My past four posts (Grace Notes 1-4) have talked about some of the dangers I see in grace teaching today. But as I said early on, I love grace.  Today I want to post an interview with the awesome Bill Giovannetti, author of several wonderful books, including his latest, Grace Intervention. Bill is also pastor of Neighborhood Church in Redding, California. Bill’s website is here:

Here we go!

Nick:  Bill, as I remember your story, you were brought up in a Christian home….but was it also a home where you first understood grace as you now see it?

Bill: I don’t remember being brought to church as part of a family; I was sent there. My dad drove me to a small Chicago church and dropped me off. He went out for a cup of coffee, donut, and newspaper, and then sat in the parking lot enjoying a smoke and reading the paper. I, however, was trapped in church. Over time, that church became a second family for me. I learned the Bible there. I formed lasting relationships there. I met Christ there.

I also met a lot of legalism there. The typical stuff of the era: dancing, movies, card playing, long-haired males, Mr. Booze… all were nasty taboos. I was being groomed into a self-righteous Pharisee without even knowing it. I look back on those days and consider them, “The best of times and the worst of times.” My church loved me, but I still had a lot of unlearning to do.

I struggled with guilt and shame all the time. I questioned my salvation. I got saved over and over again, because I was sure it didn’t “take.” I dreaded that coming day of judgment when God would make me squirm under his icy gaze before — perhaps, hopefully, maybe, keeping-my-fingers-crossed – he might grudgingly let me into heaven.

Yes, Jesus died for me, but I’d better surrender all to him. He paid his share of the price, and now it was my turn to pay mine. And what a price it was! “If he wasn’t Lord of all, he wasn’t Lord at all.” Lord of all? Yikes! I was doomed. I became the busiest-for-Jesus young man I knew. And Jesus wore me out.

I’ve told the full story elsewhere, but God graciously intervened to interrupt my growing religious mania. He used a book to explain how my guilt wasn’t to be a normal state of being. It was actually the devil’s weapon to slam me around. The book explained the Cross of Christ to me in terms I’d heard before, but had never really clicked.

Suddenly the Holy Spirit turned the spotlight to my Crucified Savior. I saw that he really meant his words, “It is finished.” I felt all my guilt and shame roll away. I felt as if I were floating on clouds of grace. I felt forgiven, redeemed, and accepted by God. I look back and realize that wasn’t the date of my salvation; it was the date of my assurance. I have never seriously doubted my salvation since then. And I have never looked back from the amazing grace I discovered on that wonderful day.

Nick:   You’ve written widely on grace, how did it become such a major part of your life message?

Bill: The seeds of my grace-mission were sown in the soil of my dysfunction and guilt. As authors, we’re told to write what we know. I have advanced degrees in guilt and shame, so grace — God’s mind-bending solution — is what I write. God also used mentors in my life, like Lance B. Latham (Doc), the founder of Awana, and Art Rorheim, Awana’s president emeritus, to teach me the gospel of grace.

I can’t look at a page of Scripture now without seeing something about grace there. Is grace explained? Offered? Rejected? Spurned? Contradicted? Grounded? Exemplified? Look hard enough, and you’ll it there, sometimes shouting, other times peeking out quietly. But it’s always there. I like to say that Christ is the heart of Scripture and grace is the heart of Christ.

Nick: Sometimes we reduce grace to just an acronym (God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense), but it’s much more than that isn’t it?  How do you see grace?

Bill: Crucial question. A word is a place-holder for an idea. What idea comes into your mind when you hear the word grace? The same word will conjure different ideas for different people. In the seminary classes I teach, I compare words to cars on a freight train. We link them together to form sentences. Each car carries its freight. So I have to ask what freight have you loaded into the word grace? We have to let the Bible load that freight, or we’re all in trouble.

As I see it, the Bible uses grace in a huge variety of ways, but always with a common core. The core is simply this: God doing for you what you cannot do for yourself. It is God’s work, God’s effort, God’s self-sacrifice, God’s power, God’s sweat, all without one bit of help from you at all. Human effort — religiosity, works, performance, obedience, striving, law, taboos, rules, whatever — evaporate under the heat of divine grace.

