“For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
This is part two of, Grace has its Merits. In the first part Phil Buechler and I spoke to and of the current emphasis on the Grace of God. This Forum has been extended and modified from “Thoughts about Grace” you received in the August Forum. Here is a link to a Blog called THINK – Andrew Wilson (Charismatic Church background). Andrew is a pastor and writer, with theology degrees from Cambridge (MA), London School of Theology (MTh), and King’s College London (PhD). Worth the read – great background to the subject and current trends.
1. Hebrews 12:15 warns us of failing to ‘obtain the grace of God.” The context is of holiness, morality, and repentance. This is not appealing to a positional stance of grace but to the active and serious outworking of grace in our lives, and it is followed up with strong warnings – the sort we are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with, because we may consider them not in line with our preferences about grace.
But grace is not just a nice attitude of God’s towards us. Grace is juxtaposed with wrath otherwise it isn’t the empowering grace of God. God’s wrath is something implacably holy, only ever satisfied by its absorption on the cross in Jesus. He took in his body, in his person, the weight of sin’s punishment – death forever. This is the work of his grace towards us, something hardly lightweight, or merely gracious.
2. Grace is also coupled, or more precisely, seen in opposition to works. The term works however needs clearer definition, as it does not refer to just trying to be good – defined by good deeds and moral virtue. Works-based salvation was referring to the works of the Old Covenant – the actions of the community of God’s people, actions and things that defined them. They didn’t do them to become the people of God. They did them because they were the people of God.
Torah, temple, land, and such, were not just the goal of good living, but the boundary markers/identifiers of the people of God.
Falling from grace was for a believer in Jesus to return to the way of their fathers, to Moses, for salvation. It is highly unlikely that immorality and riotous living was on their agenda when they were doing this – but they were mocking the cross of Christ for salvation – which, you’ll agree is something much more significant than getting drunk or stealing.
3. 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Paul’s statement about grace being sufficient means more than is often understood. Firstly, he is not referring to the grace of salvation as Paul was clearly already saved. But he is referring to a grace (charis – gift) of power – but not that which we may expect. This grace was one of both endurance, and a new way to power via weakness. We tend to equate grace with strength, but here it is aligned to weakness.
Paul was buffeted by a messenger of Satan in a way that troubled and hampered him. He wasn’t relieved of this through prayer, regardless of his persistence, but was rather told that grace was sufficient for him. His experience of continued weakness was God’s door of power.
This made Paul actually boast about his insufficiencies (V9-10) as he now saw that God’s power was perfected in his personal weakness, enumerated as, “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities.” Most people would immediately consider these to be the very opposite of the benefits of grace, as these hardly made for a blessed life (in our terms). And it must be added that Paul had unusual levels and experiences of revelation, so what refers to him doesn’t necessarily refer to all.
Still, we are slow to see God’s grace in these terms of weakness, and frankly, seeming defeat, as they simply militate against understandings of grace that may be misunderstandings in the first place.
However we view it grace is certainly more robust than an understanding mediated only in the terms of a father’s love for his children, or his unmerited favor towards us.
4. Grace in Romans 12. Paul states by the grace given him – not specifically a saving grace, but the grace of his ministry, which was formative and authorative in regards the New Testament church – that others were to think soberly of themselves in light of what measure of faith they were entrusted. In other words the faith given to each differs, as their function differs. “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us.” No room for big heads. We are to act proportionally. Paul’s proportion was larger. His grace was different – not his salvation, his function.
The word grace hasn’t changed but the situation it is applied in has, therefore it looks different. Grace still means gift, but in this instance it is a spiritual gift of service to God’s church. It has its source in the cross, it is mediated by faith, and it is manifested as a function of being a member of Christ’s body – therefore it is different in each case.
We are unwise to make one thing everything, and to make everyone the same.
5. Showing Grace. In an age delineated by permissiveness, showing a person grace can often mean the endorsement of bad behavior. Far from helping and enabling a person, showing them this sort of grace can as easily weaken their resolve, and make light of a serious issue. They aren’t going to be saved by moral resolve but salvation by grace will result in change and conformity with the image of Christ, and the structure of scripture. Being accused of not showing grace when a person is in clear, deliberate, and belligerent opposition to the law of Christ is to misunderstand grace.
There exists a fear of offending people that has absurd out workings. I heard recently of a young man who had taken exception to, and been offended by a church, when he was called to account over the morality of his immorality. No doubt he huffed his way out of that church saying they showed no love or grace – whereas, in fact, that is exactly what they had shown – love in caring for his future and choices, and grace as in trying to point him to Jesus and his enabling grace/power that teaches us to say no to ungodliness. See Titus 2:11-12.
We are unwise to validate bad behavior under the rubric of grace, so called.
6. Grace and Political Correctness. We of necessity, and by way of reaction, respond to the era we live in. This is another way of speaking of the dual nature of our voice to this world – to speak in the language of the day, to the people, and to be a prophetic voice against the world we live in, but are not of (motivated by, informed from, conformed to). This is our burden, and another reason we need to be open to new and hither to unseen thoughts in scripture – that were waiting for application. Naturally this requires a caveat, as this is also the argument employed by those who wish to conform the gospel to every social trend and deviation, thus twisting the scriptures out of natural shape in their questionable enthusiasm to make God appealing or even worse – fair. In other words – God in our image.
It is worth adding that some political correctness is essential as the self-monitoring of attitudes and kindness has taken a back seat in the coward’s world of social media – being used to scorn, bully and ruin. People say what they do because they can remain virtually anonymous. (Anyone can shoot unseen behind a wall.)
The pressure to tow the line in matters of morality, family, and tolerance has baked a thick crust of extreme intolerance onto anything but the party line. Christians have become nervous in what they can say, and in some case for good reason – they have been sued, censured, and bullied by the courts. To even suggest that a man and woman constitute the only valid and wise expression of family is to incite the wrath of the god of intolerance and political correctness (the latter of which most espouse but far fewer actually believe). Orwell’s 1984 was very insightful, frighteningly so. New Speak is with us.
How does this affect the message of Grace? We are less inclined to say what scripture declares in public settings, as we know we are going to offend to the point of legal action some tender and angry soul. So we cover tough questions with/by an appeal to grace and love – except that no one is defining love, as it looks nothing like the world’s version or Hollywood’s projection of it – nothing. It is sacrificial, ethical, and moral – not for the faint of heart.
We want to reach people and unnecessary offense is unnecessary. But transformation is never wrought with false information.
7. Grace and Truth. John 1:17. We are informed by the apostle John that, whereas the law was given by Moses, grace and truth are now revealed through Jesus Christ – in his words, actions and sacrifice.
We are inclined to separate the two, and make comments as if they were some how juxtaposed one to the other. I’m not sure this does justice to what is being said. Truth and grace are revealed in a person, and not by making truth and grace principles that we are meant to understand – logically and systematically, categorized for theological consumption.
If we encounter Jesus we will of necessity know the truth and be overwhelmed by his grace.
If there is a difference between the two that can be categorized then truth is what and who Jesus is, and grace is what he shows by being who he is – the express image of the Father.
Propositional truths are rarely true to the nature of the communication of scripture. They are abstractions. Even the terms positional and empowering (used previously to help describe grace) create a view not entirely consistent with the unity of what grace does for us and what grace demands of us.
The extreme danger of making grace largely positional is that it divorces grace from lifestyle, and the demand of grace itself to transform our lifestyle.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Written by Simon McIntyre