December 1, 2020

Chaos And Grace

When Chaplain Mike sent me an email last week proposing a “grace week” on InternetMonk, I was excited. Nothing brings out the boxing gloves like the topic of grace. As I’ve said before on these pages, Michael Spencer and I only talked about one thing more than our beloved Cincinnati Reds, and that was the topic of grace.

“Michael,” I asked, “why is it we have such a problem with grace? Why do Christians always have to put attachments on it before they can accept it?”

Michael said, “Because we insist on being in control. Letting go of control is very scary to most all of us.”

How true that is. And yet the Lord used those words of our brother (and founder) to stir in me a great desire to let go of control and let God take me wherever he will.

In doing so, he seemingly introduced a great deal of chaos into my life. In the past I would have been tempted to pray against this chaos, thinking it was the work of the enemy or some such thing. But now, thanks in no small part to iMonk friend Mark Galli, I see chaos as being from the hand of God, the same hand that measures out grace.

Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit is Galli’s most recent book. It’s not a long book, but it was a slow read for me. Not because I am dense or slammed with work (though both are correct), but because I have had to stop every few pages, pray, then reread those same pages. I have let Galli’s words and illustrations reach deep into my spirit. They are fresh words on grace that have really challenged and thrilled me.

Galli starts where most good storytellers begin: at the beginning. “God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep” reads Genesis 1:1,2. As Galli then points out, this was utter peace. Nothing disturbed the stillness of God’s initial creation. That is until God himself began to mess around. He introduced light to go with the darkness, sky and earth to go with waters. “God was up to something,” says Galli.

And then he really got going. Plants, including cherry blossom trees and gentle prairie grass to sit next to poison oak, thornbushes and deadly mushrooms. Next came creatures–flying, swimming, crawling, charging creatures. And insects. All of which were instructed to be fruitful and multiply.

The planet was now one fine mess. From a state of perfect peace and harmony, it had been transformed in a few short days into a lush, rich, infinitely varied cacophony of color and sound and life. This is the sort of thing that happens when the Spirit of God tinkers.

Then, of course, God makes men and women who, from the very beginning, have desired control over their lives. He takes us on a fast-paced journey of those who wanted control, from Adam and Eve to Cain to Abram and Moses. God intervened in each of their lives when they began to grip tightly the reins of their lives. Chaos forced them each to cry out to God for mercy, which he granted as long as they knew they didn’t get to steer the ship any more. Chaos forced the men and women of Scripture to despair of running their own lives and trust the Spirit who brings both chaos and grace.

Galli spends the second half of this marvelous book by looking at the chaos that ensued in the early church, as found in the book of Acts. This will end any thoughts you have that the early church was a picture-perfect setting where everyone got along, everyone agreed on everything, and there was nothing like an ancient InternetMonk to poke holes in popular teachings of the day.

All of this makes for a game-changing read, and I highly recommend it. But I brought Brother Galli into our discussion of grace to help me answer the number one question I hear when I talk about God’s vulgar grace (to use a Brennan Manning term): “Are you saying that if we accept grace we can go and live any way we like and still be forgiven for eternity?” To which I answer with a resounding YES.

And there the floodgates are opened.

“But! But! But that means that people might be free to go out and sin!” Of course it does. That’s the way God made us–free to sin. (Perhaps one of the greatest mistakes of creation, next to lima beans, was giving mankind free will. I mean, we just mess things up over and over again.)

He made us FREE to sin. He made us free. And it is for freedom Christ made us free. His death and resurrection opened the prison gates for everyone–every single sinner on earth has been set free. It has been done by the cross of Christ and the mercy of God. We do nothing to open the prison door. What we do get to choose, however, is if we come out into the sunlight or continue to squat in our own filth. And once we are free, we can once again commit the crimes we were imprisoned for in the first place. Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, on his last day in office this past January, pardoned nearly 200 criminals, including four men convicted of first degree murder. There was a hue and cry in that state, but the fact remained: These former prisoners were now free. Not free only if they promised to be nice to others from now, but free even if on their way out of prison they told the guards, “See you again soon. I’m knocking off a liquor store on my way home.” Grace and freedom are very dangerous things indeed.

Galli concludes his book by looking at the this idea that grace—God’s freely-given gift of forgiveness and pardon for all of our sins, past, present and future—means we are free to live anyway we like and still be forgiven. He points to no fewer than five verses in the epistle to the Romans that shows Paul faced this same question when he wrote or taught on God’s grace. Galli says,

Morally sensible people get nervous when you start talking about grace as it’s talked about in the Bible. In fact, we’re not talking about grace if people aren’t getting a little nervous, wondering if the religious house of cards we’ve created with morality or ritual or spirituality will collapse all around us … [W]e are free from from religion, from mere morality, from duties, from guilt, from shame—and from our fear of all these things. We really don’t have to do anything. Grace is not quid pro quo. It’s not a deal. It’s utterly free, leaving us utterly free.

It would be so easy for me to conclude this by saying, “Of course, if someone continues in those actions he was doing before he tasted of God’s grace, I wonder if he actually tasted the true grace of the true God.” And I do believe that. Yet that adds a codicil onto the full pardon we were given. And if there is even but one “gotcha,” then we are not truly free. Can a man therefore remain in a state of forgiveness if he continues in sin? Yes. He’ll be most miserable, but yes, he will be forgiven still. I would much rather, however, look at it this way. Is a man, once forgiven, so totally free that he no longer must participate in sin? The answer to this a resounding Yes. Grace sets us free to sin again if we so choose. But the good news is that God’s grace sets us free so we no longer have to sin.

That is what grace is to me.


  1. Mark Galli seems to have a different view of Genesis 1:2 than Chaplain Mike’s post on Surd Evil.

  2. I will have to re-read this, as I tripped over the “in a few days” bit regarding the earth before humans. Sounds YEC to me, but I am not familiar with Mark’s writings so I may be totally off base on this.

