – but by grace. Jesus meets us where we’re at with all His love and grace and brings us back to life because He wants us to be a part of His family.

Grace is something un-earnable. Not through works, not through words. No story can earn it, no logical sequence. Just forgiveness because of love; mercy because of kindness. It has everything to do with who Jesus is and nothing to do with the narrative.

Sometimes in church culture we think we’re acting out of grace by making excuses for sin, or explaining destructive behavior. But it’s the opposite of grace, because it leaves the person in bondage to excuses and dead in sin. We, as Christians, don’t need to make excuses for each other. We just need Jesus. We just need to be who we actually are in His presence, own it and ask Him for forgiveness. Forgiveness that He’s had waiting for this very moment since He bought it 2000 years ago.

-Etta Woods