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
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.