    And I completely agree that Grace is there for all of us, seventy times seven…..AND I also believe that in order to acknowledge and revel in that Grace, we first have to recognize that we NEED it.

    It is not sin that separates us of from God, it is failure to note that we have sinned (and will keep on sinning) and need forgiveness and Grace. If we want to sit in our filthy dark cave and insist that it is a beach villa in Bora-Bora, then we shut ourselves off from finding the real paradise, on earth and in heaven.

    • Well put, Pattie! I like your comments.

    • Pattie, Galli uses the term as an idiom, not as a statement of fact or to promote a certain theory. I noticed it too, but after rereading that paragraph and those that surround it, I’m sure he does not mean it as a way to say YEC is the ticket.

      And I second Damaris–I really like your comments!

  3. David Cornwell says

    ” Can a man therefore remain in a state of forgiveness if he continues in sin?’

    The great danger is that we may actually come to believe that we are sin free. Human nature is such that we constantly engage in behavior in which we are convinced that we are somehow better than the other person. Sin lies to us. So, yes, the cross of Christ means we ARE forgiven.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The great danger is that we may actually come to believe that we are sin free.

      Like the Talibani, the Saudi & Iranian Religious Police, and all the horror stories you hear about abusive/control freak pastors and Church Ladies.

      Human nature is such that we constantly engage in behavior in which we are convinced that we are somehow better than the other person.

      Three words from previous IMonk comment thread donnybrooks:
      Gluttony. And. Homosexuality.

  4. An important strand of Biblical teaching has been ignored.

    1 John – the command to walk in the light, not in darkness. The statement that those who walk in darkness don’t follow the light.

    Colossians 3 Put to death sin. No question here of living any way you want.

    Jesus – love me, obey me (Sorry, I’m on the way out the door to work, so I don’t have time to find the passage)

    Romans 6 “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound? By no means!”

    Romans 8:5 Those who live by the sinful nature are hostile to God and will die.

    At best, the post for today and the few similar ones over the last few days are incomplete, not having dealt with these teachings and similar ones.

    One last thought. If sin is so serious that it brings God’s wrath on us, and if it is so serious that it separates us from God forever, and if it cost the son of God his life, then why are you treating it so lightly? (Or so it seems to me) Shouldn’t God’s people do all they can to be rid of it? Aren’t we commanded to get rid of it?

    Yes, we will continue to sin. Yes, sanctification is (unfortunately) a slow and messy business – I see it in my life every day, if not every waking hour.

    Nor do I want to go down the path that Chaplain Mike and Mark and others seem to be reacting against.

    • Stephen, we cannot have it both ways. We cannot be freely forgiven, bringing nothing to the table but our sins like filthy rags, and then have to work in order to keep that forgiveness. Could it be there is deeper magic at work here?

      Pick up Galli’s book. I did not have time to go into detail, but I think he will offer more than I can to help you see this deeper magic.

      (And don’t anyone get hung up on my use of the word “magic.” Go re-read your Narnia before you pick on that!)

      • I don’t think grace is the same thing as forgiveness. I do believe God has forgiven the whole world of sin through the cross and nothing more needs to be done. But grace is more than forgiveness. Grace is the presence of God in us. And sin is essentially a rejection of God’s grace, so i don’t think it’s true to say that we can accept grace and go on living like we want to when sin by definition is a rejection of God’s grace.

        • So far, your post, Clay, is the most clarifying thing I’ve read on this thread. The whol “freedom to sin” thing makes zero sense to me, and I’m not finding it either assuring or “smelling like Jesus”. It smells like GregR making yet another excuse to be all about GregR….. but I’m in a grumpy frame of mind today, so maybe that explains it more than the thread itself.

      • Stephen, we cannot have it both ways.

        But the Bible seems to have it both ways.

        Is light a wave or a particle?

        Depends on how you measure it.

        Ultimately, though, it’s light.

        Depending on how you look at and read about salvation in the Bible, it can appear to be all freely given and done as an act of grace, or it can appear to have a works component and may even be dependent upon our works.

        Where you end up sometimes depends on where you start from.

        While it may be logically and theologically impossible to have or enunciate a soteriology that mixes and blends these opposites, it may be the way things are, whether we like the resulting unresolvable tension or not.

        Perhaps the only answer to the fact that we ultimately can’t fully support or derive from the Bible either a grace-only salvation or a works-only salvation, or properly explain a grace-and-works salvation, is: Tough. Deal with it.

        • The Bible DOES bring out both. Either that, or I’ve completely misunderstood the passages I referred to above. (Which I haven’t.) Maybe it is a deep magic, but I think that some of what was said above needs to be examined further.

          I know I haven’t read the book (full time job & church responsibilities get in the way), but I would really like to see the Scriptural support for such statements as “He made us FREE to sin. He made us free. And it is for freedom Christ made us free.” Please, where is that to be supported in the Bible? Or are we now just the opposite – free more and more (and imperfectly) to NOT SIN!

          And why is there such an emphasis on the post on freedom? Is that a Biblical emphasis in the way portrayed above, or is it freedom towards holiness that the NT describes?

          Lastly, read Hebrews 12 and see if it meshes with the tone of the posting. Notice the emphasis on our effort. I don’t think that it does. Work calls.

          • I think there is a very fine line that most will never totally understand. For some it takes a lifetime and for some they never get it! In Christ we are saved and forgiven of all sin now and forever more period! Our standing before God has absolutely nothing to do with the amount or lack of sin but everything to do with the work of our savior. I think this is where most ppl miss it. YES you are free go live however you want you really are free but there are still real consequences to your sin here and now. It affects you and the ppl around you and there is just a better way to live. I look at it this way you’ve been brought into God’s kingdom because of Gods grace you have done nothing to get there and you cant do anything to get out! It was a completely free gift and is His work from beginning to end even any change that happens for the good it all his work not ours so with that reality we should strive to live in response to such a gracious gift!

