Monday, August 2, 2010

#178 - Qualifying Grace

Have you ever heard a sermon on grace in a Pentecostal/Apostolic church?

Think about that for a second.

Actually, total side note, but the way that I formatted the previous two sentences reminded me of Rob Bell.



He uses different levels of text in his books

For emphasis.

Ok, back to the topic at hand: Grace. I want to start this off by defining a couple things to help us avoid one of the pitfalls that happen when we discuss grace.

First, the purpose of grace is to reconcile sinful humanity to a holy God.

Grace justifies the sinner, not the sin. And grace is enough to do that. There is nothing that anyone can do to earn this favor or opportunity that God gives to all people. This is not an argument about what it means to follow Christ, or what it means to follow after the Spirit. It is about the Apo idea that grace is a conditional gift, that without obedience, grace is absent - which is NOT biblical. I generally accept that any desire or action that is made towards God is a result of grace, period.

Here's what the dictionary has to say:

(in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

the condition or fact of being favored by someone

The thesaurus gives us the following: favor, approval, approbation, acceptance, esteem, regard, respect; goodwill

Sounds good right? And if you check out Romans 5, grace sounds really great. As a matter of fact, it kinda looks like that Jesus actually did pay it all and it is by grace that we are saved. And that if sin abounds, there's just that much more grace to go around and cover it. And get this, salvation is not of works, but a gift from God. Undeserved, unmerited, unearned. There aren't qualifications, exceptions, if/thens etc. In other words, you can't do something in order to deserve God's grace. He just gives it to you. Period.

But yet Apo/Penny people will almost always qualify grace. It seems that we are afraid of grace without an explanation of the framework in which grace works and what we have to do for grace to work and what grace isn't. Why? Because evidently if you present grace as it is written, people will just ignore Romans 6 and just use grace a license to sin and run around doing whatever they want and think they're just fine and saved and on the path to Heaven. Perhaps those calling themselves Christians are not truly following Jesus to the best of their ability and are really just looking for a loophole to live like "The World."

So what typically happens is this:

His grace is enough! BUT.

We are saved by grace! BUT.

His grace will reconcile many to Himself! IF.


And thus grace is shuffled to a secondary position that is contingent on other behaviors, actions and beliefs. So what you end up with are people who are still trying to fulfill some legal code in order to earn grace and salvation. Because we might sing that Chris Tomlin song, but we know that there's either a 'but' or an 'if' that's tacked on. And if an Apo/Penny author had written it, there'd be a bridge about what we have to do in order for that grace to actually kick in.

Actually, if you mention grace, you can just see people's faces tighten up and see the mental gears start turning because they're about to tell you why grace isn't really grace.

The problem with this is, the underlying assumption that "I can be good enough on my own to merit grace." Because if I don't sin or do anything wrong and I witness to people and feed the homeless and take care of the widow and orphan, and my shadow heals people when I walk by and my prayer cloths are the most effective in the world, I am a good person, have attained some level of righteousness and goodness, and so yes, grace can work in my life because I've managed to do everything right and live right and so, I actually deserve grace. If my hair is long, and my skirt covers my knees; if I don't wear makeup and shout at least once a month, then I deserve grace. If I wear pants in the boiling heat and sleeves to my elbows and am respectful to my elders, and abstain from premarital sex, then I deserve grace. And we cover ourselves with a facade of goodness and good works and self-righteousness and think if we've done everything we should have done, we deserve grace. And we forget about scriptures like this:

Romans 11: And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is — free and undeserved.

Corinthians 12: Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

Galatians 2: I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

Ephesians 2: Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit.

Titus 3: Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

Hebrews 13: So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them

And we highlight scriptures like this to point out that grace doesn't really work without conditions:

Jude 1: I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

But wait a second, aren't the people they're talking about here ungodly people who are living sinful lives on purpose?

So grace gets qualified because we understand it better when it is qualified. As Brennan Manning says, we're used to slogans such as:

"There's no free lunch."

