The heavens will not be filled with those who never made mistakes but with those who recognized that they were off course and who corrected their ways to get back in the light of gospel truth.” ― Dieter F. Uchtdorf link
I know this blog post may seem like another I wrote recently. However, I wanted to deal with hyper-grace in the context of other definitions of grace. I also have found some new illustrations.
Recently I had a discussion with a woman on Twitter. It helped me to see the struggle we all have the theology of grace. I do not have all the answers and am convinced that there are few people who do. Nonetheless, one can see what is wrong with some theories of grace which may help us all to understand grace better in our own lives. I anticipate that some of you will disagree with my understanding of the matter. I am looking forward to a lively discussion on this matter.
How does one define grace in it's simplest form?
From a broad perspective, there are three types of grace.
1. Common Grace link:
Common Grace refers to the grace of God that is common to all humankind. It is "common" because its benefits are experienced by the whole human race without distinction between one person and another, believers or unbelievers. It is "grace" because it is undeserved and sovereignly bestowed by God.
Think about the sun which rises and sets on all.
2. Grace link:
The other day I picked up some coffee and donuts for my mother at Dunkin Donuts in the drive thru. When I got to the window and attempted to hand my money to the server, she said the woman in the car that just drove away paid for my order. I didn't know her and as far an as I know, I did nothing to earn that payment. So, I did the same for the car in back of me. Pass it on and all that!
Grace is unmerited favor.
3. Grace in its most simplistic form as it applies specifically to the Christian faith link:
I really liked the wording of this definition.
In the New Testament grace means God’s love in action towards men who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending His only Son to descend into hell on the cross so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven. ‘(God) hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’" (2 Corinthians 5:21).1
When grace morphs into legalism
We see this sort of legalism in two camps. The old time Baptist who had rules about dancing, movies, and dress codes. Today we can see this in hardcore Calvinist churches which have turned grace into the freedom to be obedient. In Failure Is Not a Virtue, Jen Wilkin, writing for The Gospel Coalition, had this to say:
Obedience is only moralism if we believe it curries favor with God. The believer knows that it is impossible to curry favor with God, because God needs nothing from us. He cannot be put in our debt. Knowing this frees us to obey out of joyful gratitude rather than servile grasping.
Do I believe that an alcoholic can obey and stop drinking? Yes, but it is difficult. Do I believe that I can be patient, one of the fruits of the Spirit? I am more patient now that I was 30 years ago. But, am I perfectly patient? No, I have worked on this for much of my Christian life. So when Wilkin says that I am free to obey, I look at my struggle with patience and say it is a continuing battle and rises and falls like the stock market. I believe that I will not totally conquer patience in this life.
Those who are part of Wilkin's tribe are full of all kinds of rules and regulations since we ae are supposedly free. Recently, The Cripplegate, a Calvinist website posted Reasons We Miss Church (But May Not Need To) by Eric Davis. David had lots of ideas on how to avoid missing church services. Unfortunately he strayed into motherhood and suggested that a woman should be ready to return to church within a week of giving birth. Needless to say there were some disagreements. But Eric wasn't backing down because his wife did it. (Bless her heart.)
Recent birth of a child.
The joy of adding a family member can be a tad tricky logistically. Labor, hospital stays, and medical attention can prevent us from gathering. However, we need not prolong absence from gathering once those things conclude. It certainly will be more difficult to attend with an infant, but, as we trust, and seek the help of, our powerful God, we can be sure that he will help us stay plugged in.
If we are uncertain about logistics in attending, we can approach our elders for assistance. Perhaps our church has a nursery/cry room. If not, we can ask if it’d be possible to create one. If we are concerned about our child crying, and there is no cry room, perhaps we could stand in the back of the gathering area. If we need help getting the family together to attend, we could ask individuals in our small group for assistance. If we are concerned about our infant getting sick, we could ask our elders for suggestions for that, too.
Here are a few responses.
The men then respond. One claims that the Bible made a woman bring a baby to the Temple for circumcision after 8 days and they didn't have cars then so women should be able to get to church. If it was good enough for the women of the Old Testament, it is good enough for women today. A one week rule is born!
Other men simply said " My wife did it." So now some churches have rules that women should be in church within 1 week and I bet there are women who will pull themselves together just to live up to the rule.
When grace morphs into Hyper-Grace.
Sam Storms wrote HYPER-GRACE AND REPENTANCE. He admits that there are those who are overly sin conscious and seem to forget that God grace is sufficient for our salvation. However, he believes that hyper-grace adherents are too quick turn a blind eye to the need for repentance.
.But what they fail to recognize is that it is precisely because of the wonder and majesty of God’s saving mercy in Jesus that we should be sensitive to our sin and quick to repent of it. We do not repent in order to curry God’s favor or to make it possible for us to be reconciled to him. But repentance is absolutely necessary if we hope to live in the daily delight that comes with being reconciled to God.
He claims that those who believe in hyper-grace have an alternate view of repentance. It's merely changing the way people think about sin.
Several Hyper-grace authors contend that the only sense in which a Christian is required to repent is to change his/her mind or to rethink regarding sin and our relationship with God.
I was recently tagged on Twitter by a woman who believed that I needed to give Pete Wilson *grace* after I tweeted that he had not told his church not did he seek help from his church regarding his legal separation while a pastor. I have said similar things about Tullian Tchividjian.
