Half Grace


Half Grace

I came across this on Facebook, and thought it was too good to ignore. It illustrates two common problems in our understanding of grace. So I’m sharing it here, with you.

Losing our Way

Many Christians have lost their way because they profess a half grace, which robs them of the power to become mature disciples and the confidence needed to go forth as agents of God’sfull grace.  By full grace, I mean both the grace of His often unfathomable but always accepting love and presence, and the grace of His often hard but always transforming truth and rule.  God’s unmerited love and His revealed truth are both gifts – which is what the Greek word for “grace” in the New Testament means – given by Him for our good. We need both. In His providence, they are inseparably interrelated: Because Christ loves us, He reveals His truths to us.  Because He is the embodiment of all truth, He loves us.  Maturity in Christ, then, means that the grace of His love and the grace of His truth must always go together – hand in hand. Too many forget this by wanting one but not the other, and quickly lose their way.

Half-Grace Believers

In the past, half-grace believers often pushed God’s truth without embracing or expressing His affirming love and presence – which resulted in legalism with no real transformation.  Today, however, the prevailing problem is that many want Christ’s loving presence and acceptance, but not His transforming truth and rule. As I’ve watched and studied today’s various half-grace “movements”, the evidence seems clear that they are now trapped in a dilemma: By proclaiming the grace of God’s affirmation and presence, but not the grace of His truth and rule, they have failed to produce maturity. Nor have they effectively reached – or discipled those they claim to love.

Like the graphic above suggests, half grace always results in a dilemma. Today, it is unable to affirm truth for fear of offending love. In the past, it was unable to love for fear of offending truth. Both traps, however, spring from the same error: Seeing the grace of love and the grace of truth as conflicting.

Transcendent Truth

Half-grace perspectives that neglect or deny propositional truth (i.e., statements of truth revealed in scripture which are universally valid, regardless of personal perspective or opinion) traditionally found their home in theologically liberal “mainline” denominations.  Now, however, they also are found in self-styled “beyond evangelical” circles, including the “emergent” church movement, “deeper life” movements, some segments of the organic church community, and the growing “grace” movement (whose proponents, I’ve seen, generally remain aloof from forming or committing to any local church). Those who embrace today’s version of half grace rather than full grace have been deceived into thinking Christ’s propositional truths – His commands, revealed history, moral principles and clear Biblical precepts – must be laid aside (or even denied) in order to fully know Christ, or to love and reach those who don’t know Him. Often, this is based on the mistaken belief that the “person of Christ”, as defined by their existential perception of Him (i.e., Jesus is only known through our subjective experiences and all else – including external propositional truths – are a distraction), is higher revelation than His written Word of scripture. Other times, half grace is based on a mistaken understanding of what the New Testament calls the “law”, which it says we are no longer under.

Law and Morality

When Jesus and the New Testament refer to the “law”, that’s the specific Mosaic Code of the Old Covenant – which God entered into with Israel at Mount Sinai but then repealed at the Cross.  Christians clearly are no longer under the “law”, but God’s universal propositional truths revealed in scripture still stand eternal because they are rooted in His very character and nature, which transcend any specific legal code. For example, one of the 616 provisions in the Mosaic Code required all Israelites to put a parapet (a fence-like structure) around their roofs. This made sense for their culture, because their roofs were flat and used as living spaces. Children would play on the roofs, and needed to be protected from falling off and hurting themselves. Today, we are not obligated by scripture to put a parapet around our roofs because we are not under the Mosaic Code. In most cultures today, parapets also would make no sense because our roofs are sloped and can’t be used as gathering places. However, is there a moral principle that underlies that specific Mosaic Code requirement? If so, does that moral principle, which God revealed by grace in the Old Testament through the Mosaic law for our benefit, still apply today? I think so.  In the case of parapets in the Mosaic Code, the underlying moral principle of universal relevance is this: Parents are obligated to take reasonable precautions to protect children from foreseeable harm. Today, for example, that may mean putting a young child in a car safety seat – among other things. I think Jesus still wants us to protect children from foreseeable harm, because He loves children and wants us to be good parents. Although He repealed the Mosaic Code, and certainly does not expect parapets around sloped roofs, His underlying moral principles have never been repealed because they come from, and reflect, the very character and nature of Christ.#

Eternal Truths

Clearly, we are no longer under the specific 616 provisions of the Mosaic Code or justified by obedience to them (see John 1:17 & Rom. 3:20). On that, I hope we all agree. But I know of no verse which excuses Christians of the general moral principles revealed throughout scripture or of Christ’s numerous specific commands found in the New Testament – many of which relate back to the Old Testament.  One of those commands, found in both the Old and the New Testament, is to “be holy for I am holy” (see, e.g., 1 Pet. 1:13-16). In fact, this is one of the most frequently found phrases in scripture, and is key, because it says His moral precepts and calls to obedience are rooted in His own character and nature – and thus stand eternal because His character and nature are eternal. The Law – the Mosaic Code – has been repealed, but what Christ has revealed throughout scripture about His nature and character, and what He says in scripture it looks like to be “holy for I am holy”, have not been repealed.

