July 16, 2020

3 Kinds of Grace: A Heuristic Chart

While writing a sermon on Psalm 103, I was concerned that sometimes we Christians have a deficient view of the role of grace in the Christian life. I showed the following clips from Saving Private Ryan to illustrate one deficient view: that grace is something God saves us by, but we must then pay this back by how we live our lives. Most of you know the story: Private Ryan must be saved and sent home (his family has lost all his brothers in the war) and so a squad of Rangers scours the combat zone, some dying in the process, to find him. In the first clip Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, is about to die, and whispers his final words to Private Ryan:


The film ends with the clip below, as we see James Ryan return to honor those who gave their lives for him.


I couldn’t help feeling sorrowful as the burden of “earning this” was placed on that young man. But the sorrow was personal: I too have struggled for much of my life with earning the grace of God, or being good enough.

For the sermon, I also wrote down the following chart on three ways that Christians can understand (or misunderstand) the place of grace within the Christian life. I advocated for the third understanding (grace as liberation).


Three Kinds of Grace Chart, 2


Some may find this chart helpful. Others will suggest corrections, and I am eager to hear them. I called this a heuristic post, because my goal is to generate discussion and learn.

What are your thoughts?


  1. Your chart is very helpful. I am planning to use it with some new believers I work with and I am sure it will be helpful for them. Do you mind if I translate your chart to Spanish?

  2. Brilliant, Daniel! I like this.

  3. Christiane says

    when I first started reading and I came to the idea of being obligated to pay back ‘the favor’ (my phrase), I thought there was no way we could do that fully and that if anything at all was ‘required’ of us, it must surely be our sincere thanksgiving;
    and that shows up in Number 4 on the very interesting Chart . . .

    when I think of the kinds of ‘thanksgiving’ out there, there is the phony kind we pay to one another out of politeness sometimes, and there is the more genuine kind we feel socially obligated to show perhaps with a formal card or phone call or a token gift of appreciation;
    but the kind of thanksgiving I think of when I have received grace from God is the kind that comes from a sense of relief, inspired by the great kindness of a merciful gift . . . in this sense, ‘thanksgiving’ becomes for me an affirmation of the Source of a gift of strength in the midst of need. . . it crosses into the realm of prayer and praise and even awe: the result: a deeper understanding of ‘humility before the Lord’

    • “You were bought with a price, therefore…”

      • Salvation isn’t a free gift if there are strings attached. Including the strings of obligation of accepting, paying back, or doing anything other than gratefully accepting and moving on with life, with or without Christ.

        But, then…were you truly saved? Idk. I don’t think too deeply on this type of trivia…

        • You can be one of the 9 lepers that were cleansed, or the the tenth leper who came back to say thanks and was told “your faith has made you well.”

          (I work in customer support in the tech field, and I think the proportion of one grateful person to every 10 that are helped is pretty true in my experience.)

      • Christiane says

        Hi StuartB,

        if you’re going to get hung-up on an image of God’s mercy, I recommend the parable of the Prodigal Son . . . it won’t fit with a lot of the ‘God-of-Wrath’ thinking, but it does a good job of reflecting Our Lord’s mercy to people who are troubled and want to return to God after being broken . . . it’s a good parable, but not so much told among those who are ‘legalistic’ in their theology, no . . . they seem to want to control people, not help them towards Christ

  4. Well laid out. Well formulated. Well said.

  5. This is so well done.

    It might be a telling exercise to plot where we fall on each particular point. If it’s one thing lots of us are schizophrenic about, it’s the stuff in our head about grace vs. how we attempt to play it out in our lives.

    I have just one quibble: under the ‘Transformative’ category for ‘Basic operating principle’, I would change the perspective from “I continue to get what I don’t deserve” to something like “I receive my inheritance in full.”

    In that category, it seems like whiplash to move from “Draw nearer” to “I don’t deserve it” to “Loving Father.” One of these is not like the others, and can even hinder our initiative to draw nearer to our Loving Father. Part of the scandal of grace, I believe, is that in our adoption of sons and daughters through Christ we *become deserving* of every good and perfect gift from our Father above.