Note how she uses the wrd grace. It is in a stand alone sentence and seems to assume that there is only one way to view grace which is her way, whatever that is. I thne brought up the concept of cheap grace.
She sharply disagreed with the concept of cheap grace. I mentioned the need for repentance and truth. Here is her response.
I then quoted from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
At this point I was stunned and said that it takes a lot of guts to disagree with Bonhoeffer in this matter. I realized that she was operating on a different definition of grace that I. I asked her if this is the sort of grace that Pete Wilson taught at the church but she would not answer me. I mentioned to her that we might be on different pages.
At this point, I removed myself from the conversation. She appeared irritated and said it wasn't fair that I raised the issue of repentance when I was discussing grace. Grace is part and parcel with repentance, especially in the context of the Christian narrative.
The Bible is quite clear that few shoulde seek to be teachers since they will be held to a higher standard.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1 NIV Bible Gateway
This means that they, above all should be the first to repent and the first to live lives openly. If they truly understand the message of the Gospel then they should confess boldly to those who have supported them. It is truly sad when that role model runs from accountability and even sadder that the people who attended their churches and hung on to their teachings do not believe they are owed an answer. The pastor is treated no differently than the person who bags your groceries. When they no longer show up, you ask, Why?" and are told that he was tired of his job and went elsewhere.
The Doctrines of Grace are not probably not what you mean when you use the term "grace."
In the past we have written about seminaries which train their pastors to not admit to being Calvinists since there is often a negative connotation to the term. So, when asked, they are told to say that they believe in grace and to turn the question back to the questioner by asking if they believe in grace. What the are not saying is that they believe in the doctrines of grace. This is playing games with people in churches and it is unbecoming to those who claim to follow the one who is "The Truth."
The Doctrines of Grace explain an entire theological framework. In this paradigm, God has predetermined that only a finite number of people will be saved. Man does not have free will in the sense that he/she can reach out to God of their own accord/ Therefore, God, who only wishes to choose some, must make those people want to follow Him since they cannot choose to do so on their own.
Total Depravity – As a result of Adam’s fall, the entire human race is affected; all of Adam’s descendants are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5). Calvinists are quick to point out that this does not mean that all people are as bad as they could be. Rather, this doctrine says that, as a result of man’s fall in Adam, all people are radically depraved from the inside and that their depravity affects every area of their lives.
Unconditional Election – Because man is dead in sin, he is unable (and stubbornly unwilling) to initiate a saving response to God. In light of this, God, from eternity past, mercifully elected a particular people unto salvation (Ephesians 1:4–6). These people are comprised of men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9). Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not contingent on man’s response to God’s grace (Romans 8:29–30; 9:11; Ephesians 1:11–12) because man, in his fallen state, is both unable and unwilling to respond favorably to Christ’s offer of salvation.
Limited Atonement – The purpose of Christ’s atoning death was not to merely make men savable and thus leaving the salvation of humanity contingent on man’s response to God’s grace. Rather, the purpose of the atonement was to secure the redemption of a particular people (Ephesians 1:4–6; John 17:9). All whom God has elected and Christ died for will be saved (John 6:37–40, 44). Many Reformed Christians prefer the term “particular redemption” as they feel that this phrase more accurately captures the essence of this doctrine. It is not so much that Christ’s atonement is limited as it is particular, intended for a specific people—God’s elect.
Irresistible Grace – God has elected a particular people to be the recipients of Christ’s atoning work. These people are drawn to Christ by a grace that is irresistible. When God calls, man responds (John 6:37, 44; 10:16). This teaching does not mean that God saves men against their will. Rather, God changes the heart of the rebellious unbeliever so that he now desires to repent and be saved. God’s elect will be drawn to Him, and that grace that draws them is, in fact, irresistible. God replaces the unbeliever’s heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). In Reformed theology, regeneration precedes faith.
Perseverance of the Saints – The particular people God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith. None of those whom God has elected will be lost; they are eternally secure in Him (John 10:27–29; Romans 8:29–30; Ephesians 1:3–14). Some Reformed theologians prefer to use the term “Preservation of the Saints” as they believe that this choice of words more accurately describes how God is directly responsible for the preservation of His elect. It is clear in Scripture that Christ continues to intercede for His people (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). This continues to provide believers with the assurance that those that belong to Christ are eternally His.
How do I view grace?
I have said this before but I cannot stress it enough. There lives a tension between understanding my sin and my need for repentance and the freedom from the guilt of sin that grace affords me.
This quote by CS Lewis sums it up for me.
“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve," said Aslan. "And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”― C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian link.
My church does a spoken confession of sin each week prior to communion. During that time I have sorrow for what I have done and not done. However, the pastor then proclaims that our sins, both known and unknown, are forgiven and we are invited to share in communion. In the course of about 10 minutes I feel guilt, i repent and then I feel free. That is the tension that should exist in all of us. "Bowed shoulders" and "erect heads" – not one without the other.
Grace is a tricky word. Always ask what the person means when they use it. Robyn used the word grace like this *Grace.* Yet grace and repentance are inextricably linked. Each of us must work this out for ourselves without resorting to legalism or hyper-grace.
I am interested in hearing how you all have worked this out or if you totally disagree with me. In the meantime, I often wonder if some people, who use the word, do not know what it really means.