Today I will be discussing something that comes up very often in fundamentalist circles, grace. It happens to be a hot topic in many churches, and it also happens to be one of my hot buttons. In order to illustrate what I mean, I'm going to begin with a story.
I want to get one thing straight first though. This is a true story, and I sincerely believe the pastor I heard did not really understand what he was saying. I think he just got carried away with the enthusiasm of the moment.
I was at church recently to hear a guest pastor speak. This guest pastor preached a great first half of his sermon, and had he stopped there, I would not have had anything to say on the matter. However, he began speaking about how many Christians abuse God's grace, using it for license. Again, he didn't stop there though. This pastor then said, from a pulpit, that he had been called a legalist before. His response? "Hallelujah!" Immediately, a good bit of the congregation began clapping.
So today, I'm going to talk about grace, because obviously, it's been misunderstood. I've heard a lot of pastors, and a lot of writers criticize people who spend "too much" time discussing, thinking about, thanking God for His grace. I mean, yeah, sure, grace is good and all that, but, get over it, right? God called us to good works, not to just sit there talking about grace. And Christians abuse grace too much. As one well-known speaker said, "Christians can't handle freedom."
So, what does that mean? First off, let's get the definition straight in our minds. According to most Bible scholars, grace is considered, "God's unmerited favor." Remember that; we'll come back to that. So, considering that, is it possible to spend too much time thinking about God's free gift of His favor, and what that entails? I don't think it is. I don't think any of us think about it enough. You could think about that forever and not realize all the angles of what it means, because in a way, the whole Bible is just a story of grace, right? The gospel is a story of grace: undeserved favor from God. That's the whole theme of the gospel! So, by saying that we should stop meditating on grace so much, those people are simply telling us to stop thinking about the gospel and get to work doing works!
I just mentioned it, but let me come back to it. If these pastors want us to stop thinking about grace, what's the alternative? Works, right? So let's break that down. Grace is all about God; works are all about me. If my focus is grace, the logical conclusion is a focus on God, on what He did, on what He's doing. If I focus on works, the logical conclusion is a focus on self, what I should do, can do, will do, have done.
What about the argument that God called us to good works, not to sit comfortably and think about grace all the time? This is a fallacy we see everywhere. When you're arguing with someone, one of the most common fallacies is to offer you only two options, with one so crazy that no one would choose it. What the person fails to consider is that there is plenty of room within the two far sides of the issue.
Here's an example of this fallacy. Anti-gun rights activists often offer you a choice like this. Either we 1.) Institute logical gun control tactics, or 2.) Have unrestrained violence and anarchy on the streets. Obviously, no one wants "unrestrained violence and anarchy on the streets", so you have to agree with choice one. What many people fail to consider is that there are not just two options. There's a plethora of options ranging between one and two.
However, this is the argument we hear in regard to grace. Either you must 1.) Focus on grace, and thus lose your love for Christ amid your new-found freedom of cigarettes, wine, dancing, recreational dating, etc. or 2.) show your love for Christ by not exercising Christian freedom, and working for Him.
Obviously, no Christian who's truly following Christ will want the first option, so that leaves only the second right? Wrong! Both options are wrong. Christ didn't give us freedom as Christians so we could ignore it! And both are done for the wrong reason in the scenario I give above.
Grace is not there to give you freedom of cigarettes, wine, etc. It's about God's favor. So you can be fascinated by God's grace, lost in His grace, and still not drink wine, or smoke cigarettes, or date for fun. The right focus is that our relationship with Christ, founded upon His love, mercy, and grace, causes us to work for Christ, not out of compulsion, or fear that we will abuse grace if we pause long enough to think about, but instead out of a heart of true love for God.
So, what's the right way to approach grace? I don't understand how anyone can read about the gospel and not just have to sit down sometimes and just sit in awe of God's grace; or how someone could experience this grace, and not talk about it all the time. But it doesn't stop there. This fascination with God's grace helps grow our relationship with Christ, and that results in works. When we follow Christ, we want to serve Christ.
I'm sure someone is asking right now, "Why did you write this?" It's very simple really. If you realize that you having been working all the time trying to earn God's favor, etc., realize that God's great grace is undeserved. It is bestowed on us when we don't deserve it. So sit down, calm down, and rest on what Christ did for you. Then your works will come for the right reason.
I am not attempting to encourage license. The Bible is very clear that we should not sin just because I can. (Rom. 6:1-2) So your fascination with God's grace shouldn't cease at that, simply fascination. It should result in actions, in a furthered relationship with Christ.
I do not want to make this into an excessively long post today, so I will come back another day this week and discuss legalism, and why it should never be praised from the pulpit.