Too Much Grace?

22 06 2010

To get right to the point, YES, there can be too much grace.  Not that God gives too much grace, but inevitably we human recipients of grace misunderstand, misappropriate and miscommunicate that grace.  “I’m just a sinner saved by grace!”  Such sentiments happen to be 100% true, but also 80% of the time used as an excuse for continued patterns of deep dysfunction and sin.

Question:  Did God the Son become human, suffer, die and rise again for the sole purpose of obtaining forgiveness of sins?  Or was His aim to accomplish a whole lot more?

Scripture and the witness of 2,000 years of Christian saints contends unapologetically for the “whole lot more” option.  Grace is not just forgiveness, it is power, God’s power, to be able to be and do what He intended for us from the beginning—to be fully alive, able to love, hungry for righteousness and holiness, all within a life overflowing with hope, peace and joy.

Problem:  Too many of our churches, across all denominational lines, have virtually ceased to proclaim, train, and live out this full Gospel promise.  Perhaps not in our words, but in our lived out performance, it is being proclaimed, “Come to our church, meet Jesus, receive grace, and be the same ole’ broken person you’ve always been—but at least you’ll go to heaven when it’s all over!”  Jesus and the New Testament, however, proclaim a message of real, substantive and perseverant change.  THAT is what our churches need to be inviting others into and then training them in the ways of Jesus to actually be and do what the Gospel promises—all through the power of that grace which God in Christ through the Holy Spirit so freely gives to all who would receive.

(For example, look at Ephesians, where Paul describes a variety of ways grace is active in the world and in the lives of individuals.   In chapter 3.1-12, grace is described as given to Paul for his evangelistic ministry, and is connected to God’s active power and not just His forgiveness:  7 . . . of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.  8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. . . .”)

Dallas Willard, in the preface to his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, contends that the church of today will fade into irrelevancy unless it does two things:

“First, it must take the need for human transformation as seriously as do modern revolutionary movements. . . .  Second, it needs to clarify and exemplify realistic methods of human transformation.  It must show how ordinary individuals who make up the human race today can become, through the grace of Christ, a love-filled, effective, and powerful community.”

Christ of Sinai

Willard goes on:

“We can become like Christ in character and in power and thus realize our highest ideals of well-being and well-doing.  That is the heart of the New Testament message.  Do you believe this is possible?  My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing—by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.  If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that he knew how to live.  We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practices in order to remain [as Jesus himself did!] constantly at home in the fellowship of the Father.” [emphasis mine]

If I were in church leadership at a high level, I would usher all the resources at my fingertips to re-orient local congregations to this one goal of genuine transformation in Christ.  In truth it is more important than outreach and striving after “first-time decisions for Christ” because without mature, Spirit-filled congregations in which to place new converts, they will become fruit that withers on the vine.  Or worse, they will become corrupt fruit that will cause the whole bushel basket to become rotten and worthless.

I would lead church leaders and pastors into how they can guide their churches away from being program-driven (and entirely too busy doing lots of stuff that may or may not be bringing about Christ-likeness in members and attendees) and toward becoming disciple-making communities.  I would insist that local congregations begin taking steps away from their addiction to marketing strategies, being “cool” and attractive to certain constituencies, and other-wise being numerical growth driven.  Once there is movement away from this and other similar distracting addictions, churches can once again trumpet the call to the high adventure of radical transformation in Christ Jesus.

As Willard says it so well:  “Our local assemblies must become academies of life as it was meant to be.”

Since I am not in a position to call for all of this and more, I must be content to pray for our current pastors and leaders.  May they hear the call and courageously lead many others into the glorious reality to which Jesus invites all to come.  Lord in Your mercy, hear our prayer!

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3 responses

22 06 2010
theologigal

” “I’m just a sinner saved by grace!” Such sentiments happen to be 100% true, but also 80% of the time used as an excuse for continued patterns of deep dysfunction and sin.”
No joke! It’s extremely sad because it shows a belittling of Christ’s death and an insincerity of faith when we take advantage of God’s grace purchased through us by Jesus to continue living in what He saved us from.

Thanks for sharing this!

-Amanda

23 06 2010
communiosanctorum

Good post. Bonhoeffer wrote about this in “The Cost of Discipleship”, and he called it “Cheap Grace”. The church must show us that grace is costly, and we should live by that. The only caveat I would throw in is this:

new converts sometimes think they will magically become the perfect, Christ-like person once they ‘have faith’. They will “try” to “do” everything they can to be “good”. And guess what? As Paul writes in Romans, they will fail.

Then they will doubt. And when they see other Christians, perhaps Christian leaders, also failing, they will doubt even more. Eventually they will sour and lose their faith.

I think Costly Grace should be taught, but with the understanding that it is not “YOU” who is leading a life of “goodness”, but Christ leading you. “Take up my yoke” he said. Indeed, we are yoked beasts of burden, whom Christ leads on the path of truth, even though we are stubborn asses. It is His power, working through our unwilling flesh that allows any goodness to happen through us; never our own will or our own faith or our own power. Failure is expected; but never to revel in that failure or to lie in the mud so to speak. Christians with costly grace understand that they must allow themselves to be picked back up and led on by Jesus.

24 06 2010
Rich Wollan

I really appreciate your comments, thank you. Both Scripture and the experience of the saints (as well as my own personal experience) reveal that the exact working of grace is a bit of a mystery. It is impossible to assign say, a percentage: 99% God’s doing, 1% our work/cooperation. However, somewhere between passively sitting on the sofa waiting for God to change us and pulling ourselves up by our own spiritual boot-straps is the reality of grace at work in the person of faith. I find a great deal of realistic wisdom in the teachings of the eastern Church on this issue. They see a synergistic relationship between God’s grace and human effort. We cannot be redeemed without the supernatural working of grace. At the same time if we do not choose to put ourselves in those time-tested places where God’s grace and power flow most freely (a.k.a. “spiritual disciplines”) we may never grow up into Christ AND we will very likely be easy prey for the one who would devour our souls. The grace of God in Christ, whether effecting justification or sanctification, must be received– it will not be forced. Therefore, the follower of Christ must be vigilant about placing himself (herself) in positions of receptivity. This will likely require great sacrifice on the part of the disciple– even to the point of taking up a cross. Costly? Yes. Worth every painful scar? Let there be no doubt!

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