Grace is simply the free, unmerited work and favor of God flowing to you because of Jesus Christ. God serves up that grace in a staggering array of flavors — so grace is a situational shape-shifter. If you need it, grace supplies it. If you regret it, grace forgives it. If you break it, grace fixes it. If you lose it, grace finds it. Where you are broken, grace restores. Where you are sick, grace heals. Grace adapts to meet the vast panorama of human need, always without one bit of payment or merit from us. It is undeserved kindness, always with an eye to Calvary’s Cross and the blessings Christ procured for us there. It truly is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.

Grace means God is infinitely more committed to us than we will ever be to him. I’m afraid the church is reversing this reality, with disastrous results. We’re morphing grace from God’s works for us into ours for him. That’s legalism, a malady I call Grace Deficit Disorder (G.D.D.). It’s running at epidemic levels in the church today. And it’s chasing away our unsaved friends as fast as their morally fallen legs can carry them.

Nick: What does it take for a Christian to experience the fullness of grace? A divine revelation or ?

Bill: The Cross, the Cross, and the Cross, in that order. I think the main reason Jesus left us with one enduring ordinance, the Lord’s Supper, is so we could continually recalibrate our hearts to the Ground Zero of God’s grace. “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you show the Lord’s death, till he comes.”

What it takes for a Christian to experience the fullness of grace is a spiritual whack upside the head or a kick in the seat of the pants. In Scripture, nobody really “got” grace without an intervention. God had to knock Paul off his horse, and show him his spiritual blindness, before he would become the apostle of grace. Grace is counter-intuitive. We’re allergic to it. So God has to break through a thick legalistic crust before it can touch our hearts.

What does that take? Anything required to rewire our reverse-polarized circuitry. For some, that will be instruction in God’s Word. For others, it will take a friend’s gentle instruction. God helped me through books that spotlighted Calvary. Others will need their pride broken. God knows how to bring us face to face with our moral bankruptcy, because only empty hands can lay hold of grace.

Anybody who reads Scripture with an open heart and even an atom of humility will be lifted to the highlands of God’s amazing grace. It’s awesome to see eyes light up as grace takes hold of a person’s heart.

Nick: Is there a correlation between an understanding of our sinfulness and an appreciation for God’s grace?

Bill: Yes, and I would push this deeper. The word sinfulness conjures certain ideas for us all, especially for Christians. Sinfulness probably brings to mind our disobedience or lawbreaking, or really nasty habits.

But grace goes deeper. Grace lassos all of sin’s gnarly tentacles too. Grace goes to work on our dysfunctions, bringing us to a place of wholeness and love. It confronts our self-righteousness. It purifies our character. It convicts our lukewarmness. Most of all, it holds of the mirror of Christlikeness, and makes us turn to Christ not only for salvation, but for sanctification too.  It makes us leave Martha sweating the kitchen that we might rest with Mary and hang out with Jesus.

I am a such charity case, it takes the supernatural machinery of heaven to make me anything other than the jerk I would be were I left to my own devices.

If grace doesn’t fry our circuits once in a while we can’t call it amazing.

Nick:  One of my favorite portions of Scripture regarding grace is Titus 2:11-14. I like it because it tells us what grace teaches us.

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, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Have you seen abuses of grace where rather than “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passion,” grace is used as an enablement to embrace ungodliness and worldly passion?

Bill: I’m going to say yes and no to this question. Grace itself, as a force that originates in the heart of God, is mighty. It cannot be twisted, distorted, or misused. It is God’s truth, and nobody can break God’s truth; we can only break ourselves against God’s truth. In that sense, true grace can never be used as an enablement to embrace ungodliness. Grace can, however, be redefined. Other concepts can be attached to the word “grace”, such as leniency, license, and lawlessness. But that’s not really grace.

So technically speaking — and theology needs to be technical — there is no such thing as an abuse of grace. There can only be a parody, a masquerade of something else under the false label of grace. Grace is not and never will be license to sin; it is power not to sin. It is the indwelling Christ reproducing something beautiful in us — his own radiant life — by exchanging our weakness for his strength, and our rags for his righteousness.

