Posts

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.

 

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.