    Grace by nature is undeserved. This keeps us from falling into pride. But we cannot be afraid of fully owning our identity, inheritance, and position in Christ.

    I’ll be meditating on this chart for awhile, thank you for it!

    • Daniel Jepsen says

      Good thoughts. Thanks.

    • I agree; the wording “I continue to get what I don’t deserve” is a bit clunky. Perhaps “I continue to receive more grace than I deserve” gets at your point better…?

    • Sean,

      Great thoughts. I also thought that the language of “deserving” in and of itself might belong in the Libertine or Disguised Law columns instead. While I get the truth behind the way it’s worded, I might suggest that “deserving” wouldn’t really be a “basic operating principle” w/ God as Father. “Father” language isn’t defined by deserved/undeserved – at least not in my own experience as a father. Really like the way you phrased it.

  6. Don’t know if “now you owe God for the rest of your life” was what I was being taught as a child in the church (I was UMC, so probably not) but it is certainly the message I internalized for myself. It doesn’t take too many people making the point that it was *your* personal sins “that nailed Christ to the cross” for a child to see grace not as grace, but as a debt from under which you will never get out. Kind of a cosmic payday loan.

    When I felt a call to ministry in my 30s, this underlying, but subconscious notion was compounded. Now God hadn’t just saved me, but was specially calling me to do God’s work, so God was my employer, too. I went to seminary, served churches, etc. As long as I felt I was a good employee, I was still OK.

    But when I served (not as pastor, but in staff and lay leadership) three churches in a row over 15 years that each failed in nasty, spectacular ways (not of my making–I was collateral damage), I totally hit bottom, and the “not repaying the debt/bad employee issue came to the surface. God wasn’t angry with me, God was *disappointed* in me because of the church failures. Which was actually worse: I had failed God, who had been counting on me.

    It took me a few years being out of the church to figure out the underlying dynamic and replace it with the attitudes expressed in the last column of Daniel’s chart. I still have times when I revert to the second column way of thinking, but on the whole I am in a better place personally and theologically.

    I do think many, many Christians and Christian leaders are in column two, where grace is not grace.

  7. Can’t say I’m very comfortable with the distinctions between these categories, as I’ve been in many situations where the lines blur.

    For instance, Third Use of the Law seems to be a blend of Transformative and Disguised Law. I’d find those types in PCA and LCMS.

    I’d put forward that Tullian and co would be a blend of Transformative and Libertine, or proper understanding of Transformative looks like or leads into Libertine.

    My own Baptist fundamentalism childhood would be Disguised Law, but seesawing between Transformative and Libertine depending on if it’s your regular pastor or an evangelist.

    I look at the definitions under Transformative and they seem more like Disguised Law. You will do this *because* you don’t want to hurt God, etc. I discovered that type of thinking in my charismatic cult, where any sin was met with “don’t you love Jesus and not want to hurt him?”

    A blend of Libertine and Transformative, if using the definitions provided, seems like the best stance. But it’s tough because the definitions between the two jump between “our view” and “God’s view”. Inward vs outward focus. Grace and forgiveness go hand in hand and should not be pitted against each other.

    anyways, my two cents on this friday.

    • Where would “you were bought with a price, so then</strong…" fall? That statement always seemed like Disguised Law to me. Be grateful for grace…or else.

    • Third Use of the Law seems to be a blend of Transformative and Disguised Law. I’d find those types in PCA and LCMS.

      That’s not how Law and Gospel works at all. Not even close.

      Can’t say I’m very comfortable with the distinctions between these categories, as I’ve been in many situations where the lines blur.

      That’s because the categories do not properly distinguish law from gospel, but rather, try to combine them into a single category. First mistake.

      I look at the definitions under Transformative and they seem more like Disguised Law..

      There is absolutely no substantial difference between “transformative” and “disguised law.” They are doing the exact same thing: prescribing what the post-conversion life ought to look like. One just says it in more of a demanding tone, the other is more of a salesman for right living, almost insinuating that grace somehow makes obedience easier or more natural. We don’t want to seem like legalists, but we simply must see to it that Christians behave better. Forgiveness isn’t enough, we also need improvement!