            Ive also learned more and more as soon as I start feeling a little self-righteous and feel like I’ve gotten better. I realize I really havent I’m still sinful through and through and always will be (for now at least) In fact it runs so deep I dont even realize it most of the time… but Thankfully Christ has paid for it all whats on the surface everyone sees, whats in the heart, and what its the deepest darkest places of my soul I dont even relize are there!

          • Randy Thompson says

            I don’t know if this helps or not.

            I think Romans 1 does indeed teach us that God made us, as Creator, “free to sin.” Romans 1 tells us that judgment is a matter of being “given over” to our desires, the result of which is, well, not good. God’s judgment is to let people have what they want; to live as if God doesn’t exist is to stand before God some day with your desires as your accusers.

            This amazingly dangerous freedom holds true in grace. God’s project of sanctification entails given us new desires that replace the old ones, not the least of which is the desire for the love (grace) of God we’ve been given a taste of. The spiritual life is an ongoing process of growing in grace (the love of God) and thereby gaining new desires which drive out the old ones. God seemingly values freedom, and, in this case, that seems totally fair to me.

            God’s value of freedom carries over into grace. Grace makes it safe to be who we really are, and, when we are who we really are for God (and the world) to see, we’re walking in the light, and what’s incompatible with that light gets dealt with, which beats what many Christians do, which is to pretend that they believe God loves them, that they believe God has forgiven them, and that they are what they’re pretending to be—holy. So many Christians are so caught up in performance and denial that it makes hard even for God to break through it.

            In short, grace gives us desires we never had before. The chief desire, the desire for God, radically changes our priorities. Desires which lead to sin no longer are compelling. And, when there are such desires and when they are acted upon, they take place in the context of the love of and desire for God. In that context, and in the context of God’s love that “surpasses knowledge,” sin loses its romance.

      • Brennan Manning called it “scandalous grace”. Though I might attempt with all my being to avoid sinning, I will still sin. I do not take my sin lightly, as I understand the price that was paid for it. But I will always be a sinful man. Regardless of how much or little I sin, though, I am covered by grace…Along with a multitude of prostitutes, meth addicts, alcoholics, unfaithful spouses, and porn stars. Could it be that these will receive the same reward as myself?

        Jesus spoke on the subject, using the analogy of laborers who arrived late in the day, but received the same wage as the workers who were diligent, early-rising, respectable folk. This is the scandal of grace.

        One must be very careful with the scriptures you listed…It brings us dangerously close to the idea of “works alone”, if we look at them out context.

        • Jesus also had some strong words for those who believed they were impressing God with their works…I believe He referred to them as “whitewashed tombs”…

          • Good grief, I feel like ranting this week.

            I’ll close with this little gem from Flannery O’Connor….

            “The operation of the Church is entirely set up for the sinner; which creates much misunderstanding among the smug.”

        • The scriptures don’t teach faith alone or works alone.

          • Clay, thanks for leading us deeper into a really interesting dialogue. You get my “commenter of the day” award.

            This thought just came to mind, and I would love to see yours, Jeff’s, etc.’s thoughts. With Christ, we are sinless in the eyes of God…but are we sinless because we stop sinning, or sin less than we did before, or because Christ became sin for us, and died on the cross?

          • Lee – it’s hard to answer that question in the space of blog post, but I’ll give it a shot. First we have to define what sin is. The tradition I belong to (Orthodox) does not see sin primarily in legal terms. Sin is a moving away from God, the Source of our life, so it is relational more than it is legalistic. So salvation involves being restored to a state of communion with God, which is eternal life. In one sense, salvation has been accomplished once and for all because of Jesus Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection, in which God defeated death for all and reconciled the world to Himself. But in another sense, salvation is a process in which the reality of God’s love must be accepted and appropriated in each individual person. So salvation involves much more than God writing off our legal transgressions, it involves actually being transformed into a new creation. C.S. Lewis talks about this in Mere Christianity:

            “He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has – by what I call ‘good infection.’ Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else…The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him – for we can prevent Him, if we choose – He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.”

          • David Cornwell says

            This is in response to what Clay says below (no room for reply):

            “First we have to define what sin is. The tradition I belong to (Orthodox) does not see sin primarily in legal terms. Sin is a moving away from God, the Source of our life, so it is relational more than it is legalistic. ”

            I think sin is multifaceted, which is one of the reasons it is so hard to define. It is multifaceted and multi-deceptional, takes on many faces and may always wear another disguise. Thus one of the reasons grace is necessary. Putting a hard and fast definition up may be its own kind of deception. However I do think that description of sin is full of truth.

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

          • Clay…Wonderful response. I love Lewis’ idea of “good infection”.

            By the way, I recently read that all Christians are actually Orthodox (upper case “O”), but some just haven’t matured enough to figure out the errors that separate us from the mother church…Ha!

          • It may be true that all Christians will eventually be Orthodox, but if you hang out around Orthodox Christians for any amount of time you’ll figure out that maturity is no prerequisite for becoming one now!

          • And some Christians like me will become Orthodox, but then leave the Orthodox Church because, among other things, the EOC emphasis/focus on this view of salvation to the neglect and sometimes disparagement of the “Western”/”legal” view of salvation is an imbalance and deforming of the NT teachings in the opposite direction.

          • Eric – have you ever read St. Nicholas Cabasilas? He was one of the last great Byzantine theologians, from the 14th century I believe. His book “The Life in Christ” is filled with Biblical legal terminology and is thoroughly Orthodox. The first time I read it I found it comforting because much of the Orthodox theology I had read felt very unfamiliar. This book really helped me bridge the gap I felt between the legalistic language of the Bible and the Eastern understanding of salvation – the two are not incompatible.