God invites us to take a full, uninhibited plunge into the ocean of his grace, without reservation, and without “yes-butting” the snot out of it.

Without grace, what makes us different from any other religion? Without “grace alone,” the cross has no scandal, the gospel has no power, and the cross has no meaning. If our salvation and our Christian life is not by grace alone, then Christianity becomes just one of many equivalent world religions, varying only in the number and type of works they require.

Jesus did not come from heaven to earth to the Cross to the grave just to add another religion to a world already crushed by the weight of religious duty.

He came to set us free. He came to set our feet to dancing and our hearts to joy. He came to invite all earth’s prodigals to the celestial feast — without money and without price. Calvary paid for you in full.

As long as God gives me a platform to preach and teach and write, and any semblance of wits in my brain, I will shout from the rooftops the mind-blowing wonder of Jesus and his blood-bought grace.

 Nick: Great interview! Thanks, Bill. I hope readers will purchase your wonderful books, particularly Grace Intervention and Secrets to a Happy Life.

This is the fourth in a series on grace, focusing on some problems in the so-called hyper-grace movement. Thank God there are some fine grace teachers spreading the word about God’s infinite grace. This is not directed at them.  You might want to check out the first three posts on this timely topic starting with Grace Notes #1. Then, Grace Notes #2 and #3.

When I was a boy, one of the daily cartoon shows I watched faithfully was Popeye the Sailor Man. (I can even still sing the song…and I know some of you can too). Popeye was utterly predictable and the end of the cartoon always included a spinach-driven resolution. Nevertheless, I loved it.

One episode is especially memorable. Well, fuzzily memorable. Popeye was chasing Bluto (Popeye’s never-ceasing rival for the love of Olive Oyl) up a mountain road. Bluto was far enough ahead of Popeye that he could not be seen by the sailor man. All of a sudden, Bluto screeched to a halt in front of an arrowed sign that pointed off the main road to “ROUTE D.” ROUTE D was obviously a horrible, jagged road, unpassable. I think there also a cliff with a deep canyon along the edge of ROUTE D. Clearly only a fool would turn off the paved main road for ROUTE D.

Bluto paused for a moment at the sign and then, noticing that the letters were movable, he rearranged the letters from ROUTE D to form the word DETOUR. He then continued up the passable road, content that Popeye would see the arrowed sign and veer off on the horrid “DETOUR” road and possibly fall to his demise.

As I remember it, Popeye was indeed fooled and faced imminent death….until he popped that can of spinach out of nowhere.  But even as Popeye was wolfing down his version of steroids, I was sitting there entranced by the fact that the letters from ROUTE D could be conveniently rearranged to spell out DETOUR. What a brilliant realization from the script writers! I loved it.

I think about that cartoon as I consider the current hyper-grace teaching making the rounds. Though I consider myself a grace-believing person (because I so desperately need it), I’ve watched the effects on some Christians as they’ve veered off of the main highway of Grace and have believed the false “DETOUR” sign that leads to destruction.

This has happened as some (not all) of the teachers emphasizing hyper-grace have come along and rearranged the letters on God’s highway of Grace. Those urging this detour on others seem to believe that ROUTE D is a desirable detour. Sin no longer seems to matter along ROUTE D. In fact, in some cases, grace enables them to embrace their sin. If that’s not a horrible, jagged, unpassable road, I don’t know what is.

To be honest, I get the appeal of ROUTE D. But I’m not going there. I know that at its core it’s an appeal to indulge whatever fleshly appetites I choose. It’s sad enough to watch others incur injury on that road—I don’t need to experience it myself. Besides, I know that there are no detours along God’s highway of Grace. I’ve checked my map and the road ahead is open and clear. No detours necessary.

If you’ve taken that deadly detour, I encourage you to get back on the right road—ROUTE G. G for Grace as a means of “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12).

If you persist on ROUTE D, I’m afraid not even spinach can save the day.




This is the third in a series on grace, particularly in light of recent abuses of grace among some (not all) teachers. You can read Grace Notes #1 here and Grace Notes #2 here. Basically, the problem is that the way some are teaching grace, the result is that some hearers are interpreting grace as an invitation to return to their old life. It is grace as an enablement to sin, not a deterrent.

