Grace Is Free, But It Isn't Cheap

In the fall of 2025, I will begin my 30th year of ministry. It’s been a whirlwind of an adventure with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I have stories of redemption and victory. I have stories of failure and defeat. Few of those stories carry more value to me than the one I’m about to tell you. 

I’ve carried many titles in ministry over the years; Children’s Minister, Youth Minister, Worship Minister, Executive Minister, Discipleship Minister, and Minister of Engagement. I’ve also worked with dozens of other ministers throughout the years. Some were amazing, while others…well….not so much. One young minister I worked with showed me how grace can change a person in ways most wouldn’t believe.

I can’t remember which day of the week it was, but I remember being asked by my friend, Jim, to come to our Sr. Minister’s office to talk about something. It was really odd as he was trembling a little and really nervous. As we sat down in the Sr. Minister’s office to talk, Jim let us know that his girlfriend had gotten on his computer and found where he had been looking at pornography. He was obviously defeated, embarrassed, and ready to hand in his resignation. The two of them could have just worked it out together, but he didn’t feel it was right to keep it hidden from us. What our Sr. Minister did blew my mind.

In most churches, discovering that a staff member was looking at pornography is an instant fire. It’s considered as almost unreconcilable and ministry suicide. Jim knew this, so he had his mind set that he would need to seek employment elsewhere and that his ministry was over. You can only imagine the shock on his face when our Sr. Minister said, “Well, what do we need to do, because you aren’t going anywhere?” As a group, we laid out what needed to happen to restore Jim and get his heart aimed back at Christ. He wasn’t fired. He wasn’t shunned. He wasn’t sent away in disgust. He was given grace.  Jim was then told, “Where grace is given, much is expected.”

Over the course of the next couple of years, Jim attended Celebrate Recovery weekly and became more focused than ever on his walk with Christ. He reconciled with his girlfriend, and they are now married with beautiful children. Although he is no longer in ministry today, he is heavily involved in the same church, volunteering in multiple areas and rarely missing a Sunday service. If you were to ask him today what one of the most pivotal moments in his life was, I can guarantee he would talk about that day in our Sr. Minister’s office and the grace that he was given.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6–8

It’s so easy for us to say we are willing to give grace to people, but it’s rare that ministers ever get that same grace. We hold our leaders to a different standard, and we absolutely should. However, there is no one who is without sin. There is no one who can say they’ve lived the perfect life. Even though ministers live out their faith publicly in every part of their lives, including their employment, there are times of failure. I can’t tell you how many of my friends made a single bad choice, and it cost them their ministry…not just in their current church but for the rest of their lives. Surely, someone who is living their life as a leader and minister would be wiser. Sometimes, bad choices happen.

Take the apostle Peter. As a young disciple, he was the most outspoken of the original twelve that Jesus called out to follow Him. He was the one who seemed to have the most passion and fervor. Of all of the young men that followed Christ for those three years, Peter would probably be the one that most would consider the top of the class. He walked on water for crying out loud! However, one night, Jesus would say something that shook him.

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
Matthew 26:30–35

Jesus told Peter that he would betray Him three times. One would’ve been bad enough, but three times? This didn’t sit well with Peter, and he swore it wouldn’t happen. Shortly after this, Peter even cut off the ear of a man who tried to arrest Jesus. He wasn’t going to betray Him. They had walked together for three years. He had learned at the feet of the Son of God Himself. Surely, if anyone would betray Jesus, it wouldn’t be Peter. 

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Matthew 26:69–75

The man who swore he would follow Him unto death had just denied even knowing Jesus three times. Peter, the head of the class, the star pupil, the most faithful of the disciples, had just failed miserably in front of many. What would Jesus do with him? Surely, given that he was considered a leader and spent his life following Christ, he would have to step down from his place of leadership, right? Shortly after his resurrection, Christ appeared to the disciples as they were fishing. After they had caught their fish, they ate together.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
John 21:15–17

In that moment, Jesus showed grace to Peter. He asked him three times for a reason. He wanted Peter to remember what had happened but then gave him a mission. When God shows us His grace, we have a response. Because of His grace, we must serve even more fervently. We must feed and tend his sheep. Grace is free, but it isn’t cheap. 

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