          • Yes, I have a couple books by Cabasilas – that one, I believe, and his commentary on the Divine Liturgy. In fact, I have a few BOXES of Orthodox books that will hopefully someday be sold at good prices as I winnow my book collection down to manageable size. I’m a reader, and when we were Orthodox, I bought lots and lots and lots of books. But the Orthodox view on the Fall, Sin and Salvation were not the big or main reason(s) (i.e., no longer being able to Biblically or historically affirm or confess the Church’s hierology and eucharistology) we left the Church, though I did notice an IMO imbalanced anti-“Western”/anti-Augustinian perspective permeated things and conversations Orthodox. I suspect a lot of Evangelical Protestants initially find the change in view/understanding of sin, salvation, etc., to be welcome and refreshing, especially since they likely have never even known there was something other than penal substitutionary atonement (like many don’t know there are different understandings of eschatology and Revelation than Premillennial Dispensational Rapturism). And I haven’t thrown the Orthodox understanding of salvation, divinization, etc., out with the bathwater. My views of salvation probably integrate several points of view or understanding, both Western and Eastern.

          • Eric, I’ll be glad to take some of those books off your hands, for the right price! Protestants are all Dave Ramsey disciples, you know?

            It’s interesting that you left the Orthodox church because of anti-western sentiment that you perceived. One reason I left the Baptist church is because of the anti-Orthodox/Catholic sentiment. I would say that my own views are a mix of western and eastern thought…I’m sure many of us at iMonk feel the same. Balance is important.

          • Lee:

            No, no, no, no, no! That is not why I/we left the Orthodox Church. The anti-Western imbalance was a problem I perceived, but it was my inability to continue to confess and affirm and ascribe to their doctrines of the priesthood and the Eucharist that made me realize I could no longer be Orthodox.

            You can keep in touch with me via email through my blog to see where I am re: getting ready to sell my books and which ones I have, their condition, etc. Media Mail rates are pretty cheap if you live in the U.S. But it may be awhile…. I have bunches of non-Orthodox Books that I’ll be selling, too (mostly language tools and commentaries/books I now have in Logos, etc.). But, again, it may be a few months.

    • The one thing that I read recently was that may be helpful is that many of the church fathers spoke of sin in terms of it being a sickness or disease rather than it being an offense towards God. That’s not to say that sin is in some sense offensive to God (although, I will say I think sometimes we get our thinking backwards about what sins God consider most offensive). But from the Christian’s perspective, sin is something that Christ is healing us from, and one day we will be completely healed. Until that day, though, we will continually be affected by the sickness in one way or another.

      So I think these warnings in Scripture make much more sense when you look at them from that perspective. Just like we’d warn a cancer patient about the dangers of doing things that would make him worse or hasten his death, the writers are warning their readers about chasing after things that will ultimately be harmful to them. If a parent sees a child doing something they know is harmful, they would certainly warn them and depending on the age of the child, try to stop them. They don’t stop loving the child, though, if she messes up.

      • “But from the Christian’s perspective, sin is something that Christ is healing us from, and one day we will be completely healed. Until that day, though, we will continually be affected by the sickness in one way or another.”

        Very well-stated, Phil M.

  5. Jeff, love your posts. Always. Your last quoting of Mark’s words were stunning. STUNNING! Super glad I stopped by today! Thank you!

  6. If grace seems scandalous to us, it’s probably because we’re trying to grasp this new message of forgiveness while still understanding our entire relationship to God through the old framework of Law. Whether we say, “My sin separates me from God, so I need to try really hard to be good,” or whether we say, “My sin used to separate me from God, but the work of Christ has brought me forgiveness,” either way we’re still defining your relationship to God primarily in terms of sin and forgiveness. But God has given us so more than that. (What would you think of a romantic relationship where the most positive thing you could say about it is, “I’m forgiven”?)

    It’s not enough to just shift from a gospel of works to a gospel of grace while still remaining enmeshed in an understanding of our relationship to God that orbits around sin and forgiveness. That entire framework is narrow and false and excludes 90% of the Biblical message of salvation. We are extravagantly loved by God. We are being transformed into God’s likeness. We are participants in the divine nature. We share in Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the Devil. We are healed and restored and made new in Christ. We will rise again in new bodies in a new Creation, because of Christ. We are filled with God’s Spirit. We are joint heirs with Christ to all the riches of God. We are a part of God’s kingdom that is breaking into this world. We are adopted by God. We are wedded to God and united with God in spirit.

    Some of that has to do with what happened on the cross. But it’s equally much about Christ’s incarnation, where our nature and God’s nature were fused together. It’s about Christ’s life, revealing the Father to us and showing us how to live. And it’s equally about the resurrection, where death was defeated and God’s new Creation began. It’s even about the ascension, where Jesus, still clothed in our redeemed humanity, rejoined the dance of the Trinity. And it’s about Pentecost, and about the Second Coming, and every other moment in the drama of salvation – all of it, not just the cross, is an integral part of the great salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ. That is the broader understanding that we must shift into if we’re ever going to get beyond the narrow confines of this paradox of sin and grace.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    “But! But! But that means that people might be free to go out and sin!”

    Then surround them with secret police for The Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice like they do in Saudi or Talibanistan. Nobody Going Out and Sinning there! Fear Breeds Respect.

    Or North Korea, where “Sin” is defined as anything other than The Will Of Comrade Dear Leader (or whatever His successor is called). And All Sin is Dealt With.

    I have encountered too many Evangelicals whose idea of Heaven is like an Eternal Cosmic North Korea, except Comrade Dear Leader is called “Jesus” or “God”. Where for all eternity all we do is Praise Dear Leader, Dancing Joyfully With Great Enthusiasm Before Comrade Dear Leader. Or Else the Cosmic Re-Education Joycamp of Hell. I wonder if the attitude of “But that means that people might be free to go out and sin!” has a lot to do with that image of Heaven and Salvation.