      A blend of Libertine and Transformative, if using the definitions provided, seems like the best stance.

      The best stance is not to try to combine law and grace and jockey back and forth between them. The best stance is 100% Law and 100% Gospel, to kill you and raise you with Christ. Neither needs to be tempered with the other, they each do their own things.

      • Just to clarify, though, much of what Daniel put under “Transformative” is very good, and much different from how I normally hear that term used. But when the focus of grace is changing us, we’ve already taken the focus off of the person and work of Christ. Perhaps a better label could be found for how he has filled out that category.

        • “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age…”

          Titus 2:11-12

      • Rick Ro. says

        “The best stance is 100% Law and 100% Gospel.”

        No. If Jesus came to fulfill the Law, then all it needs to be is 100% Gospel.

        • +1

        • You Libertine!!!

        • Robert F says

          All grace, all the time.

        • See, this is how I see it as having to be. Full grace. 100% grace. Saying otherwise seems to be an attempt to hold on to something, whether it’s Luther’s views, or some type of sanctification paradigm, or whatever.

          I don’t understand how it cannot be 100% grace. I hear so many renege and say that Jesus didn’t “abolish” the Law but “fulfill the Law”. Ok, so, yay for Jesus, bad for us? That’s not good news…that just means the penalty of the Law, some form of death, was taken care of, but we are still utterly under the Law. And even then, a large percentage of humanity is still fully under the Law, including it’s penalty of death. Well done, Jesus, mission half accomplished? or was that intentional? Are you now the new Law, Jesus, choosing to reapply the penalty to those who don’t bow to you?

          Taken another level…what even is the Law? 10 commandments? Some modern hermenutical divide between ceremonial and reality laws? Were people pre-Moses under the Law? Were only Jews under the Law? And then those people the Jews told the Law to?

          If there was never an adam, never an eve, was there ever a fall, was there ever an original sin, that we are all under it’s effects? Where did this idea originate in the ANE before an ancient Israelite seized upon it to write the stories we have today? How did it warp and change from those ancient times up to the Exile and beyond? What elements of it changed inter-testaments?

          What did Jesus have to die for other than stirring up the crowds and general dissent? Is the concept of a resurrected Savior to be found anywhere in the OT without extensive midrash post-Jesus? Do we need a resurrected Savior if there was nothing for him to die and resurrect against? Let alone an ascended Savior?

          Ah, what a slippery slope, lol…

          • Maybe the problem is that I view Law = Bad, and not Penalty of Law = Bad. Some would say the Law = Good. I’d say Gospel/Grace = Good.

            There can be perfection in a system. The Law can be perfect. That does not make it any less Bad to freedom and grace.

          • Stuart, i think the whole “law” vs. Gospel thing is largely an invention, starting with Luther. Both Jesus and Paul, who were nothing if not Jewish, have praise for the Torah. And, as you note, Jesus expressly said that his reason for coming was not to abolish the law – further, that not one single vowel marking in the text would/should be removed.

            You might really enjoy Amy-Jill Levine’s book The Misunderstood Jew, for a good look at a lot of things about both Jesus and the NT texts from the perspective of an NT scholar who treats them, and Jesus himself, with respect, but who is unafraid to point out flaws in a lot of xtian views and logic. She teaches NT studies at Vanderbilt, and is not only used to fielding questions from xtians of all stripes, but is very gracious with it.

          • Stuart, the law does not detract from grace. You can have 100% grace, and no amount of law you also believe is going to make grace less graceful. The only thing you can do to take away from grace is to present the law as if it is somehow good news, or something we can really achieve.