Empowering Grace

Although Jesus makes it clear in the New Testament that our obedience doesn’t save us, He also is unequivocal: “If you love me, you will keep my commands“. He immediately follows that pronouncement, however, with the promise that the Father will send the Holy Spirit to help us do so (John 14:15-16). This is important to understand. Otherwise, Christ’s commands, revealed history, moral principles and clear Biblical precepts become just like the old Mosaic Code: A dry set of obligations that frustrate and condemn us, rather transforming truths than liberate us. Under the New Covenant, obedience to God’s propositional truths is a joyful expression –through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit – of our love for Jesus. Jesus has given us in scripture the gift of His propositional truths as a revelation of Himself. He did this so we may know Him not just subjectively, but also objectively. He doesn’t just stop with His propositional truths, however. We are now empowered through the Holy Spirit to want to be, and increasingly come to be, holy – just as He has revealed Himself through scripture to also be holy.

Fruit

The problem with today’s version of half grace is that it ignores a fundamental principle: Although love brings us into Christ’s embrace, we become His disciples and are set free only by abiding in what He says – i.e., His truth. In John 8:31-32, Jesus makes this very clear: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Let me repeat that: His “truth will set you free” – but only as we abide in His word and become His disciples.  To be clear, I think His word can be subjectively spoken to our hearts as He brings His liberating truth into our lives (see God Shows Up), but He also has spoken through His external Word of scripture – which holds plenary authority over all other revelation (see 2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Today’s half grace, however, reduces God’s people to merely talking the talk – without external fruit. When we reject the liberating truth of all that Christ says, we are unable to walk the walk by actually helping real people find real freedom from real problems.  We can introduce folks to the Person of Christ – but if that means we cut them off from His propositional truths, we are only presenting a fractured Jesus.  We can introduce folks to the grace of Christ’s unmerited, accepting love – but if that means we cut them off from the grace of His transforming truths, we will leave them stuck in immaturity.  This is the tragedy of today’s half grace. It goes no further than the grace (gift) of God’s love and affirming presence because it neglects – and sometimes explicitly rejects – the concurrent grace (gift) of His rule and transforming truth. As a result, there is little maturity or lasting external fruit.

Fellowship 

Without embracing all that Christ says – both internally as He speaks to our hearts but also externally through His written Word of scripture – we will neverfully become His disciples or find the freedom that only comes through His revealed truth. Nor will we be able to lead others into discipleship and freedom. Those who profess the liberation of half grace are, in fact, in bondage to it. They have perverted Christ’s affirming grace of love by turning it into an excuse to ignore His transforming grace of truth.  I don’t think it’s an accident that many half-grace believers, therefore, remain autonomous Christians without real attachments to authentic community within the framework of real ekklesia (the Greek word in the New Testament for “church” – but which means much more than our traditional concept of church). Others try to form fellowships, but they are anemic, insular and short-lived. They want the grace of love, which is the glue that binds us together in the Lord, but not the grace of truth, which provides the framework for growing up together in Him.

Freedom and Fulfillment

True grace is full grace: it accepts and affirms, while revealing, transforming and enabling.  Only full grace brings maturity, fruit and fellowship by embracing the love and presence of Christ, and the truth and authority of His external Word of scripture – as the Holy Spirit calls and enables us to become more and more transformed into who Christ created us to be, which is like Him.  There, and there alone, is freedom and fulfillment.

Real people want real answers and real freedom from real issues – not just the tidy platitudes of half truths. Maybe that’s what has shaped my strong reaction to today’s form of half grace: It cannot offer real freedom from real issues because it seeks the grace of God’s affirming love and presence, but not the grace of His transforming truth and rule. Half grace is what we use to call “sloppy agape” (agape is the Greek word in the New Testament for unmerited love). By emphasizing the vibrancy of God’s internal presence (based on His unconditional love and acceptance), without the discipline of His external rule (based on the propositional truths of scripture, like His commands, revealed history, moral principles and clear Biblical precepts), it reduces Jesus to what we now call a “friend with benefits”. As such, we use Him on our terms to meet our needs when it’s convenient – but that’s about it.  The authentic Jesus of scripture, however, is not just our accepting Savor, but the One who rose victorious over all principalities and powers (including our own sensibilities, perceptions and opinions) as sovereign Creator, conquering King, absolute Lord, righteous Lawgiver and ultimate Judge. Only the full grace that comes from loving, knowing and submitting to the authentic Christ of scripture can provide real answers and real freedom from real issues.

Half-Truth Platitudes

Half grace, because it rejects all of Christ by wanting only His internal presence and affirming love, but not His propositional truths and external rule, is reduced to hollow platitudes. Unfortunately, however, those half-truth platitudes are enticing: “Jesus unconditionally loves and accepts you.”  Although true, this ignores His call to be holy as He is holy, by coming to the cross and continually dying to self. (Matt. 10:38-39 & 16:24, 1 Pet. 1:14-16) “You are fully righteous and wholly sinless through the finished work of the Cross.”