"You get what you deserve."

You want love? Earn it."

"Do unto other before they do unto you."

"Our approach to the Christian life is absurd as the enthusiastic young man who had just received his plumber's license and was taken to see Niagara Falls. He studied it for a minute and then said, I think I can fix this." (Manning)

And also the arrogance of qualifying grace means that you have classified sin so that they are codified and you have avoided or can avoid the "worst ones." It is much easier to be harsh on others for drunkenness, immorality and drugs than it is to recognize your own flaws, fights with anger, harsh words and a lack of joy and peace in your life that should be present - and those are just a few. The thing about grace is, we use it when we aren't even aware that we need it. Qualifying grace says that you are truly above such a need for God and have somehow earned a place in His kingdom based on your actions. That there is some measure of good within you and that you are not wretched and naked and hungry and in desperate need of grace.

It seems that we are scared of grace. And I'm not sure why. We have all seen things misused. For instance, tongues and interpretation or just tongues in general. We've all seen fakes and people using things like prophecy for agendas or just missing the mark and yet those are all things we're fine with. Because we know the actual thing is true - and even though there are people who twist them to suit their own agendas we don't feel the same need to explain them away or urge such caution.

Maybe it's because we don't understand grace? We don't get a system of unconditional love and acceptance that we can truly do nothing to earn or deserve. Our culture at its core is based on actions and results. If you do this, then you get this. From school and society we are bombarded with the message that you have to do something in order to get a result. Study hard, do the work and you'll get an A. Work hard, apply yourself and you'll make a good living. And Jesus' way feels counter intuitive. Because it's truly free. No strings attached. No hidden agendas. And everyone needs it equally. No excuses, no alternatives, nothing you can do to need it less. All you can do is accept it. And it is truly a phenomenal gift.

"Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don't have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace." (Manning)

What do you think? Is grace enough or do you feel other pressures pushing you? I don't claim to have a handle on it, but I am trying to move forward with the understanding and acceptance that it is God's grace that calls us to salvation, saves us and loves us in spite of our flaws. That my imperfections don't have to bring added burdens and condemnation, but rather bring me to the understanding and acceptance of the fact that I rely on Him for everything.


  1. Interesting article, we must be in the same vain, I just posted something similar on my blog last night:

  2. To understand grace requires revelation, in my opinion.

    It's one of those things that can be explained 100 different ways, but until you've 'seen the light' of what living in Grace means, people will always try and qualify it.

    Good post and thoughts.


  3. Love this post. I think this idea is the bottom line behind all the many differences of opinion between the older and younger, the liberal and progressive. This is the battle we fight. By saying there's a formula, or a qualification list or some sort of requirements you're adding to grace.

    I heard an awesome message, which Joel sent me, in which the minister is preaching Galatians, and he says in one part that adding law to grace is basically the same as standing at the foot of the cross, looking at your bleeding, dying savior and saying "Thanks Jesus, but that's not good enough."

  4. Wow. I just read Galatians a couple days ago for the first time. Not really the first, but the first time I actually read it with the intentions of searching something I didn't understand. This post just added to that for me. =)

    Jesus truly is amazing. There are no words to describe how awesome he is in his love and grace, whether or not we understand it completely.

  5. The Apostle Paul's message on grace was so powerful that he constantly had to qualify his statement with phrases like "that doesn't mean you should keep on sinning," etc... Think about why he constantly qualified himself. Do we preach grace that hard?

    Grace is not a free ticket. Grace is a work in our hearts. Grace is an inclusion of us into His Story (what we call the Gospel). One who freely receives, freely gives. Grace wasn't a wage I earned, because that would be death, no matter how much I fast/pray/talk in tongues and run the aisles. My wage is death. Jesus didn't owe us a wage. He was in a better position. He gave us something we could never get on our own. And the best part is that, throughout the Story of God, he is faithful and consistent to those he elects and calls, and to those who respond to His voice.