            100% grace. Saying otherwise seems to be an attempt to hold on to something, whether it’s Luther’s views

            You would never even be saying that if it weren’t for Luther. Justification “sola fide” turned the western world upside down. The man’s last words were “we are beggars.”

            what even is the Law

            The law is simply anything God requires of us. All divine imperatives. The right thing to do. This is why the law is good and should not be abolished. There is still such a thing as right and wrong, and the good is still worth striving for. The 10 commandments are merely an “executive summary” of what this looks like, first in our relationship with God, and then with our neighbor. A more brief summary is known as the “great commandment.” But basically, any time you see something in the Bible indicating obligation or responsibility on your part, this is law.

            …and BTW, it was Jesus, not “so many reneging” who makes the distinction between fulfilling and abolishing. I think understanding what he means there is key to understanding why we don’t stone homosexuals today.

            Were people pre-Moses under the Law?

            What does it mean to be “under the law?” All people are under the law, they die because they are sinners. Pretty universal stuff. “Under grace” you still die, but the difference is that you die with Jesus, and are therefore raised with him.

            If there was never an adam, never an eve, was there ever a fall, was there ever an original sin, that we are all under it’s effects?

            Are you going to die? Do you do things out of self-interest even at the expense of your neighbor? There’s something wrong with us. It’s not exactly brain surgery.

            Where did this idea originate in the ANE before an ancient Israelite seized upon it to write the stories we have today?

            You don’t seriously believe divine inspiration have absolutely nothing to do with any of it? Boy, this Jesus guy must have been a real fool.

            How did it warp and change from those ancient times up to the Exile and beyond? What elements of it changed inter-testaments?

            If you must crack that code before you can truly know what to believe in, you certainly can’t trust anything Jesus taught.

            What did Jesus have to die for other than stirring up the crowds and general dissent?

            Claiming to be God. Blasphemy. Kinda a capital crime back then.

            Is the concept of a resurrected Savior to be found anywhere in the OT without extensive midrash post-Jesus?

            Genesis 3:15. That and the people who were raised from the dead in the Old Testament.

            Stuart, you have many questions and doubts. We’ll never have all our questions answered, but understanding how to distinguish law from gospel, and why it’s important, will go a long way in helping make sense of many things. Just spend a little time with Walther’s book. Confusing as it may be at first, it is well worth the investment. Once it turns the light on, you can never unlearn what you have seen.

          • I don’t even think it’s about penalties per se, but our inability to keep the *whole* of God’s commands. Jesus is here for us, to fill that gap, and i do not think it is about us being so wretchedly bad – just imperfect, in need and all of that. Yes, we’ve all done bad things, and will do more, but i was really worked over by the perfectionistic, “you can never be good enough” mentality that was imposed on me for many years.

            I believe in substitutionary atonement, but not in “penal substitution.” There is a difference there, and it is not a small one.

          • Hi Stuart,

            I would suggest you look at some Eastern Orthodox theology regarding the fall & the work of Grace in Christ through the church. Have a look at some Patristics like St Athanasious. This stuff helped me get a rounded picture of how God works through the incarnation & in us personally.


          • Numo, I just bought a used copy of The Misunderstood Jew online. Thanks for the tip!

          • Charles – you might also be interested in The Annotated Jewish New Testament and Levine’s new book on the parables, Short Stories by Jesus. The NT is als one of her projects, as co-editor. Has a ton of contributors (Jewish and xtian), and I’m finding it both helpful and super-interesting.

        • Robert F says

          “Toute est grace.” — From the novel Diary of a Country Priest, by Georges Bernanos.

        • No, Rick. “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”

          Learn the difference between abolish and fulfill. If it is all 100% grace and nothing else, then the law has been abolished.

          • StuartBe says

            Does not “fulfill” mean “completed”, and therefore…done? Accomplished? Finished?

            To borrow a fantasy trope, the Prophecy has been fulfilled…there’s not going to be another Prophesied One.

          • Yep, no abolition of the Torah, as Miguel said.

          • P.S.: i do not believe that all of the commandments in the Torah need to be adhered to, but the moral and ethical impreratives therein – can’t get away from them. Which is part of what i understand Jesus to be saying in that passage.

          • Now you’re on the right track. Jesus completed the law. Everything it required of you and me, he has performed perfectly.

