Grace Theology - Answers to Common Questions

Grace Theology - Answers to Common Questions

Jeremy White briefly address a few of the most common questions encountered in regards to the Gospel of Grace.

Author: Jeremy White/Friday, March 28, 2014/Categories: Jeremy White, Top Picks

I am often asked about our bold emphasis on the grace of God at Valley Church, where I serve as lead pastor. Having had the pleasure of many conversations with folks who ask sincere questions or concerns about this “radical” grace message, I wanted to offer the following in an effort to briefly address a few of the most common questions I encounter. I hope your heart is encouraged by this…

1 - Aren’t you afraid that an over-emphasis on grace will lead to imbalance in your teaching and discipleship?

This is a common one, and I appreciate the heart behind it. The Scripture is abundantly clear that God is love, and we affirm that the supreme manifestation of God’s love is His grace. At Valley we emphasize that grace is not merely the entry point of the Christian faith – but the entire point. We believe that Jesus came as one “full of grace and truth.”

This does not imply that grace must be “balanced out” with truth – as some well-meaning folks may claim. The reason for this is that by definition, grace is radically imbalanced in our favor! Grace and truth don’t “balance each other out” – rather, they fuel one another harmoniously! Simply put, grace IS the truth, and the truth IS gracious! This is the foundation of the gospel itself – that God, based upon no merit of humanity but solely because of His holy love – has chosen to provide forgiveness and new life for us totally free of charge!

This reality is not merely a creed we affirm in order to go to heaven when we die. The gospel of grace is the basis for living our daily lives as believers! The bottom line is that grace – fully understood and embraced – has the power to produce a life-transforming quality of gratitude designed by God to manifest in transformed living.

2 - If you emphasize God’s grace so heavily, isn’t there a danger of doing so at the exclusion or expense of other doctrines or attributes of God?

The answer to this question is no. If a church or a pastor is truly teaching grace, then they will of necessity also be teaching sound doctrine and the attributes of God. Grace is the central theme of the Scripture – with Jesus Christ being the central character – and all of our doctrine and understanding of God and His saving work revolves around this.

For example, grace cannot be understood without also teaching the holiness of God and that fact that God requires holiness of His people. Because we could never attain to that standard of holiness in and of ourselves, we are made holy by grace. Neither can grace be taught apart from God’s justice – since Christ’s work on the cross not only sets sinners free from the condemnation of sin, but also completely satisfies God’s wrath against it. Additionally, grace is intimately intertwined with God’s sovereignty, since He alone initiates this grace-based relationship with humanity through the message of the gospel.

Key doctrines such as the trinity, the sinfulness of mankind, the work of Jesus Christ, the formation and mission of the church, the salvation of humanity, the future bodily return of Jesus, etc. are all inextricably connected to grace. These are all co-equally important doctrines, but they all revolve around and resolve in grace.

Additionally, a robust grace-centered theology carries with it many practical benefits in the lives of believers. Grace enables a Christian to understand and live from the wellspring of their new identity in Christ. Only when a person understands and abides in the reality of who they are in Christ (totally by grace through faith) can they begin to bear the fruit of life-transformation by the Spirit’s power.

Discipleship isn’t a regiment of religious effort with some “grace thrown in” for whenever we blow it. Rather, grace is the foundational underpinning of every fruit that the Spirit produces through the believer in the discipleship process.

3 - What about the hard challenges Jesus made with regard to laying down our lives, taking up our crosses and following Him?

Rightly interpreting the mesmerizing words of Jesus is of critical importance for accurately applying them to life. Throughout Jesus’ teaching, we see a mixture of harsh demands with bold offers of grace. For example on the one hand we read things like “if your eye causes sin gouge it out,” “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” and “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” On the other hand, Jesus makes statements like “neither do I condemn you,” “come to me all who are weary and heavy-burdened,” and “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

So what’s the deal? Is Jesus teaching different things depending upon what mood he happens to be in? Paying careful attention to context makes all the difference in the world. Jesus came as one born under law to minister to those under law (Gal. 4:4). He came to His own (Jews), but they did not receive Him (John 1:11). Under the Old Covenant, the best a rabbi could offer his disciples was to say “If you want to follow me, carefully observe the way that I live – and then copy me.”

We cannot forget that much of what Jesus taught was carried out under that old paradigm. In Christ’s harsh and demanding teachings, he was largely trying to get the Pharisaical minds of the day (including some of His own disciples who had been influenced by that mentality) to recognize their utter desperation under the demands of God’s holiness and His law. In the passages where Jesus is offering grace, He is intentionally pointing all those with ears to hear to the reality that grace was the alternative.

In other words, if you wanted to enter the kingdom, you could try one of two routes. You could try through self-righteousness and law-keeping (and fail). Or you could cast yourself fully upon the riches of His grace (and succeed). While the “come and die” passages of Jesus are prevalent during His earthly ministry under the law – something radical happened at the cross in which all of that was changed forever.

