January 21, 2021

FAQ: On Grace

Update: As I said, the word “grace” causes a lot of Christians to get their undies bunched up. So before you start to tell me just how wrong I am to say that we are saved—and continue in our salvation-–by grace through faith alone, I urge you to scroll over to the righthand side of this page and download—for free—Dr. Rod Rosenbladt’s”The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church.” Is the Gospel of Grace enough even for the Christian? Listen to that. Then listen again. He says it all much better than I can.

Wow. Nothing stirs the pot here at the iMonastery like the topic of grace. Just tossing out that word gives many iMonks the heebie-jeebies. I really think many would be so much happier if we could put grace on a shelf and glance at it once in a while as we hurry past carrying our Book of the Law under our arms. Of course, the laws in your book will be different from the laws in my book. Otherwise we wouldn’t need all the different denominations, and many a pastor would be out of a job and have to find another way to make a living. But I digress.

You already know my thoughts on grace, and you are already irritated by those thoughts. (One commenter earlier this week referred to one of my previous posts saying that I think we should just quit trying since Jesus has already done it all. Exactly! He gets it, even though he was not trying to be complimentary.) So I thought today we would ask our founder, Michael Spencer, his thoughts on the subject of grace. These are all his exact words, taken from essays he wrote dealing with the topic of God’s grace. Shall we begin?

Jeff: Michael, we talk a lot about grace, and it tends to be a lightning-rod topic on this site. Perhaps it is a subject we should avoid. What do you think?

Michael: “Amazing Grace” may be the church’s favorite hymn, but I’m not the first person to notice that the subject of God’s actual grace seems to give many Christians a case of hives. Singing about it is way cool. After that we need a team of lawyers to interpret all the codicils and footnotes we’ve written for the new covenant.

I don’t really care whether we all agree on how to reconcile Paul’s justification by faith and James’s justification by works. I don’t care whether we agree on the application of the threat of Bonhoeffer’s sermons on “cheap grace.” I don’t care all that much about Catholic grace vs. Protestant grace or conservative grace vs. liberal grace, though I have my convictions. Grace as merely a point or a subpoint in theology seems rather bizarre to me. Grace is an all or nothing gig, not some percentage of the take. Get with it, or get out of the kitchen.

Jeff: Wait. Are you saying that the church itself has a problem with the message of grace?

Michael: The Gospel is scandalous in its proclamation that God justifies the wicked by grace, through faith. Apparently, that scandal has now reached into the church itself, where it doesn’t take any effort at all to find evangelicals ready to contend that you can’t “just believe” and be saved without also becoming a “good” person. It seems that few evangelicals have contemplated just how radically different the Christian message is from the message of “self-improvement” or “moral reformation.”

Jeff: Yet as we hear so often, don’t we have to be careful with the message of grace? Will it not give people the idea that they are free to live however they please? What did Paul say in Romans 6: What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!

Michael: Paul knows that grace is a potent brew, and so in Romans 6 he anticipates the objection that is running around in the minds of thousands of evangelical preachers. “Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound?” In other words, how can we be sure people will live the way they are supposed to if this grace thing is as good a deal as it appears to be? What a great opening for a chapter on all the things we have to do to really, really, really be serious Christians. Get ready to take notes.

Instead, we get a list of the miraculous accomplishments of grace, all done by Christ, for us, outside of us and in the past, accompanied by an expanded admonition to “consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Yes, I know he says to “yield yourselves” to God, which sounds like works, but keep reading. “…As men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Ahem. In other words, the entire sixth chapter of Romans says act like God has graciously done everything necessary for your salvation and you can’t do anything to save yourself. Grace, not legalism, not works, is the great motivator of the Christian life. Every appeal in Romans 6 is based on what God has done that we cannot do, and the greatest obedience flows from the grace of God. The reason for this is clear. Grace magnifies the giver. It’s not that obedience has no capacity to magnify God. It does–IF it comes from hearts ravished by grace, and not the accounting department.

Jeff: So it seems you are saying that the subject of grace makes Christians feel uncomfortable.

Michael: Try this one out at any gathering of evangelical Christians: “Once you are justified by faith, you can do what you want. And if you want to do all the things you did before you knew Jesus, then you just don’t get it.” (Gasp) You’ll immediately notice that some Christians want it very clear that you can’t expect to be saved by grace if you don’t live right. Straighten up and fly right, and you’ll get to heaven. Oh yeah….by grace. Grace has become just a code word for works in a lot of evangelical minds. The point to see here is that we tend to get anxious about the way God is doing things. If he starts getting all overly generous on us, we want to call him off to the side and see if we can’t add a few rules and expectations in there so WE feel better. God, of course, isn’t changing anything because we’re nervous, but he’s not stopping us from putting out our own versions of the Gospel either. Unfortunately.