            …He loved God with all his heart and soul and mind, and his neighbor as himself. It doesn’t therefore follow, however, that doing so is no longer relevant. It can’t save you (’cause you’ll fail), but these things are still good. And worth striving for.

          • I never said the Law was abolished. I said, just as you did, that it was fulfilled. Jesus loved the Law, otherwise he wouldn’t have quoted it so much, and he would’ve said at some point that he’d come to abolish it.

            I see this argument to be a little like playing cards. Jesus is like a trump card for us. We may be playing 100% by the rules (100% Law) and our hand is a losing hand, and Jesus comes along and says, “I got this one for ya.” 100% Law is a losing hand, all the time. 100% Gospel is the trump we need to make our guaranteed losing hand a winner.

        • Not sure this is so. It seems to me that if law is not law, then grace is not grace.

  8. Daniel, a good example of the Protestant/Evangelical talent for analysis. I might quibble with your three headings of Libertine, Disguised Law, and Transformative as showing a blatant bias, but those on the receiving end of this sermon would likely already share this bias and not notice it. I can picture them nodding their heads in affirmation and giving themselves a little pat on the back, perhaps stopping to shake your hand and give you a little pat on the back on their way out to Sunday brunch or whatever they want to do.

    Let’s ignore the headings and take a look from a non-religious perspective. I too am searching out the deeper meaning of grace and find the word itself to be churchy and thus problematic. What’s behind the curtain of the word? For those not already in agreement, the second column isn’t very attractive. Why would anyone want to go there? But the first column sounds pretty good. “Forgiveness, this means I can do whatever I want.” Sounds great to me. Oh, I have to say the Sinner’s Prayer. Well, okay. Wait, I have to go to church three times a week and read my Bible every day? This is starting to sound like column two.

    Transformation? Transformation to what? I already feel like I’m too often getting what I don’t deserve, why would I sign on for more of that? Oh, I get a birth certificate? Uh, excuse me, I’ve already got one of those, why do I need another one? Oh, I get to focus on who He is and what He has done? Uh, I’m kind of busy here trying to focus on what it is I want to do. I don’t mean to be rude, but what’s your point?

    Not trying to be hard on you in particular, Daniel, it’s the church at large I’m aiming at. I fully agree that the whole point to this awful mess we find ourselves in is to be transformed, but until the church begins to figure out and then articulate exactly what that transformation involves and why it is rewarding rather than punitive, we will be watching the growth of the Nones and the Dones. Picking up your cross and following Jesus sounds like a nice religious thing to do if you’re into that sort of thing, but if you really look at just what that can involve, it’s not very attractive. Even repulsive.

    Why in the world should I go for column three? Pie in the sky when I die? The ability to look down my nose at my neighbors? Pride at being morally or spiritually superior? Masochistic personality disorder? That first column is looking pretty good to me if I don’t have to go to church to get in.

    • I wrote this, this morning but didn’t post it. I hesitated and thought it was not that good and it probably isn’t. I wanted to see if anyone was having difficulty with this because I am. Actually I am a lot.. You bring some good points up. Still all in all I feel as if something is really missing. Grace to me brought me love without conditions. Yet the longer I live the more I want to give back a little of what was given me. Even if I don’t or am not able I am still loved. Nothing can take it from me. I can only refuse it. So here it is this morning. I trust Charles you would give me an honest to the point response. These I need and I am asking after all.

      I saw nothing wrong with Ryan at the end. He wanted to know as his sorrow for those that died for him permeated his heart that he had lived a full and complete life worthy of these good men. It was evidenced by those that followed him there. I heard my pastor speak about this once and I thought you’re wrong it had nothing to do with God at all. It had to do with the times and what those men gave up for him and there is nothing wrong with keeping your word. For example my son was with me yesterday as we came to light and a man held a cup out. I got a ten out and he gave me a look like don’t do this because it was his window that had to come down and he said he is even too lazy to make a sign. I said I never go by someone in need no matter what, it is between God and I and I have given my word. It isn’t a big thing. You just keep it.