    • I agree headless. One pastor in the community said that During Christs millennial reign , sin will be punished with the same immediacy and severity as it was in the old testament. Stoning is back baby! He also went on to say that the old testament punishments were so harsh because the “Glory of GOD was nearer”….there are numerous sermons like that , and the description of Heaven given sounded just like a Celestial North Korea….i first heard that term used by Christopher Hitchens.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        One pastor in the community said that During Christs millennial reign , sin will be punished with the same immediacy and severity as it was in the old testament. Stoning is back baby! He also went on to say that the old testament punishments were so harsh because the “Glory of GOD was nearer”….and the description of Heaven given sounded just like a Celestial North Korea….

        That makes a very disturbing combination when you add that line “Christians should be Preparing Now for the Jobs They Will Have In Eternity!” attributed to someone connected with James Dobson. Lay ya odds that pastor KNEW what job he’d be given by God for the Millenium — Secret Police/Thought Police in that Cosmic North Korea, PRAISE THE LOORD!

        And that’s scary.

        (P.S. As far as I know, I coined that phrase & image “Cosmic North Korea” independently. It describes the attitude of “All for God’s Glory” so well, where for God to be Glorified nobody else can ever be allowed to be. And the “Neverending Testimony Night” version of Heaven in Left Behind Volumes 12 & 15(?) where we become “worship bots” for all eternity, praising God/Dear Leader and Telling Each Other About Jesus and nothing else — FOREVER.)

  8. Jeff, This is my first visit here. Rebekah Grace sent me. I loved your post on grace. The word “Grace” has been so totally misunderstood and misused. I am slowly taking baby steps into what it looks like. The more I see it, the more the religious scales fall off my eyes. The more I see who God has made me to be, the less I want to be anything else. It has changed my perspective on everything in life, allowing me to live more beautifully in the relationships God has given me.

    Beautiful post here…

    • Thanks for joining our community! I hope you will stop by often and join in the conversation.

      Oh, and I, too, am taking baby steps in learning to live in God’s grace.

  9. Honestly, I don’t get it. I used to love hearing about grace. The idea that we are saved whether we clean up our lives or not is very comforting. The problem is, every time I open the Bible I come across warnings of judgment, and I don’t know how to reconcile the warnings with the passages about grace and assurance. Am I supposed to be afraid or not?

    Also, I can’t figure out why this perspective on grace shouldn’t lead to belief in universalism. If Christ has saved us regardless of whether we keep robbing banks or not, then why is anyone ending up in Hell? And why did Galli go through the trouble to write “God Wins,” a response to Rob Bell’s book? After all, it seems like Bell’s book followed this conception of grace to its logical conclusions.

    I’ll be honest, the idea that God pours scandalous grace on a minority of the human race simply because they believe the right things while sending the rest to eternal suffering doesn’t sound very graceful to me. I don’t think the reason I feel this way is because I don’t understand the seriousness of sin. I just don’t understand why a graceful God would make pardon for our sin conditional upon belief in doctrines that are unverifiable, often misrepresented, and often hidden (depending on the time and location of one’s existence). To suggest that God is willing to pardon ANYTHING that the believers do and NOTHING that the unbelievers do seems arbitrary to me.

    I wish I didn’t feel this way. Has anyone dealt with similar feelings? If so, have you read, learned, or experienced anything that was helpful in feeling impressed by – and assured of – the grace of God again?

    • Ryan, I only have one thing that comes to mind to write. You said “God is willing to pardon ANYTHING that the believers do and NOTHING that the unbelievers do seems arbitrary..” I would say GOD is willing to pardon ALL sin. Believers know of their need for salvation, unbelievers don’t. It’s not that God is unwilling, it’s that people are unwilling. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He never changes. He is not one way towards one person and another way towards another. God is not focused on behavior like we are. He is focused on relationship where love can be received and given. It wasn’t our sins that Jesus was focused on it was us. Sins separates us, not because of God’s perspective but because of ours. When you sin, how do you feel? Don’t you feel WRONG? Often when we sin WE feel separated. WE feel shame. WE feel guilt. God knew that sin would distort our perspective of the relationship with Him. He knew it would distort the identity that He bestowed on us. He knew it would distort things in our eyes causing us to separate from him. He came to free us from all that. Jesus opened the way for relationship to be lived in the fullness. We became new. God never desires us to live in fear. Perfect love casts out all fear. His great desire was that we would know how deeply we are loved, that we might know ourselves as He truly knows us to be. Sin distorts our vision.


    • “If so, have you read, learned, or experienced anything that was helpful in feeling impressed by – and assured of – the grace of God again?”

      Confession. Always, always, always put it off to the very last uttermost possible avoidance. Always, always, always feel when I come out of the box “Why did I wait so long?”

      When noodling about online, looking for references and other people’s words to steal so I didn’t have to do any work definitions for the article Jeff mentions above, I happened across this from the old Baltimore Catechism:

      “Q. 593. Which are the Sacraments that give sanctifying grace?

      A. The Sacraments that give sanctifying grace are Baptism and Penance; and they are called Sacraments of the dead.

      Q. 594. Why are Baptism and Penance called Sacraments of the dead?

      A. Baptism and Penance are called Sacraments of the dead because they take away sin, which is the death of the soul, and give grace, which is its life.

      Q. 597. What do we mean by Sacraments of the dead and Sacraments of the living?

      A. By the Sacraments of the dead we mean those Sacraments that may be lawfully received while the soul is in a state of mortal sin. By the Sacraments of the living we mean those Sacraments that can be lawfully received only while the soul is in a state of grace — i.e., free from mortal sin. Living and dead do not refer here to the persons, but to the condition of the souls; for none of the Sacraments can be given to a dead person.”