Although it is true that the guilt of our sins – and their eternal consequences – were wiped clean at the Cross, the work of the Cross in dealing with the ongoing reality of sin in our lives – and its practical consequences – is an ongoing work of grace. (Rom. 6:12-13, 1 John 1:6-10)  “You are forgiven and sinless in Christ.”  Although it is true that we need never earn God’s saving grace and justifying forgiveness (Rom. 4:7-8), we still are commanded to deal with those sins that continue to rule us. By His grace, He therefore allows us to expose them through confession, break their hold on us by turning them over to Him through practical forgiveness, and find wholeness by progressively becoming more and more like Christ through repentance (which means changing how we act by letting the Lord change how we think, feel, perceive and believe). (1 John 1:7-10, Matt. 6:12 & 14, 2 Cor. 12:20-21, James 5:16) “You do not need to do anything to earn God’s love.” Although it is true that God’s love for us is unconditional, our love for Him is only authentic if it compels us to obey all that He commands (1 John 5:3). Furthermore, the Lord ultimately judges whether we truly knew and loved Him by whether we obeyed and did His will. (Matt. 7:21-23) Obeying and doing His will means submitting to all that He says and expects, as He speaks not only to our hearts but also through His external Word of scripture – with the resulting fruit of holiness, righteousness and good works. (Heb. 12:10-11, Col. 1:9-12) “You are redeemed and already whole through faith.” Although it is true that we are justified by faith alone, there will always be areas in our lives where God still needs to bring wholeness. As such, we must “work out your own salvation” in humility – and also not forget that “faith without works is dead”. (Phil. 2:12, James 2:17-18) “If you just listen to the Holy Spirit in you, you will just naturally do what is right.” Although God certainly speaks subjectively to our hearts, He also has authoritatively spoken through His objective, external Word of scripture.  Half grace wants the autonomy of limiting God to our subjective perceptions of Him by rejecting the plenary authority of His external Word – including the propositional truths of Christ’s commands, revealed history, moral principles and clear Biblical precepts. It therefore dismisses the necessity of scripture, and the need to submit our opinions and subjective perceptions of Christ – and what’s real, true and right – to the authority of scripture. (2 Tim. 3:16-17) “Obedience, truth and works are legalism.”  Although it is true that striving to please God through our own strength is legalism, true discipleship comes from the motivation to obey all that Christ commands because of our authentic love for Him, as we then are enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit. (John 14:15-17) However, I have found that the Holy Spirit seldom forces us to do anything. If we reject the validity of God’s external standards and commands, it is unlikely that He will prompt or empower us to obey them. We are then left in perpetual spiritual immaturity, trapped in our own subjectivity.  It is not through dry conformity that we embrace Christ’s rule, but a joyous process of us submitting to His life in us as He transforms us into all that He created us to be, which is being like Him. What it looks like to become like Him, however, is not defined merely by our own internal, subjective perception of Him, but by His authoritative self-revelation of scripture. (Psalm 119, Rom. 8:28-29, 2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Dynamic Full Grace

The half-truth platitudes of half grace are static: They stop with Christ’s initial – and truly finished – work of the Cross. There is a measure of truth in them. At the Cross, we are fully justified through His righteousness, forgiven of our past, and now stand blameless before God without condemnation.  Full grace, however, is dynamic. Although the work of Christ was finished at the cross, the work of the cross – this side of glory – is never finished in us.  As such, my half-grace brethren have robbed themselves, and others, of the wonderful ongoing power of the cross, where we continually go to die to self – which is our old sinful nature.  That happens as the Holy Spirit calls and enables us to increasingly submit to His rule and His truth – which really means being transformed more and more into the likeness and image of His liberating nature and character.  Nor do my half-grace brethren acknowledge the dynamic reality that we are held accountable by God (Matt. 7:21-23) for what we do with the justification we received through the Cross.  Those saved by grace are repeatedly called in scripture to then become Christ’s disciples, by continually growing in maturity, submitting to Christ’s rule, doing the will of the Father, and bearing the fruit of righteousness and good works. All of this, however, is not through our own strength or ability, but becomes possible as we respond to the Holy Spirit’s call and submit to His full grace, which enables us to obey all that Christ commands. As Jesus Himself said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17) I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be stuck in the static faith of half-grace’s half-truths. I want the dynamic, wonderful, often messy but always transforming faith of full grace – which embraces all of Christ and all of His grace as we: “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Phil. 2:12-13) Let us then leave behind the half-truths of half-grace and join with Paul, who said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” (Phil. 3:14-15)

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© Copyright 2018 Keith W. Smith  and Jesus Gathering. All rights reserved Internationally. Reprint by written permission of the author only

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