      My point is this has nothing to do with grace and doesn’t belong in it. It is like no is no and yes is yes and that’s enough. It isn’t heaviness to live a good life it is the exact opposite. I talk as someone who knows who has been driven by other masters that have no care for me but ruin. You think the needle in an arm isn’t a heavy weight. Go be driven by it once and be dope sick once. Or stay awake for weeks wanting more coke for your brain which is crying out for more, so much you would do anything to silence it. Try satisfying yourself with sex. Not love….sex, see how it drives you into more degrading things till you no longer even recognize yourself.

      Private Ryan had nothing to do with God at the end. Sorry. The Lieutenant did him a favor by telling him to go live a good life. That was truly a gift. It is the same thing Christ does by telling us his burden isn’t heavy. He said his yoke was light. Yet He still used the word yoke. Look by being good, good things happen whether you’re in the Kingdom or not. If we fail grace doesn’t. I know I have been in all three of your categories at one time or another. Christ’s grace transcends them too.
      God does not have to punish. Sin does it all by itself. Grace waits to bless when we are able and not before and always on time. It is him who brings to completion that which he sets out to do either here or there but He doesn’t ever fail us. The categories are incomplete to me there is more to it. I am, Here now. There is my confidence. He experiences with me yet the paradox is it was completed long ago. Even before Christ walk the earth. A Genesis so to speak filled with grace.

      • Bill, ten bucks might get you a pack of cigs and a bottle of Train, which is enough to get you thru another day if push comes to shove and you can’t do better. It will also feed five kids if you shop careful or buy relief for an ailing wife or girlfriend. I dunno, neither do you. God knows. It is the intent of the heart that matters most.

        Spending lives to save someone for propaganda purposes in support of waving flags and empire is how the world works. You and I might make the same call in that situation. I am not impressed but I’ll let God sort that one out.

        If you want to learn about Transformation, go to the Eastern wing of the church. No one else comes close to the knowledge and tradition they have maintained these thousands of years while Augustine drove the Western church off the rails into intellectualism and rules of legality. On the other hand the Eastern church won’t share their bread and wine of redemption with you or me unless we join their club, and like the Templers of Jesus’ day, they have thousands of years of tradition to justify them. Go figure. They aren’t the only ones who are going to be answering some hard questions about this from Jesus.

        Charts and graphs can be useful but they only go so far. You and I know that we not only have been in all three categories along the way, but sometimes in the same day. Sometimes in the same minute. They merge, they are fuzzy, sort of like human nature. Evangelicals love to sort things out intellectually. That can only take you so far. If you are looking for charts that map out the progress of human spiritual evolution, there are much better ones available. The main distinction is between service to self and service to other, but it is not nearly that simple.

        Jesus showed us the ultimate level of spiritual evolution that the human being is capable of on this planet at this time. If we are falling short, that doesn’t mean we should not be working out our healing as best possible in whatever time is given to us. It’s the whole point to being here. Grace comes in when we realize we can’t do this on our own. If a chart like that of Daniel helps folks to make some progress, more power to everyone involved. I think you are right that grace showed up when God said “Let there be . . . .” God also says, “Thanks for the ten bucks, I needed that.” ~Charley

        • I see more thanks….Bill

        • Hi Charles,

          I like your comments & interesting observation on the “Eastern Church”. That leaves us in practical terms, to gather together what we can & be as close as we can to their teachings within a “Western” protestant or catholic framework. For me that means fellowshipping in various places & taking on board what is “healthy” & discarding what isn’t. I think many on iMonk would be in a similar situation. This has helped me find God’s grace in my path & I don’t trust a lot of modern theology because of it.


          • Dennis, iMonk is the only place I know where the Orthodox hang out as part of the crowd of those in search of Truth rather than as partisans and defenders. I find the Orthodox here to be incredibly gracious in the face of much Western ignorance and very helpful to the overall learning process. Even the Georgia Mule. I don’t think the church as a whole can make this jump into the 21st century without learning what the Eastern wing has kept alive all these many years.