      Yes. I’m dead and walking around – though I don’t realise it – before I confess and am absolved; it’s by the way I feel immediately afterwards that I realise I am now alive in grace, and that I was dead before. Dying and being resurrected, over and over again every time I fall down.

    • Randy Thompson says

      See my response above. I think it addresses some of the issues you’re raising.

  10. Bill Metzger says

    On my BEST day, I am a sinner. On my WORST day, I am a sinner. (Romans 3:22-24) So, MY BEHAVIOR simply doesn’t matter. The truth is very simple: You can live any way you choose and still remain in a constant state of forgiveness. The question is, why would you choose sin? And even if you never get any “better’, you are forgiven. Romans 8:1 settles the whole matter once and for all. My two cents! Romans 5:20b, baby!

    • The question is, why would you choose sin? And even if you never get any “better’, you are forgiven.

      Ummmm, maybe because you believe that your behavior “just doesn’t matter”. Does a deep appreciation of forgiveness automatically take me here, where “my behavior doesn’t matter” ?? In terms of “forgiveness” , I agree 100%; but if I accept grace, increasingly, am I not becoming increasingly disaffected with my own selfishness and sin ?? Should I even care about that ??

    • “You can live any way you choose and still remain in a constant state of forgiveness.”

      This true ONLY if the doctrine of eternal security is true. Forgiveness and salvation have a condition attached to them; faith. Now, obviously, some condition that is, since it isn’t really something we produce. But apart from faith, we receive no forgiveness and salvation. But if faith can be lost, then how we live does matter. Sin doesn’t cause us to loose faith, but ignoring God can. “Nothing can snatch us out of God’s hand,” but if we are still capable of walking out, (obviously Calvinists digress), then how we live can have an effect on our “state of forgiveness.” We cannot merit it, but should we cease to desire it, could God actually oblige?

      • So far , I think Clay has said it best; it’s not so much about forgiveness as it is grace, and recieving grace. I think it’s possible to have a false security about recieving forgiveness, and miss out on receiving grace. I think Clay also said something to the effect that receiving grace IS rejecting sin. That rings true with me; and if it is by faith that we recieve grace and reject sin, then this become a “faith” issue as well.

        I think these themes are interwoven in the NT: it’s folly, or at least questionable, to neatly parse them out separately. JeffD said “You can’t have it both ways…” but the NT seems to have it both ways and then some.

  11. Joseph (the original) says

    grace is great! grace is great! so is forgiveness, free & totally complete for the sin(s) of the whole world!

    what do we do with the concept of using our fantastic free will to despise such things though???

    refuse the forgiveness so vast, free, complete? receive God’s grace in vain? 2Cor 6:1

    since there is such an amazing freedom God has provided, there is the expectation of response from so great a salvation. and that is the good news as it is understood by me. all this amazing goodness available free of charge without preconditions, prerequisites, passing entry exams, etc.

    i have seen grace received in vain by those that had claimed to be Christian, then decided the demands were too tough & did not wish to remain on the straight-and-narrow. just like Jesus explained in His parable of the Sower.

    the good news & its divine conditions only as ‘good’ as those drawn to such a concept. i am sure how such good news is communicated can limit the response of those that need to hear it the most, but because much has been given freely to us (forgiveness, grace), much will be required (our entire life in exchange)…

  12. I think some of our problems with truly grasping God’s grace and forgiveness stems from the way we view and experience time versus the eternal, timeless nature of God’s love and power.
    We see the grenades of sin being lobbed at us at every turn, and, from our perspective, they’re about to go off and blow us to pieces. What we have a hard time wrapping our minds around is the fact that Jesus has already fallen on all those grenades — and even the ones that haven’t been thrown at us yet — taking the full force and damage of each one into his own body. And He’s not only already done that for us — He did it for us from the very beginning of creation, and He’s laying down His life for our sins at this present moment.
    His given flesh and blood are the substance of God’s love and grace and the keystone of creation itself.
    That’s the deep magic Lewis was talking about.
    But we too often suffer or cause damage when we insist on falling on our own grenades or throwing other people on theirs.

  13. Jeff, have you read any of David DeSilva’s material on grace and faith within the culture of the first century patron/client system? Here’s a brief snapshot:

    In DeSilva’s view, an act of grace in the first century was understood as an obligation by the receiver toward the giver. To not reciprocate toward the grace giver was an act of supreme ingratitude and such people were scorned and looked down on in society.

    So, DeSilva argues, the grace that God gives us obligates us when we receive it toward living in gratitude and appreciation toward the gift giver. So, if we are God’s people, the recipients of his grace, then we are obligated toward him. (That’s also what it means for him to be Lord). So we aren’t free to sin.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that we won’t sin, because we will, and his grace continues to cover those sins. thank God. And God’s spirit works within us sanctifying us in this life.

    Anyway, read DeSilva if you get a chance. Well worth it.

  14. I haven’t had time to read all the comments, so this may have been covered already. This question comes from a recent experience with a person who believes that grace covers everything. I agree with that and I believe that God’s grace does give us the freedom to sin. What do you do with the teaching (Joseph Prince) that because God has forgiven all our sin, past, present, and future, there is no need to ask forgiveness or to even acknowledge any wrong done to another person? There is no need for reconciliation because we are free and the other person just needs to get over it. It seems to completely contradict Jesus’ teaching.

    • That is certainly not what I think or teach or implied in the essay, Fred. But I will paraphrase Capon here: Repentance is not what we do to earn God’s forgiveness. Repentance is what we do to celebrate the fact that we already have his forgiveness.

      • Repentence is turning away from sin and to God. Gratefulness for God’s mercy can surely motivate us to repent, but that in and of itself is not repentence. To have good feelings about God’s goodness, but to continue in sinful ways is not repentence.