Jeff: Why don’t we hear this message more often, the message of pure grace?

Michael: What you can do, not what God has done, is the great theme of most of what is published and recorded in the evangelical world. Grace writers and poets stand out like lighthouses in a sea of mediocre legalism and do-it-yourself religion. Grace is an endangered species, and we all need to celebrate and promote any writer who truly, passionately communicates grace. This isn’t a matter of theological labels. We can quibble about the footnotes some other time. No matter who they are, when they wrote or where you find them, applaud, buy and give away the grace writers and artists. The beauty of what they are saying needs to be heard in a church choking on legalism, moralism and timidity about the Gospel.

Jeff: Do you have any last thoughts on the subject of grace?

Michael: I’ve thought a lot about grace as I’ve gotten older and lived the Christian life longer. I see and hear young, fired up, Pentecostal preacher boys, full of sermons about what will happen if we will pray more, live holy lives, get extreme, go the distance and all that fizz. It doesn’t get to me anymore. I am slowly living past the point of being affected by all the rah-rah Christianity around me.

I know I am not very obedient. I know my sinful patterns and my perennial laziness. I know where I fall short. I am well acquainted with my lusts, my pettiness and my stupid pride. I may make more progress on these things, but honestly, I doubt it. My efforts at obedience have about run their course. Most of what I am going to be as a human being living as a Christian on this planet, I’ve probably already achieved. I want all the years God has for me, and I want to honor and glorify him, but if I am going to learn about grace, now is the time. I need it now.

Here’s where I am. When it comes time for me to die, I’ll only have one work to do. All the options will be gone. We don’t like to think about that, because we like to see our lives as full of all the options of youth, vigor, work, opportunity to change and the results of effort. We’re going to do better, we say. But in the end, the only “work” we can do will be to trust ourselves to God. Simple. Beautiful, in its way.

Faith will be the only work. Exactly as Jesus said in John 6:28.

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Scripture says that life now is to be a death. We die daily, Scripture says. Not just at the end, not just on our deathbeds. But now, today. Tomorrow. In every moment of time and breath that God gives us, we are to die, to do the one work of faith that trusts God in Jesus to be the all in all for us.

Jesus’ death is a grace to us. In his death we are safe, and in his life we have it all, now and then. Everything that God’s love graciously gives us and Christ’s work guarantees us. None from obedience. All from grace. The grasping hand of work never finds it. The empty hand of faith cannot miss it.

So die daily. Die to the works that we think bring God’s blessing. Die to the works that attempt to steal significance from our own obedience–obedience made possible only because of grace upon grace. Die a little at a time, one day at a time, practicing for the big one when grace will come lapping at your door like a rising tide, and you will have nowhere to go to run away from it. A gracious flood come to take you home from this troubled world to the place Jesus has prepared for you.

Get ready for the time when resting in the arms of God and grace will be all you have to do. And it will be more than enough to see you home.

Choose death to anything but grace, so you can one day be alive in nothing except grace.

There’s no problem with that.

Michael Spencer died April 5, 2010. We will celebrate Michael’s life over the next week with his writings on various subjects. You can always access his essays under the Archives tab at the top of the page.  Finally, Michael once told me that grace was the foundation for everything he wrote or preached. We talked about grace more than anything else, except maybe for the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds need grace as well.


  1. Amen.
    Thank you Jeff!

  2. “Once you are justified by faith, you can do what you want. And if you want to do all the things you did before you knew Jesus, then you just don’t get it.”

    Exactly. Wonderful summary.

  3. I’m dying to lay a foundation of grace like this.

    Pun intended.

  4. Wow, I wish I could live “past the point of being affected by all the rah-rah Christianity around me.”

    Why have I heard so many expositions of Romans 6 “sin will have no dominion over you because you are not under law but under grace” that effectively say “this means we should be good.” No, this means we should dwell on the grace we’ve been given since we’ve been evil.

