This morning on my way to work I noticed a police car sitting alongside the road. In a moment of panic I looked down at my odometer sure that I must be speeding and was going to find myself on the receiving end of a ticket. I was relieved to see I was only doing 43. I was safe from the long arm of the law, although I still watched out of the rearview mirror half expecting him to come get me anyways. I was not yet 100% certain that 43 was an appropriate speed for that section of road. A quarter mile further along I saw a sign that confirmed that all was well. The posted speed limit was 40 mph. I was perfectly legal.
As I breathed my sigh of relief it hit me. Although I would certainly not get a ticket for going 43 in a 40, I was in fact in no way driving inside the legal limits. I was speeding, and an officer could be justified in handing me a ticket. The speed limit, or the upper bounds of the law, allows for a speed not in excess of 40 mph. I was traveling at a speed of 43 mph, which is 3 mph higher than the established legal ceiling.
That is 7.5% faster than I should have been traveling, for you math geeks.
I knew that I was safe, though, because I understand that even though it is not official, there is grace built into the system for traffic violations. We are taught from our first days behind the wheel that as long as you remain within 5 miles per hour of the speed limit you are safe from receiving a ticket. This grace allows for instrument malfunction, imperfectly calibrated odometers, margin of error in the radar gun (which is variable because of the cosine effect) and other factors. If the posted limit is 40 mph it is a safe bet to travel at 45 mph without worry of being pulled over (At least for speed. I worry every officer is always going to pull me over and I never know why).
This grace is an interesting thing, though. Although it is built to guard against many possible mechanic imperfections, and the impossibility for any driver to maintain a perfectly level speed in light of the mechanics of the car, grade of slope of the road, and weather, the grace limit becomes the speed limit.
When I get behind the wheel of the car and see a sign telling me the limit is 70 mph, I immediately set my cruise control to 75. When I see 35, I drive 40. When I see 15, I hover around 20. No matter what the speed limit is, without a thought I take the grace to the furthest possible reaches and call that the legal limit.
Today it hit me, isn’t that what I do in life in general? Isn’t that how I live my Christian life? I know there is grace, and so I use it without thinking.
I know that profane language should not proceed from the mouth of a Christian, and I have a clean vocabulary 99% of the time, but when I do slip, or want to quote a movie line, and the kids are not around, I will let out an utterance that I shouldn’t without worry. There is grace so I do not have to beat myself up to hard.
The same goes for my movies. I know I shouldn’t watch pornography, but sometimes you just want to watch a movie and there happens to be a sex scene. It is just one small scene, grace covers that.
Telling a lie is never good, but I might be tempted to tell a small one if I thought it could lead to something better. Grace covers that, and is it really bad if it is lying for a good cause? Besides, we all know the commandment against lying is really about giving a false witness in a legal proceeding…
Love my neighbor as myself? All of them? Even that one guy? I do my best, but I can’t be expected to love everyone. Thank God for His grace.
The list goes on and on.
Of course, I know that I will never be perfect. I will always struggle with many things, and I thank God daily for His grace. Given a million years I could never achieve the perfection required to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I couldn’t live the perfect day, much less a perfect life.
Perhaps, though, it is time to stop abusing grace. When I see even small sins in my life, instead of falling back on grace I should pray and seek ways to remove that sin. The Lord knows I have enough areas to work on that I will never arrive, but why should I let that stop me from trying to live my life as close as I can to what he calls for.
I should seize grace with everything I have, knowing that it is by grace I have been saved, but perhaps I should not abuse that same grace by using it for a safety net for things I know beforehand I should not do.
I by no means believe in becoming legalistic, or trying to earn the favor of God by performing better, but believe that perhaps my love for God should cause me to want to be better for Him. I will always need His grace, and am nothing without it, but through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, the Word that He has given us, and my love for Him, perhaps I should need that grace less for the little day to day things that I should be working out of my life.
Just because His grace covers a slip of the tongue does not mean that I shouldn’t try to hold my tongue a little tighter.
As for the speed limit, that is something else altogether. If I went 70 in a 70 I would be run of the road. Besides, I wouldn’t want to impede the flow of traffic…
J. W. Willard