  9. Daniel, this is great!
    I grew up in a church that taught grace something like a credit card “grace period” – – there’s a limit as to how far you can go with it. You get saved, and you’re celebrated for a week or two, but at somepoint the party banners come down and it’s time to get sanctified. Then comes the training, accountability groups, etc., because even though grace brought me safe thus far, it’s gonna need a lot of help to lead me home.

    We would talk about grace needing to be balanced: grace is good, but God calls us to holiness. We viewed grace as the “get out of jail free” card, but it otherwise lacked the power to transform us.

    But in order for that to be true, I would have to ignore scriptures like Titus 2:11-12 where it is the grace of God that teaches us to say no to ungodliness; or 1 Peter 5:10, where it is the God of all grace that will himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish us.

    Daniel, I think the difference is in whether we view grace merely as a license vs. the way realize our heart’s innermost desire to live at home with God.
    One is devoid of relationship, and the other is centered on relationship.

  10. I once led a men’s group in a study of the spiritual elements in Saving Private Ryan to show how even secular movies can reveal Christian truths, whether their writers/directors intended them or not. For example, I suggested that the group that goes to save Ryan is a bit symbolic of Christ; most sacrifice their lives to save a guy they don’t even know.

    I also highlighted the scene you highlight, Daniel, suggesting that Spielberg probably didn’t know how Biblical he was being when he had Hanks say the line, ‘Earn this,’ for it closely mirrors Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:1 to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” In other words, earn Christ’s sacrifice.

    Now before everyone goes ballistic on me for being too “works” oriented, I then went on to say that earning Christ’s sacrifice isn’t so much “doing” as it is “being,” which is a whole lot easier. Paul says in 4:2-3 that living a life worthy of Christ’s sacrifice is being humble, gentle, patient, and bearing with one another in love. It’s also “walking in love” (Eph 5:1) and living as children of light (5:8).

    Anyway…I like your chart. I think the “Transformative” column fits with the relaxed “Being” form of “Earn this,” and the “Disguised Law” column represents the “Doing” form of “Earn this.” Good article. Good insights.

    • Rick, i kinda think truth is truth, period. But maybe that’s just me.

    • I don’t know, Rick, it seems to me that “being” is pretty difficult, specifically if you “aren’t”; i.e., if you aren’t humble, gentle, patient or good at bearing with others in love. Then you have to do the tremendously difficult work of getting to those states of “being” from the deficient state of “being” where you are now. It doesn’t sound easier to me.

      • Good point. Maybe what I mean is that it’s easier than earning via “doing.” Most people who struggle with humility, gentleness and patience probably do so whether they’re a “doing” person or a “being” person. Maybe the Christian who struggles with this struggles more so as a doing person, and if they ever saw that “being” was all that was required, it’d then be easier for them. Maybe it’s the pressure to “do” that makes them (us/me) proud, unkind, and anxious.

        Just some additional thoughts.

  11. Very helpful and insightful. I am working on a small book about how parents instill in their children a sense of what you have termed the “transformative” grace of God. I covered some of it in a book I wrote about childhood discipline (Heartfelt Discipline). We know we’re supposed to “discipline” our children, but shaping our children’s hearts with the reality of God’s grace is not just about what we do and teach as parents, but about who we are as God’s representatives to our children. There must be an incarnating of grace into the life of the family that allows for an organic instilling of what grace means into my child’s very being.

    When Paul says in Eph 6:4 to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” we tend to hear that command as things to do–train and teach. But I think he was getting at much more in his words. My slightly more literal and expanded expression of the Greek is, “feed and nurture [your children] with the personal training and heartfelt instruction of the life of God that is already in you.” The term ektrepho (“bring up” or “nurture”, literally to “feed from”) is used only one other time in the NT eight verses earlier in 5:27 where Paul admonishes husbands to “nourish” (NAS) their wives. Parents are meant to be the source of God’s life by which our children are spiritually nourished.

    That may be a sidetrack issue to your post, but I want to get a better handle of just what the grace is that parents can feed their children. Your chart is very helpful and sorting out the distinctions. I want to think about how your heuristics might be adapted for helping parents be more effective grace incarnators for their children.

