Payback culture, it’s the way the world works. You scratch my back and I scratch yours. You hurt me and I expect compensation. You let me down and I demand you make it up to me. It’s the law of Karma where our misdemeanours must be atoned for by our good deeds lest we end up locked in a cycle of retributive justice. Karma says we get what we deserve and leaves our sense of self dangling on the thin thread of our personal performance.

This culture of payback pollutes teams, families and marriages. Relational standoffs in which we refuse to drop our judgments and opinions of others until they have suffered or submitted to our way of thinking. Sadly holding a grudge or nursing an offence perceived or otherwise can soil our relations and block the path to spiritual wellbeing.

Grace destroys the law of Karma. Grace is the wonderful gift that in Jesus we receive what we don’t deserve and are treated with a new love and honour above what we could expect or imagine. 

Romans 5:2 tells us that we have accessed, by faith, “this grace upon which we now stand”.

Paul is telling us that we have left the payback economy and entered the environment of grace. In Jesus we live in the climate not of reward and punishment but of forgiveness and favour. Grace simply translated is the bible’s word for gift. That is, we act as God has acted toward us, favouring and serving one another simply by choosing to give.

That means that we are prompted to give others what they don’t deserve; the gift of forgiveness, the gift of honour, the gift of self-giving love, for the benefit of others.

Grace has been the focus of biblical scholar John Barclay’s recent thinking. He makes the point that in Paul’s world gifts were given with an expectation. Not the prospect of payback in kind, but of connection in relationship.

“gifts are part of a circular exchange, an ongoing cycle where the gift is intended to create or maintain a social relationship”

Grace, it seems, is heavenly glue, in our giving, community and connections are forged.

What would, I wonder, a culture informed and shaped by this grace look like?

I imagine it would have a “pay it forward” ethos. To “pay forward” is to pass on what we have received. Grace is a circular economy in which we give away what we have received and see that culture of giving and forgiving and forbearing circulate amongst us.

That must involve taking initiative to break out of our comfort zones and move towards those who are different from us or even offended against us.

It will require costly forgiveness demanding that we forgive in the same way as we have been forgiven in Jesus.

It will look like choosing to be patient as we bear one another’s burdens, listen fully to one another, and simply stand with another, when their world falls in.
Marriage counsellors talk about the relational space that exists between two people (this works for teams and groups too!). They remind us that we have the choice to place into the space, words and actions which may either pollute the space or purify.

Grace has changed the world. Standing on, and living in, grace has the potential to recreate our worlds. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be more than a pleasant postscript to our gathering together, but the spiritual atmosphere in which we live out our lives.