Friends, we are under grace, but grace doesn’t mean we have no boundaries in our life. Like sheep prone to wander, God sets boundaries for each of us. These boundaries are like fences designed for our protection and are found in His Word. Within the boundaries proscribed for us by our heavenly Father we sheep find much luscious green grass, for His fields of grace are wide and plentiful. We may graze safely and joyously within these boundaries for our entire life.

Beyond the boundaries, on the other side of the fence, however, the grass is poisonous, full of briars; deadly.  We know because that’s where we once lived. Once in a while we glance toward the briars…and remember. Yes, the poison was pretty and yes we were enticed to live our entire lives in the briar patch…until we heard and responded to the Good Shepherd’s invitation to His fields of grace. Now our glance toward the briars is fleeting indeed. No, we won’t go back.

We watch with profound sadness and astonishment as once in a while one of our fellow sheep wanders past the boundary and back into the briar patch, lured by the pretty poison; forsaking not only the green fields of grace, but worse, forsaking the Shepherd as well.

We’re also bewildered when some of the sheep grazing alongside us seem to encourage those who are wandering away. What are they thinking? Don’t they remember like we do? How can they encourage those who are leaving the green, green grass of the fields of grace to return to the briars? And how can they in good conscience tell the sheep who have always lived in the briars that they are wise and well-off if they choose to build a life there? Why don’t they invite those sheep to come here where they will be safe and cared for by the Shepherd?

To be sure, the Shepherd is aware when one of His sheep has wandered off and has become caught in the briars beyond the boundaries. And because He is a good Shepherd, He seeks the wandering lamb and returns him to the fold.  Such a sheep, if he is wise, will remember his foolish journey and when tempted in the future, will contrast the painful briars with the loving arms of the Shepherd carrying him back to the rest of the flock, gently whispering His love for the lamb as they make their way home.

To our fellow sheep who look longingly at the pretty poison in the briar patch and begin to inch their way toward the boundary’s edge, we should be issuing warnings and reminders of those who have eventually perished by continuing to pursue that which God condemns.

Similarly, if ever we see believers tossing the message of grace like a security blanket toward those sheep grazing among the poisonous briars beyond the boundaries, it’s a signal that they too may eventually follow those they now comfort in their wanderings.  They must surely have forgotten that grace is given for us to live happily in God’s pasture, wherein lies our true freedom.

Grace is not a gate in the fence to the briar patch.


This is the second in a short series on grace and problems with some aspects of the “hyper-grace movement.” Please know that not all who are teaching on grace are making this same serious error.

There’s an old story about grace that goes something like this: A man dies and meets St. Peter at the gates of heaven. Peter tells the man, “In order to get into heaven you have to accumulate 100 points. So tell me on what basis should I allow you into heaven?”

The man thought for a moment, then replied, “Well, I was a good husband and father. I never cheated on my taxes, and I was a faithful employee.”

“Good,” said St. Peter. “That’s one point. Keep going.”

Stymied at only receiving one point, the man thought back on his life and said, “I gave money to the poor and I was an elder at church. I also went on several mission trips and served on the board of our local pregnancy center.”

“Good,” said St. Peter, “That’s two points. Keep going.”

The man started to sweat and finally said in frustration “Good grief! At this rate, I’ll only get into heaven by God’s grace!”

“Bingo. That’s 98 points,” St. Peter said, “Come on in!”

Being saved is all about trusting in God’s grace. There is simply no other way. No good works will do it. No sacrifices will do it. No religious rituals will do it. Grace and grace alone is the key. Grace that comes from saving faith.

At the moment we receive Christ into our life by faith, we are born again and become the recipients of God’s grace—as much as we’ll ever need. Our lives become, as it were, grace-covered, grace-filled, and grace-driven. But something else happens at that same moment. According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, we are made into new creations. Off with the old, on with the new. Time after time in the New Testament we’re reminded of the importance of living out our new life, not returning to our old lusts. We’re told to walk in the light. To set our mind on things above, not on the things of earth.