      • Which fits pretty neatly into the Reformed paradigm of guilt-grace-gratitude. More Episcopalians like Capon, I say!

      • Jeff, I knew that you were not saying that. I agree with you. I’m just trying to wrap my head around how to answer what seems to me to be an obviously false teaching.

  15. I’ve been pondering the idea of agape love and love of God and this post (along with some previous discussions I’ve read here), to be able to receive grace, is repentance necessary? By your description of Galli’s writing, it seems that he does not believe this, but I have read other comments here that seem to say that if one goes out and sins after receiving grace but does not regret/repent this sin, then they have thrown away the grace of god. I feel like I’m missing something. To accept God’s grace, does one have to do anything more than embrace Christ and believe in him? Or does unrepentantly committing sin imply a lack of faith in Christ (like entering the armed forces of another country indicates a desire to give up US citizenship)?

    • Jesus’ parable of the publican and the pharisee shows us that there is only one proper response to sin, and that is repentence. God has a never ending supply of mercy and forgiveness, but we have to ask for it.

  16. Is it adding a codicil to say that I need to recognize my sins as sins to receive forgiveness? If Jesus says “You are forgiven” and I say “for what” and he tells me and I say “I see nothing wrong in that list” (or more likely “yeah, but some of that stuff isn’t wrong”) am I “fine”?

    • (I think that would be the equivalent of staying in the cell despite the doors being open.)

      • I agree, Dwight. Denying our sinfulness or our individual sins is very much a prison that many occupy.

        No, that is not a codicil. Telling a prisoner, “You are free” means nothing if the prisoner does not know he is in prison!

        • “Telling a prisoner, ‘You are free’ means nothing if the prisoner does not know he is in prison!”

          Oooh, that’s excellent, Jeff. I have to remember that one.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And what if someone has a twisted or erroneous definition of “Freedom”?

          Like in a slaveowning society where “Freedom” means “Now I Get to be the Slaveowner”?

  17. As for the concern about not taking sin seriously enough:

    Perhaps the proper response to sin is not to increase our efforts, nor to screw our will down more tightly, nor to turn up the settings on our No-more-sin-O-Meter.

    Perhaps the *most* serious response we can give to sin is to increase our sense of gratefulness for the infinite sacrifice of Jesus, to loosen our tongues and hands in thanksgiving and to continuously turn to a higher setting on our Gratitude Response Generator.

    My experience has been that when I am tuned into gratitude the problem of obedience disappears and is replaced by the opportunity for obedience. It all happens inside, in the heart — not from the outside.

    • Perhaps the *most* serious response we can give to sin is to increase our sense of gratefulness for the infinite sacrifice of Jesus, to loosen our tongues and hands in thanksgiving and to continuously turn to a higher setting on our Gratitude Response Generator.

      I really like this: and at its core, this kind of response recognizes that the “freedom” we’re talking about was certianly not free for the LOVE of our souls. Actually quite costly, and we’re aware (in part) and grateful as best as we can be. When our kids reflect these attitudes, we call that ‘maturity’. Or at least an effort to head there.

  18. 11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

    This is from Titus 2 and expresses what I had in mind. Grace becomes active thru faith and does stuff. Salvation is much, much more than just knowing that I”m 100% forgiven. Our redemption and calling, built upon the finished work of Christ, WILL work itself out in our lives and have an effect. In that sense, our behaviors and attitudes, our “works” certainly matter.

  19. “If we accept grace we can go and live A-N-Y WAY we like and still be forgiven for eternity”

    Boy this sounds so….liberating…radical…insightful…spiritual…only if it were in the Bible 🙁

    I’m not sure what Bible B Manning read, but you would have to be an exegetical contortionist to get around passages like these:

    “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”


    “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”


    Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands.


    Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.


    And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.


    Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.


    For if we go on sinning DELIBERATELY after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

    So if you can go and live ANY WAY you like, in essence you are telling the adulterer that he can have Jesus AND his mistress and still march into heaven unchallenged!

    I can hear the objectors getting ready to pounce with “I think you are missing the whole point”

    Am I? Enlighten me then coz I’m confused. If anyone taught that in a discipleship class he/she would be guilty of ministerial malpractice in my book.


    • The question to ask yourself is whether or not the stance God has towards you changes based on your behavior. Does God love you any less when you sin? Unless you want to admit that you believe God is capricious and operates in a karmic way at least to some extent, accepting He has grace towards us is the only option.

      That doesn’t mean that our behavior or actions don’t matter. Of course they matter a great deal. I don’t think God want for His children to go through life hurting themselves and others as much as they can, and therefore He still hates sin. But yet He doesn’t condemn us. God justifies the ungodly.

      • I think a legitimate question would be “what might God’s love look like towards someone who is spurning His cousel, His clear instruction to “go and sin no more….”. Big hug and kiss, and reassurance that all is good cuz you are 100% forgiven ?? Back to Clay’ s comment that our reception of grace is important here. What does it mean to recieve grace in our lives, to share in the divine nature ?

        Im not suggesting some kind of sinless performance that “merits” the forgiveness of GOd. I am saying that recieving grace will work itself out in our approach to God, and life itself. Just because we know we are not condemned , we are not therefore “free” to live any way WE want. Those are not the words of the NT, as far as I see it.

        • As to what God’s love looks like to someone spurning His counsel, I guess it would depend. Sometimes it seems love looks like letting people experience the consequences of their actions so they “hit bottom”, so to speak, and other times, it sure seems that people don’t experience the full brunt of the consequences.

          I guess I’m at the place where I say the only one who can handle these questions for sure is God himself. I think our natural reaction is to be irritated or even outraged when we see that someone is being let off the hook for something. I just know that personally it’s hard for me to be the one demanding that others experience justice when I myself have experienced such profound grace.

