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Is there grace after salvation?

Unsplash/ Jon Tyson

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Karl Menninger once said, “Love cures people — both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.”

As a Christian counselor with a private practice, I have seen the power of God’s love and grace at work in the people I have had the privilege to counsel over the years. Many of these people have had difficult lives, experiencing severe trauma, especially in childhood.  Others have had proclivities towards various sins, often covering up a deeper wound in their life.

Pastors, counselors, coaches, and other church leaders are often on the front lines when it comes to ministering to people with wounded or messy lives.  Often, they are the first person that hears someone’s tragic story, wounded heart, messy life, and personal struggle with sin. And whether you are a pastor, church leader, or a counselor, like me, how we respond to people can either give them hope or further wound their soul.

For example, a person from your church comes to you to confess their sins, telling you they have a problem with pornography, gambling, drug addiction, lying, etc. This is a person who has been a believer for years, has a strong faith background and involvement in your church, and may even quote the Bible better than you can. They come to you because they want to change — they are hungry for freedom from this sin.

How do you react? What do you do? How do you proceed?

I believe too often, that fellow Christians are not able to tell their stories of woundedness or sins to pastors, church leaders, or counselors — the very people they should be able to feel safe with and to be honest and transparent--without feeling shamed. And if we are making them feel shamed, we need to ask ourselves, “Do we believe there is grace after salvation?”

I heard a story told once, that really hit home when it comes to extending grace to fellow believers:

A man in Ireland was very much under conviction, but somehow, he couldn’t give in to the Lord. Over and over the devil would make him believe he just couldn’t hold on. Nearby was a watermill. Pointing to it a Christian friend said, “What turns the wheel today?” “The stream,” replied the Irishman.      

“And what will turn it tomorrow?”

Again, he answered, “The stream.”         

“And the day after?”

The only answer there was to give was, “The stream.” That is like God’s grace. The

same grace that saves us today is flowing to keep us saved tomorrow — and the next day — and the next day — on till Jesus comes. 

You see, the reason I call attention to this, is that I have the unique distinction of being both a professional counselor as well as former patient. I went to Bible college and had been trained as a pastor before deciding to be a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I was a believer and involved at church. I knew Scripture verses and preached them. However,almost eight years ago, I found myself walking into rehab for substance abuse. My story was very messy. I had suffered severe trauma throughout my childhood — being sexually abused as well as emotionally and physically abused. And it all started at the age of four. I had immense anxiety along with depression. And I became addicted to prescription medications and struggled with other addictions.

On the outside, everything appeared “normal” for many years — until it didn’t. In fact, my life fell apart. But God was in the messiness, and by His grace, a considerable part of my healing came about by being able to talk to safe people about my falling short.

James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another so that you may be healed.” He makes it clear that the pathway to healing is paved when we can be transparent and confess our sins, rather than hiding them and wearing a mask so that everyone thinks we are all right. 

Wounded Christians need safe people for healing and restoration — someone who sees them, in all their flaws, as still an image bearer. A safe person is a pastor, counselor, or church leader who sees everyone as a person loved by God, and thus, is motivated to show them the love, grace, and hope of Christ. Which means, a safe person is not going to be proud by pointing fingers or increasing a person’s shame. Rather, they live considering Romans 3:23 which says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Safe people do not assume the role of the Holy Spirit in trying to convict the person they are counseling. They don’t feel superior when the individual confesses their sin or tells their messy story. And safe people don’t roll their eyes, sigh, or shake their heads while the wounded person is opening up to them.

I believe as pastors, church leaders, and counselors, we must keep in the forefront of our minds 1 John 1:8-9, which says, “If we say we have no sin, we lie, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins.”

As both a Christian counselor and a wounded Christian who needed the restoration and healing of Christ, it’s incumbent upon us to be humble when counseling other believers. We must treat them and their story with value. And we must really show the love and grace of Jesus to each one that walks into our office to find hope, healing, and restoration.

Galatians 6:1 says, “Restore one gently, lest you fall into sin.”

There is no doubt that pastors and church leaders have a lot on their plates. And counseling wounded souls is never an easy task. But perhaps, when people come to us wanting to share their burdens, their sin, and their trauma, we look at this opportunity as stepping on Holy ground and consider it a privilege to be able to bare one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ.

The care, love, and grace that you pour into people will never come back void, because God is in the messiness of each of our lives, and His redemption is for all who accept it.

Dr. Mark M. McNear is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, maintaining a private practice in New Jersey. He has over thirty years of experience in clinical work. A graduate of Northeastern Bible College, New York University, and Oxford Graduate School, Dr. McNear just released his memoir, Finding My Words: A Ruthless Commitment to Healing Gently After Trauma, through Renown Publishing.

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