So what does all this have to do with the hyper-grace theology making the rounds? Just this: Some in the “hyper-grace movement” are teaching that continuing in a sinful lifestyle is an option for a Christian. But the truth is that our new creation finds sin repellant. It does not look for ways to indulge the flesh. Sure, as we mature, we may struggle here and there with various sins, but our basic orientation (because of grace) is entirely different than before. Whereas once we pursued sin and catered to our flesh, now we pursue holiness and resist sinful impulses (or more effectively, reckon ourselves dead to sin. See Romans 6).

Those few in the hyper-grace movement who are affirming the faith (and practice) of those who openly pursue sin (and sinful lifestyles) are doing them no favors. To affirm sin is to affirm the chains of sin. It’s also a recipe for deception. As Andrew Murray wisely wrote: “One great power of sin is that it blinds men so that they do not recognize its true character.”

I sometimes wonder if those who promote this kind of “grace” have forgotten the effects of sin in their own life. It is not love to tell someone who is embracing their sin that they’re in good standing with God. It’s the nature of a Christian (in his new creation) to see sin as destructive and to be avoided. To remove the message of sin’s awfulness from the gospel of grace is to undermine it entirely. What are we saved from if not sin? What is our message if not that those caught up in the destructiveness of sin can be utterly saved from their sin?

Inherent in God’s grace is not only the desire to be free from sin, but also the power to live free from sin. As John Piper rightly says, “Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.”

What we desperately need today is more teaching on the power of grace to break the chains of sin. We don’t need a cheap grace that reinforces the chains of sin and enables those who desire to live by the lusts of the flesh. Only deception and destruction can follow such a theology.


Grace Notes #3 coming soon.

I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s grace lately.  For that reason, I’m going to create a tab on my website to act as a permanent home for my thoughts about grace—along with perhaps a few interviews along the way.  I’ll call it Grace Notes.

Why am I so interested in grace? Perhaps, because, like you, I’m so very much in need of it.

But there’s also another reason it’s been on my mind. Some of my friends have been exposed to what’s been called “hyper-grace” teaching.  I don’t really like that term, though God’s grace toward us is indeed, “hyper.” John Newton referred to it as “Amazing Grace,” but I suppose “hyper” works just as well when one realizes the vastness and depth of God’s grace. In the words of one of my favorite hymns:

 Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,

Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt.  Yes, that’s my need. Yours too, right?

What bothers me about the present emphasis on grace is that in some camps it’s leading to the idea that one can, with God’s blessing, embrace one’s sinfulness, not turn from it. Rather than showing forth God’s grace as a means to breaking free from a sinful lifestyle, grace is becoming an enabling mechanism that keeps people in bondage to sin.

What does the Bible teach us about the express purpose of grace?  Titus 2:12-14 is explicit about how grace is to work in our life:

It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (NIV).

How much clearer can the purpose of grace be explained? How then is it possible that grace has become so perversely used to justify continuing in sin? Perhaps the old adage applies here that says “If you won’t change your behavior to match your theology, you’ll change your theology to match your behavior.”

One of my favorite “hyper-grace” teachers, Steve McVey (who describes himself as “a card-carrying member of the Hyper-Grace Community”), likes to refer to such false teaching as not “grace” but “disgrace.”  Steve recently wrote:

“Grace produces a lifestyle that honors Him. Anything we can trust Jesus to do through us is a grace-filled action. Anything that He would not do through us isn’t an expression of grace of any kind. Even the word ‘hyper-grace’ doesn’t fit, as critics want to insist. The only word for behavior that dishonors Christ is ‘disgrace’ (against grace). It is not legalism to say that some things are a disgrace because they are. Grace teaches us ‘to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age’ (Titus 2:12). If Jesus can do it through you, go for it. If not, don’t call it grace because to do so is to insult the righteousness of Christ within you and to smear the meaning of authentic ‘grace.’ How we behave matters and grace doesn’t negate that fact.”

Friends, we can either run toward God or we can either run toward sin—the fulfillment of our fleshly desires—but we can’t run toward both at the same time. Grace propels us toward God, disgrace propels us toward the flesh–and destruction.

Up next: Why hyper-grace? Stay tuned.