          • “JUSTICE” was meted out at calvary. I dont’ think that is a major issue, it’s really settled. Discipline and training is another matter. I think the church living as community, and helping each other live lives that reflect the Kingdom are going to help ALL of us “course correct” when we are wayward and stubborn. And aren’t we all wayward and stubborn ??

            I know these things have been, and are yet, handled autocratically, and cruelly in many circles: but you cant’ get around all those pesky “one anothers” in the NT, both as words of encouragement , and as cousel.

            We can help each other without being ‘100% sure” on something, IMO, just as parents help their kids, or one friend helps another. We still see thru a glass darkly, but that does not mean we have no light at all.

  20. And why the insistence with the false “either/or” dichotomy. Who says “you can’t have it both ways?”

    Luther’s often quoted simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously just and sinful) reminds us of the tension between the two in this world.

    Nothing we do earns God’s favour because it was earned on our behalf in Christ, but after receiving the gift we are to live accordingly. Surely it’s not THAT hard to grasp!

    And regarding the “free to sin” theme. Aren’t we free FROM sin (see all over Romans) rather than TO sin?

    Paul reminds us that we “were called to freedom” but in the next breath he cautions us Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Gal 5:13)

    And Peter…

    Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (1 Peter 2:16)

    I can understand you guys are reacting to the cancerous moralism and legalism that is pervasive among modern evangelicals, but over-correction is not the answer either.

    The false assurance to sin till your heart’s content and have heaven in the bag is irresponsible to say the least.

  21. Donegal Misfortune says

    Having had much legalism in my early years of being a Christian this book would not have interested me, but now that I am liberated, I believe that it may be essential reading.

  22. I posted this at a blog/forum linking to this article:

    God’s Gospel frees us from the eternal penalty of sin. After one has received the gospel they are perfectly saved. God keeps them saved, it is God’s integrity and yes, they are free to go and live however they wish, your salvation does not depend on you behaving. However, if you are one of God’s, He has a note for you if you so wish to live in rebellion. It is called divine discipline and it will come knocking because he loves you and are one of his. And each cycle of discipline becomes more intense if you dispose yourself to continued rebellion all the way to the sin unto death where God removes you as a witness on earth.

    So when one speaks about being saved but living anyway they wish, understand that such a road, while free to choose, is one of great difficulty and misery for the child of God, but still you are free to sin all your heart desires.

    • Well said, and so the “freedom” here is the power and ability to make moral choices. This never implies or affirms divine approval. Like you said, discipline from above will “come knocking”. That is a sign of sonship for us, that GOD would care for us that much.

      BOTH the rebellious and the not so rebellious son/daughter is 100% forgiven, but the obedient servant is going to enjoy their life and their lifestyle so much the better.

  23. I just last Sunday tried to encourage a young man who comes to a little bible study each week that he is no less loved, nor no less saved, nor no more a sinner than anyone else. He said he struggles with grace (in so many words) because, he says, he is a “fake.” He has a girlfriend and new baby and knows he should live differently. I said that perhaps the Holy Spirit was speaking to him about what he needs to do–in the same way, the Holy Spirit convicts me of my sin. Does God love him less because his sin is more visible (can’t hide a baby) than mine (can hide judgement and ugly thoughts)? Aren’t we all then “fake” Christians—living imperfectly because of sin?

    Anyway, I’ve been through much suffering to find myself a disciple, not a casual believer. I think others might look upon me and think I’m changed and that I’ve got it all together. I am different, but try as I might, I cannot see that I’ll ever be anything more than a sinner saved by grace. I’m blessed, truly blessed, to be that at last.

    Great post, Jeff. Thank you.

  24. Bill Metzger says

    “Repentance” means only one thing: “To change mind”. It does NOT mean to turn away from sin. Nor is it a condition for forgiveness (“If I repent, THEN God will forgive me”). God, in Jesus, has ALREADY forgiven ALL sin for ALL people for ALL time! Your repentance will not make that happen. In fact, neither the theif on the cross, nor the woman caught in the act of adultarey asked for forgiveness. They didn’t confess any sin at all, and yet Jesus promised paradise to the thief and no condemnation to the woman. Romans 8:1!!!

    • You say, “‘Repentance” means only one thing: “To change mind”. It does NOT mean to turn away from sin.'” That is a very dangerous and dualistic statement. You can’t really believe that repentence does not involve turning from sin. As to the rest of your comment, do you believe Jesus’ instruction to pray “forgive us our trespesses” was superflous?

  25. Bill Metzger says

    My point is: if I could turn away from sin, I wouldn’t need Jesus! I’m DEAD (Ephesians 2:1f). The DEAD can’t do anything except lie there, smell bad and get worse. It’s only after the DEAD have been RESURRECTED that anything can happen. Since Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, even sanctification is HIS work, not mine. When I’m DEAD, I cannot repent. It’s ONLY after I have been Resurrected that repentance can take place. Forgiveness comes first. Repentance follows. My two cents. I love you all! Romans 8:1

  26. It has been touched upon in others’ comments, but I think that part of the problem is our understanding of what happens when we have received God’s grace through faith in Jesus. There is both a chnge in our relationship to God and a change in us.

    It seems to me that the NT clearly teaches that I am NOT free to sin anymore or to do as I please in the big picture sense. Both the inward change that God has birthed and the “outward” discipline He brings makes it impossible to live anyway I please. I can and do sin often, but the trajectory has been changed and I am “doomed” to become like Him by loving and being loved by Him.

    In a sense it is like those old blues songs where the singer just can’t quit his woman no matter how hard he seems to try. We usually see God as the singer, which is appropriate, but I believe because of God’s work in us, we also find ourselves coming back to Him time and time again, even though He keeps trying to get between us and our lusts.

  27. This is the worst article of all, I’ve read