Audio Version

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

Let’s talk about grace for a minute.

I learned a lot about following Jesus from my friend Tom, better known as Coach Allen to the Hoosier football faithful and thousands more through coaching stops across the country from South Florida, Ole Miss, and Arkansas State to Lambuth, Drake, and Wabash. We taught and led FCA together at Ben Davis for several years. Fourteen years ago, almost to the day, I had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and even though I was out of it on morphine, I can still remember Tom, with tears in his eyes, praying for me.

He’s that kind of guy. He’s got a few more zeroes at the end of his paycheck now, but he’s still the same good dude passionate about helping his coaches and players grow and develop in every aspect of their lives. 

He’s also the hardest working, most intense, passionate man I’ve ever known. Just watch him on the sidelines or YouTube one of his press conferences or pregame speeches and you’ll see what I mean.

As I was thinking about grace, I was reminded of a day when Tom, serving as Dean of Students at the time, was on the phone with a parent whose kid was about to be disciplined for being tardy for what seemed like the hundredth time.

“But Mr. Allen,” the parent queried. “I thought we lived in the age of grace.”

Now I taught high school long enough to hear my share of creative excuses, but that one was at least in my top three.

“Yes, we do. But your son still has to serve his detention,” Tom replied. “That’s the consequence of his behavior.”

That’s the rub about grace, isn’t it?  

Grace. Unmerited favor. Free gift. Not my works. God giving me what I need. God doing for me what I can’t do on my own. 

Consequences. Punishment. Paying the penalty for my sin. Getting what I deserve. Detention. 

How do these two concepts fit together? The father thought grace would get his kid out of detention, the natural consequences of his sins. And he was expecting Tom to turn a blind eye to what was clearly a repeated violation of the school’s policies, as if it were really no big deal.

I think that highlights one of our misconceptions about grace. It’s the thought pattern that goes something like this. I know that as long as I ask God to forgive me of my sins, He will look the other way because my sin isn’t really that big of a deal and overall I’m a pretty good guy. The law, by the way, is kind of like the school’s tardy policy—a little arbitrary, a little out of date, and I’m not sure it really applies to me. 

That sounds more like a grandpa spoiling his grandchild than the New Testament. 

Sin is a big deal. Sin creates a debt that somebody must pay. If I run a stoplight and hit your car, somebody will have to pay the bill from the body shop and the hospital. The question is simply, “Who will pay the debt?” 

The New Testament says, Jesus paid the debt in full at the Cross. That’s grace. Our Heavenly Father didn’t turn a blind eye to our sin. He sent his Son to the Cross instead. 

Now when you really begin to grasp that truth, your attitude changes. The more you understand the cost Jesus paid for you, your whole motivation changes. In response to the work he has done for you, you want to work for him. Really hard.

That’s what my friend Tom is all about. His passion as a coach is rooted in his deep love for Jesus, the one who paid his debt at the cross. This understanding of grace is really what drives him as a coach. Sure, he wants to win football games and has to win to keep his job. But that’s not his ultimate motivation.

The heart of his team’s mission is captured in three letters, L.E.O., Love Each Other. it’s plastered all over the facilities, and you’ll hear him close out his interviews with it. At first, people thought it was a little corny. Now, it’s the foundation of the culture. Of course, he’d be the first to tell you that he’s not perfect, but he understands what responding to God’s grace looks like. 

L.E.O.

For Reflection

How does your understanding of grace lead you to love others?

Prayer Starter

Jesus, help me to see the depth of your love for me so that I may love others more fully.

For More

Read 1 John 4:7-21