Never in any of the New Testament epistles is there a plea made for a disciple to “come and die.” Instead, New Covenant discipleship revolves around “reckoning” ourselves already dead to sin and alive to God through Christ (Romans 6:1-14; Galatians 2:20, etc.). To “reckon” means to “count or consider it true by faith.”

At Valley we teach that believers in Christ are entirely new creations by grace (2 Corinthians 5:17). This means that we have already died with Christ and there is no dying left to be done! Specifically, Christ is now to live through us rather than us living for Him. That this is true is indisputable when we understand Jesus’ parable of the vine and the branches in John 15.

Just after the dinner feast on the night he was betrayed, Jesus took a towel and washed His disciples’ feet – informing them that He was about to depart from them to a place where they would eventually follow Him. After promising to send the Holy Spirit in His place, Jesus then pointed his disciples toward a vineyard in order to communicate the way in which the paradigm for discipleship was about to change under the New Covenant that He had just instituted at the original “Lord’s Supper” in the upper room.

By giving them this illustration, Jesus was affirming what I alluded to above – that the Christian life was not like the Jewish life. The goal would no longer be to strive under the arduous burdens of the law in order to “live for God.” Rather, His New Covenant disciples would now “abide” (rest securely, make their home in) Him and trust Jesus to produce “fruit” in and through them.

This illustration is indispensible for our understanding of and participation in New Covenant discipleship. Branches don’t produce fruit – but they do get the privilege of “bearing” it…or “showing it off.” It’s the Vine that produces the fruit – as its nourishing sap flows into the outer extremities of the branches. As a believer in Christ, you have already died and been raised with Him. There is no dying left to be done…only living! It is a sad fact that believers have misunderstood this transformative reality for so long!

4 - Don’t you fear that emphasizing God’s grace will lead people to abuse it as a license to live sinfully or selfishly?

Not for one moment do I fear this! Paul said that the power of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15:56). In other words, it is not grace-based living that encourages more sin, but law-based living! Is it possible that a person could take advantage of grace by abusing it as a license to sin? Of course it is possible! By definition, grace is always open to the possibility of abuse.

But let’s be honest. When is the last time you ever felt like you needed a license to commit sin? The fact is that we don’t need a license to sin! We do it quite well without even a learner’s permit! We were born into this world as professional sinners and we intrinsically know how to commit sin quite easily. In fact, we’ve had this ability since long before we ever had any concept of grace or law in the first place!

Here is what the vast scope of the New Testament actually teaches about the place of the law and its effects upon our lives:

  • The law is not for the righteous, but the unrighteous (1 Tim. 1:8-10)
  • The law shuts up our excuses and makes us more conscious of sin (Rom. 3:19-20)
  • The law cannot justify a person (Gal. 2:16)
  • The law cannot impart life (Gal. 3:21)
  • The law will never be kept by anyone other than Jesus (Matt. 5:21-29; James 2:10)
  • The law arouses sin and makes carnality more powerful (Rom. 6:14, 7:5, 8)
  • The law curses and condemns humanity (Gal. 3:10; 2 Cor. 3:7-9)
  • The law is totally fulfilled in Jesus (Gal. 4:4-5; Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 8:3-4)
  • The law and faith cannot be mixed (Rom. 10:4; Ga. 3:25-25; Gal. 5:18)
  • The law is something that believers are dead to (Rom. 7:4-6)
  • The law is not something believers are to look to (Gal. 3:1-13; 5:2-4)

In reality…it is GRACE (not law) that teaches us to live godly lives! (Titus 2:11-14, 2 Cor. 12:9).

So back to our original question: Do I fear that grace-based teaching and practice will be the cause of more carnality or sin among believers? Absolutely not. But I know Scripturally and experientially that law-based living will and it is happening right before our eyes in the church today.

For decades, we’ve been hearing preachers shout about how to be more “radical for Jesus” as we are pulverized by works-based theologies of discipleship. For years we have seen the saints beaten over the head with Old Covenant regulations such as “tithing” 10 percent of their income – and the result is that the average evangelical believer gives a measly 2-3% of their income to the work of the Lord.

Simply put, law-based teaching produces more sin, more selfishness and more carnality than any power in all the world! But when people are living by grace – immersed in an attitude of gratitude for the life they have been given freely in Christ – they bear more fruit, are more generous with their resources and are so focused on the beauty of Jesus that they are not even thinking about their next carnal endeavor!

You want radical? Grace is radical! And grace is the antidote to sin – not high-pressure rules and regulations. If you’re struggling with the typical try harder, fail, confess-your-sins-and-try-again cycle that has become all too common for many disciples, I invite you to plunge into the deep end of the pool of God’s unfathomable grace!

To discover more about living a grace-based life, you can view our messages online at http://www.valleychurch.com/ and check out the many books offered at the Surrendered Image Bookstore – including my book, The Gospel Uncut: Learning to Rest in the Grace of God.

Theme Photo Credit - © Ron NickelThis is a scene from the Canadian Badlands Passion Play.

 
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Jeremy White
Jeremy White

Jeremy White

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