    Grace: the most talk-about subject, least-understood, under-delivered by heralds and consequently under-appreciated. Until we understand the depravity of our sin and condition, the hopelessness of our fate, we won't truly understand the breadth and height of our salvation.

    Amazing Grace.

  6. I have to say that I think you expressed it best, Lee. Grace does not mean you keep on sinning. I do understand the point of this post and I agree for the most part with it. It is very easy, especially the more conservative you are, to think your works will buy you salvation. Obviously that is not the case, and the older I grow and longer I live for God, the more I understand that. I have grown up in a very "strict" district and have observed that way of thinking to be very common. However, the reverse can be true as well. Once a person "gets a revelation" of grace, it does not mean everything they once believed becomes null and void either. In fact, I do wonder if that concept of grace is what has led to the "emergent" church movement. Just a thought....

  7. Ryan, I found what you said to be very profound: "It seems we are scared of grace." You're right.

  8. Lewis talks about the knowing - doing gap between the "law of right and wrong" and the "law of human behavior"; every rational human being must agree there is a gap between what I know to be right and what I do (a fool tries to integrate these). Thus, sin - we miss the mark.

    Isn't the issue really one of repentence? Repentence as a state of heart, not the perfect avoidance of sin or ability for a human to hit the mark every moment.

    Titus 2:11-14
    For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

    I guess the way I wrap my head around it is that I am save by the grace of Jesus through faith in Jesus. As a result, I fear Him and work towards a repented heart that produces good fruit (James 3).

    Grace absolutely is the only thing that saves us. I do have a BUT though (maybe it's the legalism I haven't weeded out completely); God will not be mocked and if I'm not baring good fruit, I'm led to deduce I'm not well.'s probably most important that I not settle for this as inevitable; rather I'm motivated to improve as my reasonable service.

    I don't believe God intends for us to be able to construct a "new law" that allows us to lack humility and boast that we are right - he didn't like the Religous Lawyers much. We must show humility and accept that only the grace of God will cover the gap that we all have between what we know to be right and what we do dispite our best efforts.

  9. Let the Bride say AMEN! The judaizer truly believes his/her synergy will save them .... the spirit of Pelagianism has swooped up many in Pentecost.

  10. Brandon -- BINGO!

    "Isn't the issue really one of repentence? Repentence as a state of heart, not the perfect avoidance of sin or ability for a human to hit the mark every moment."

    When Repentance is a conformists mentality that equates the beauty of repentance to perfection it becomes moralism. True repentance is a complete trust and dependance on God for salvation, and nothing else. No dependence on works, no dependence on things masked under "works" with beautiful biblical words like "holiness," "righteousness," etc... All those things are bestowed upon us, and in us, by Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

  11. What I found common was that all recognize grace that finds us. They will all talk about how they were a sinner and the Grace of God found them. Some will even say it saved them (though others will say, in so many ways, it inspired them to save themselves). But it's the idea that Grace continues to save us, helps us persevere (because God is faithful) that is lacking. We are cleaned up by this God, but then we keep ourselves cleaned up on our own, and end up being better and better people. Then on the Judgement Day those who are Super Good get to enter into heaven and wear really cool crowns. Those who aren't good people get death. It inevitably goes back to "being good" with so many.

    He didn't come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live. When we have life, life to the fullest, though not our primary aim, we do become better people. But it's because we have life. Grace gave us life.

  12. Righteousness is an asymptote

  13. I absolutely love this analogy of righteousness as an asymptote. Thank you

  14. This post brings up a tangential thought in me about catholic theology. Does the doctrine of purgatory become necessary in the absence of grace?

    If I must meet God's standard of righteousness before I win a place in heaven, wouldn't I need a place to go between here and there to wring out the last tiniest bit of sinful nature?

    This is how C.S. Lewis explained it in "Letters to Malcolm". He was arguing in favor of belief in purgatory as needful to make us ready to meet a holy God. Grace explains to me why this idea is unnecessary.