    My church, which has an excellent track record of the grace message, recently had a very disappointing episode where we were all told we should be “getting mature”(Eph 4) which meant volunteering for activities at church. How quickly we slip into nonsense and be-goodism…

    • How quickly indeed. Thus the necessity to hear the message of grace again and again and again. Grace truly is dangerous, especially to religion.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And Can You Top This rears its head with “I Volunteer for more Activities at Church than Thou…”

      Until it’s All Church, All The Time and you’ve taken yourself completely out of the loop to do or achieve anything outside its four Thomas Kincade-decorated walls. (I recently heard a horror story of a small-press cartoonist I used to follow in the Eighties. According to the fannish grapevine, his “Uber-Christian” wife was dragging him into Church every time the doors were open, to the point he could do nothing else.)

      • It seems like everything jumps the shark eventually. What starts out as a reaction against such paradigms eventually, with a couple generations(or much, much less depending on how off the mark it is) becomes just like what it originally repudiated. My church is classic independent, non-denominational, “non-religious” Evangelical, with emphasis on community and sharing and “happy family” type feel. In the process, it’s become rather gnostic, with even a touch of “those special, uber-spiritual types” are more “in tune with God” than the rest of us.

        My challenge is how to be among such misguided ideas and still hold fast to the Truth. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      P.S. How does “All Church All The Time”/”I Volunteer for more Activities at Church”/Can You Top This differ from the heresy of Clericalism? (i.e. the idea that only Priests/Monks/Nuns/Full-Time-Christian-Workers-and-Volunteers matter and to hell with all those mundane laity living their lives.)

  5. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That is grace.

    Romans 6 says it all. We are drowned in baptism (the sinful self is put to death), and we are raised again with Christ.

    So, “we should consider ourselves dead to sin”. Why? Something we did? NO!

    Something that God did FOR US, on the cross AND in our baptisms.

    Thanks, Jeff . And thank God for Michael.

  6. Michael chides himself for his “perennial laziness.”

    But we know he was a man on God’s mission. I’m still working out how to understand mission as grace-based, rather than needs-based (“wretched urgency”) or based on my own works / obedience.

    Jeff, and everyone, any insight on this – from Michael’s life or your own – is much appreciated.

    • Sean,

      You are free in Christ.

      What do you want to do? Do what you want to do. The Lord will be with you there, and use you for His purposes.

      • Thanks Steve. I go through cycles of living out your encouragement… “Love God and do as you please.” But then the day-to-day overwhelms me. I see the needs, I have the desire, but for whatever reason, I’m not able to do anything.

        But then the Lord reminds me again of grace and that he intends my good, which includes being involved in the Kingdom (in the same way you did here… and on my blog, thanks for that too). Just this week did I gain a sense of future plans, something I want to do. So I patiently wait and embrace freedom, again.

  7. Jeff,

    I am sure that if only we would pray harder for the Reds, then for sure they would win the World Series! 🙂

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    It seems that few evangelicals have contemplated just how radically different the Christian message is from the message of “self-improvement” or “moral reformation.”

    Never mind that “selt-improvement” AND “moral reformation” are Rigged Games.

    1) No matter how much you self-improve, you can never reach Perfection; there will ALWAYS be more to self-improve. The finish line keeps getting pulled away as fast as you can approach it.

    2) No matter how much you morally reform, there will always be someone more Truly Reformed who will be looking down their noses at you. In four words: Can You Top This?

    • Plus its easier to talk about someone’s else’s sin than your own. I had Crusade leaders, Pastors, etc.. who were all the willing to get into my life and pry..”How you doing with lust?”,”How you doing with alcohol?”,”How you doing with …” And yet all too often many of these same individuals refused to have the same spot light shine on them. Transperancy only goes one way.

      What a load of bull$%^&!!!!


      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I think these are just specific examples of treating everything as a Zero-Sum Game, where in order to win, I have to make you lose. I climb higher only by pushing you down, and making sure nobody else can climb higher by pushing me down. Lobsters in a bucket, like so many human societies.

  9. David Cornwell says

    “I know I am not very obedient. I know my sinful patterns and my perennial laziness. I know where I fall short. I am well acquainted with my lusts, my pettiness and my stupid pride.”

    And the law will solve none of these things. Otherwise why would we even need Christ? If I cannot even keep my New Year’s resolutions, how can I hope to be obedient to the law?

    Oh– after all these years I gave up on the Resolutions this year.

  10. “What you can do, not what God has done, is the great theme of most of what is published and recorded in the evangelical world.”

    Classic liberal theology. How many “conservative” or “fundamental” pastors preach this every Sunday, while sounding the cultural war siren against liberalism in the church? Crazy.

  11. “…But in the end, the only ‘work’ we can do will be to trust ourselves to God…”

    Michael’s last months, weeks and days were evidence that he believed this to the very end. It was his strength. It was his peace.

