In the past six months, I’m hearing a lot about Grace, and to tell you the truth, I’m confused. Maybe I’m in a bubble, but I don’t understand how or why ministries are developing the message of grace into a subculture of the gospel. Most of these ministries and their preachers are presenting the truth of the gospel (more on that later) because grace is essential, no, the core of salvation.
Without the grace of God, I deserve to be a smoldering pile of ash on the sidewalk. If God didn’t relent from judging Sodom and Gomorrah, or the angels who disobeyed Him, what hope have I? In light of the place, purpose and power of God, there is NO WAY I can EARN OUR WAY to heaven.
However, para-church ministries, churches, websites, preachers and books are busy creating “The Grace Message” as if they’re marketing a new, unknown product. Grace is the heart of the gospel. If we don’t get grace, we don’t understand God’s love for us or why Jesus gave his life in our place. If there is a deficiency in our preaching, wouldn’t we be wiser to return to all the basics, rather than create a “new and improved” version.
I can already hear some my friends, asking “Why the rant? What is the big deal? Grace is important, so why not focus on it?” Maybe it’s just my perspective, but here’s why this myopic focus isn’t helpful to your or my spiritual health, and is harming the Church.
- During the 70’s and 80’s, as huge numbers of young Christians turned to the Bible to build a vibrant faith, we rediscovered the power, presence and purpose of supernatural faith, answered prayer, angels, demons, deliverance, physical healing and healing our memories, and more. For decades prior, church life had been focused on tradition and rules. After the charismatic movement, we found a worship-centric relationship again, and encountered a personal God. But, as ministries focused on subsets of faith, they lost their vision for worship, knowing God and living a transformed life. We fought among ourselves about what (or who) was more important, and lost the vision of personal transformation, and Jesus’ call to transform the world.
- The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the 60’s and 70’s taught us the foolishness of the dispensational view of church history, and that God’s work in the world hasn’t changed. Jesus healed, delivered from demons, taught about faith, and performed miracles. Yet these doctrines are parts of the whole, one facet of the gemstone. When ministers narrow their view to preach the faith message, the deliverance message, the healing of the memories message, etc., we become the church which Paul rebuked in the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians. We argue about whether the foot, hand or mouthpiece, my preacher or your message was the most important part of the body. This evolution is happening again in Christian conversations today. If I don’t know the inside lingo of the grace message, or an author’s talking points, the depth of my faith is questioned.
- The ministries from the 70’s and 80’s that got bogged down in their personal paradigms have all but disappeared from the Christian landscape. Instead of promoting Christ, they promoted their message about Christ, and the emphasis is important. The former is God-centered, the latter is Man-Centered. Delivery and focus reflects the heart of the messenger. When we defend or promote our message, we become no less sectarian than the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. As we intellectually fortify our positions, God removes his blessing, and we will fade out of view.
Here’s my point.
I agree that the power and purpose of the grace of God isn’t always understood. I see today’s church drifting toward programs and structure, losing its impact on the world because we’re not being personally transformed . . . by the grace of God. A.W. Tozer preached and wrote about the same tension between genuine faith and intellectual dogmas in the 1950’s. The solution to a problem we’ve created lies in evaluating our teaching and priorities of the last 25 years, and asking what brought us to this place, not creating a “new and improved” message. If we’ve created a problem, and the body of Christ is anemic and sickly, we are wiser to examine the beliefs which we’ve used for spiritual nutrition rather than pump ourselves full of the latest 5 Hour Spiritual-Energy Shot. The “grace message” approach to the gospel is already producing an unbalanced, spiritually short sighted generation that doesn’t understand the life changing and world transforming Word of God. While I may sound extreme to some, here’s an example.
Already a major voice in this “Grace Message” movement, senior pastor of growing church and adviser to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Andrew Farley is redefining Jesus’ words to suit his personal message. His book teaches that Jesus’ instructions in the Lord’s Prayer to “ask God to forgive you” aren’t necessary, because Jesus was preaching to an Old Testament crowd. (What! Really!) Farley insists this phrase doesn’t apply post-crucifixion, New Testament Christians. He goes on to dismiss 1 John 1:9 admonition to confess your sins when you fall with the adeptness of the best spiritual charlatan. His biblical scholarship is as deep as a rain puddle, and yet a major Christian publisher is promoting his work, and extending his influence without questioning his fundamentals.
Grace is essential, and the core of the regenerated believer’s new life. We can’t earn, or ignore the God’s grace. Yet we must keep grace in tension with the result God designed grace to produce in our lives, or we are no different than any other unbalanced, legalistic, carnal sectarian.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Eph 2:8-10 (ESV)
We don’t earn our salvation, but we are expected to bring forth the fruits that are a fitting testimony of our repentance and transformation. God does an inner work; we bring forth outer evidence. God grafted us into a Living Tree; He expects us to bear fruit. Apart from Him we can to nothing; in Him we can do all things.
 Farley, A. (2009) The Naked Gospel, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, pgs. 149-160