  12. Jason Williamson says

    Yeah, that’s why I left Roman Catholicism and nondenomonatiobal megachurches and most mainline chyrches too… And now I go to a progressive, evangelical Disciples of Christ church…

    Oh and btw, you all should read some books by Rob Bell, Brennan Manning, Henry Nouwen and Rachel Held Evans…

  13. I really like this chart! Especially how sanctification works (“method of change”):
    Libertine: Has no real desire to change
    Disguised Law: Through effort. Motto: “try harder”
    Transformative: Through relationship. Motto: “draw nearer”

    I came to Christ eight years ago in a large Calvinistic megachurch, but that is liberal in the grace-centeredness of its teaching. Fortunately, I haven’t been burdened under the heavy kind of legalism that some of you have in your walks. I’m still very firmly a Calvinist (sorry, folks), but I would unhesitatingly say that its weak point is the conflicting teaching on sanctification: it wavers between legalism and antinomianism, but can never seem to find a happy middle ground. (But then Calvinists would say Arminians have the same problem, and so it goes….)

    If you emphasize the sovereignty of God too much–how EVERYTHING is ALL about God (although it is!)–impressionable new Christians like myself can easily tend towards antinomianism (libertinism). And so we see the counterreaction from certain famous preachers, who lay such a heavy burden of obedience on Christians, and then claim THAT’S the Gospel–not the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ!

    My first church was a good church and we still go there for communion, but for family reasons, my wife and I have started going to another, much smaller, Korean church, that is the plant of an enormous Presbyterian megachurch in Seoul. I’m still trying to get a handle on the preacher’s views of the role of grace in sanctification. He lays a heavy emphasis on Christian obedience, and I’m trying to discern if it’s disguised legalism, or rather “transformational” in the way Chaplain Mike has described, but I’m reacting to it because of my coming from a more “libertine” church. This helps to clarify things!

  14. Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry, Daniel: I gave all the credit to Chaplain Mike!

    I really love this chart. I also greatly enjoy your Saturday posts, although I never comment on them.

  15. Dana Ames says


    I would agree somewhat with Charles Fines above, in noting the analytic bent of the whole thing – which is not bad, simply indicative.

    With that said, I think your analysis and esp your “transformative” column is very good. Here is what I would ask, coming from the EO POV that grace is actually the actual work of the Holy Spirit within us and isn’t seen as something “different than God” or otherwise created.

    1. “Transformative” – into what, exactly? How do I become free to be fully human?
    2. Does the experience of grace as gift do anything else besides place a person in God’s family?
    3. For method, would you see any difference between the idea of “relationship” and the idea of “participation” (as in being an integral part of, not simply joining in an activity)?
    4. Operating principle: If grace is *God’s* action in us, then how is it about me and “deserving” at all?
    5. God is… wow, I think this always has to come back to Jesus, even though God truly is a loving Father.

    For added insight, I would urge you to listen to Fr Stephen’s podcast here:

    If you like, I can point to a very good lecture on what it is to be human 🙂

    You are doing a very good thing in working through this and helping people think about it.


  16. Jeremiah 31:31-34 because, like Chief Joseph, I am tired of fighting.

    The New Cals can have their own little god.

    “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
    with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
    It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
    when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
    because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to[d] them,[e]”
    declares the Lord.
    “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
    “I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
    I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
    No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
    because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
    declares the Lord.
    “For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

    • Yes, and see, it’s in what a whole lot of people dismiss as the “law” part of the Bible. Hmm…

      • There is SO much grace in the Old Testament! I was overwhelmed the first time I read it all the way through as a new Christian. Yes, there is law and terrible wrath and 200-proof judgment…but then you get to passages like Jeremiah 31 (the New Covenant) or Ezekiel 37 (the Valley of Dry Bones) or basically all of Isaiah 40-66 (the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and the Suffering Servant who will bring it about!). Jesus Christ and the Apostles didn’t make their teaching up out of new cloth: it was deeply rooted in the rich soil of the Jewish Bible.