    • Denise, Michael’s short essay on an apologetic for a dying man was one of the most profound pieces I have ever read. I am so thankful for his life. Peace and all God’s blessings to you and your family.

  12. This message of grace beginning with the internet monk last year brought to believe that Christ actually died for me. I realized that while I was trying to “get better” I was only doing it in order to get all of the uber Christians around me to think highly of me and not question my salvation. I was more worried about what these people around me thought of my relationship with Christ than with what actually was happening with me and Christ. What a waste of time until the grace of Christ, the gospel began to penetrate through my tough heart.

  13. I wonder what grace writers/artists Michael would recommend. Is there a list somewhere? (Jeff/CM’s recommendations would be equally as welcome. I’m a voracious reader, so pile ’em on if willing.)

  14. I stumbled onto this website about 8 months ago……..I grew up in a fundamentalist church~ good people, good pastor, but the works based theology really messed me up….I’ve spent the last few years trying to re-construct faith…. the the archive posts of Michaels have been such a blessing to me. It’s like my own form of free therapy:)

    Thanks for continuing the site.

  15. This excerpt from above really jumped out at me:

    “Paul knows that grace is a potent brew….”

    This is exactly the point I have been making during various discussions on the subject of grace I have been having lately.

    When people do not really understand grace, they sometimes have a thought that living under grace is a life with no guardrails and that you would then be free to do anything you feel like doing or whatever. My truthful testimony is that I have found the opposite to be true. As Michael said, “Grace is a potent brew.” It certainly is.

    Paul teaches that there is a dichotomy between law and grace, which I understand to mean that we have the option of choosing one or the other as the governing influence of our life. The law makes demands on your flesh and grace is a gift that works through your spirit. The law says you can be blessed if you work hard enough to live up to its demands; grace says you’re already blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places.

    But, to live under grace is to receive power and direction to live the Christian life and not just walk around all day saying, “I’m blessed, I’m blessed and I can do whatever I want.”

    Paul stakes a very decisive claim for this perspective in his letter to Titus as follows:

    11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

    So yes, grace is a potent brew. It gives us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him. It does not give us a license to sin but instead teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously and godly.

    Grace has been given a very bad rap. I wonder just who it is that doesn’t want us to understand it. Actually, I don’t wonder. A church under grace in its biblical purity will do maximum damage to the kingdom of darkness.

  16. David Cornwell says

    Grace flows from God’s love toward us. The more we realize the meaning of the grace, that love, then our hearts respond. It’s far away beyond anything the law can do for us.

    The third stanza of the hymn, “The Love of God” speaks of the depth of His love toward us:

    “Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade,
    To write the love of God above,
    Would drain the ocean dry.
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.”

    My father wanted this sung at his funeral, and so it was.

    This kind of grace will change your life.

  17. “…but instead teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously and godly.”

    Okay, I am going to say that i think that most of us (Christians who place their faith firmly in the work of Jesus on the Cross) do live lives that would fit this description, but I will be honest and say that those words make me frightened. Why? Why does it make me start to question everything for fear that it isn’t godly? Why do I want a list of daily actions and get a check YES or NO on them so I can just relax??

    • This is a perpetual discussion here and elsewhere it seems. Does grace truly “teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts?” Sure, but most people don’t get as far as focusing any sustained attention upon the grace of God that it would actually have such an effect, because they’d rather talk about “life change” or something. And there’s probably a place for that discussion. But it’s really bothersome when you try to give attention to grace, and some pointy headed amateur pipes up with “yeah, but you have to change your ways, blah blah blah” (not trying to describe you Murray)


      • Attention is the key. If most of your attention in the “God conversation” is directed towards his grace to us in Christ, then we will see the results that we hear about. But if we’re constantly bombarded with what our lives should look like as a result, you lose your results. Or worse, you fake them.


    • LisaJo, Titus 2 says grace is a teacher. You need not concern yourself whether everything is godly. As Nate says, we need to have a sustained focus on grace to see the godly results promised in Titus 2:11-14. But, the focus is not on the results, but on the grace. So, it works like this: we focus on grace and grace teaches us to live godly as a byproduct of being grace focused/Christ centered.

      What are some practical examples of being grace focused? How do we become more that way? To me, the mother lode of being grace focused is to meditate a lot on the cross. I go back and forth in II Corinthians 5 and Isaiah 53 quite a bit. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

      Surely He has borne our griefs
      And carried our sorrows;
      Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
      Smitten by God, and afflicted.
      But He was wounded for our transgressions,
      He was bruised for our iniquities;
      The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
      And by His stripes we are healed.

    • Why? Why does it make me start to question everything for fear that it isn’t godly? Why do I want a list of daily actions and get a check YES or NO on them so I can just relax??

      I think we all want to feel as though we have some measure of control, that our actions really make an ultimate difference. But grace teaches us that they don’t; grace is from another, not ourselves. Good works are a fitting and natural response (we love because Christ first loved us), but they don’t change the basic equation. That’s a hard lesson to learn. I’d have to say I’m still working on it myself in a lot of ways.

  18. Grace 100%. Yes and Amen! The rule book, I’m-better-than-thou, why-aren’t-you-more-involved-at-church style of Christianity is absolutely a perversion that can only drive us away from Christ. Absolutely agree with Jeff and Michael.

    Now I tread carefully here, and I realize I might be getting off topic somewhat, but it seems to me that there’s something so important that’s missing from most discussions like this. Admittedly, Michael hints at it here, but I personally need a huge kick in the pants reminder of the following, as does the church in general. In the words of Rob Bell:

    “So is it true that the kind of person you are doesn’t ultimately matter, as long as you’ve said or prayed or believed the right things? If you truly believed that, and you were surrounded by Christians who believed that, then you wouldn’t have much motivation to do anything about the present suffering of the world, because you would believe you were going to leave someday and go somewhere else to be with Jesus. If this understanding of the good news of Jesus prevailed among Christians, the belief that Jesus’ message is about how to get somewhere else, you could possibly end up with a world in which millions of people were starving, thirsty, and poor; the earth was being exploited and polluted; disease and despair were everywhere; and Christians weren’t known for doing much about it. If it got bad enough, you might even have people rejecting Jesus because of how his followers lived.”

    Grace 100%. But we’ve got so much work to do, right?

    • David Cornwell says

      …as long as you’ve said or prayed or believed the right things?”

      They are in the law i.e. “right” praying, believing, saying. Not much will probably happen to the world while Christians are under the law. It wasn’t the law that caused those early believers to turn the world upside down.

      • A bit beside Bell’s point? Unless, David, you’re a universalist (not knocking that, by the way, as I would consider myself a hopeful universalist), presumably there’s some reason why some are saved and others are not? In other words, is objecting to Bell’s semantics here to miss his larger point?

  19. For Lutherans, the grace of God is not internalized. It comes ‘extra nos’ from outside of ourselves. It is announced, declared, given to the hearer. It is also given in the Supper.

    We also believe that “we walk by faith and not by sight”. And that “we live from faith to faith”. So this announcement must come regularly in the preached Word and in the absolution, as well as regular receiving of the body and blood of Christ.

    Too many Christians believe, “Yeah, yeah, yeah….I got all that…way back when I accepted Jesus…and now I’m moving on in MY spiritual growth (project).

    That is a misunderstanding of our anthrpology, which leads to a misdirected focus…’us’.

    • Steve, you think there’s any way for me to be a Church of Christ Lutheran?…ha!

      • Why not!

        We have every other kind of Lutheran! 😀

        • We’ve got Lutheran churches that:

          Believe in the real presence.
          Not believe in the real presence.
          Believe that Chris thas done it all.
          Don’t even believe in God.
          Believe that everyone is automatically saved.
          Believe that only their particular brand of Lutheran will be saved.
          Believe in sin and gulit.
          Believe anything goes, there is no sin.

          You name it. We’ve got it.

          It is getting a lot harder to find classical, confessional Lutherans that are not right, nor left…but centered on the Word alone. They are out there, though. You just gotta look for them.

  20. I try not to do this very often, but if anyone is really interested in breaking free from the shackles of religion and the focus on ‘the self’, then give this class a listen, when you get time. I think you will like what you hear.

    But it will be different than you are used to. That’s for sure.



  21. We miss Michael and the message of grace he couldn’t help but share every time who put pen to paper. It was the main artery to his heart. Your posting this (and you make no apologies, as grace doesn’t and shouldn’t), has a way of quieting the “Yes grace, but…” crowd for a day or two. Legalism dies hard. Thank you Jeff, your voice here is as needed as ever in Michael’s absence.

    • Ah, thank you, Ken. But that crowd did not stay silent for long. Read the comment below…

      • thought my comment didn’t post last night Jeff, as it seemed to get hung up, so I posted again today below.

        Yeah, I see. I’ve found grace never is met without resistance. We can pray brother. Grace becomes amazing only when our eyes see it as if it were for the first time, and some times years and years into our walk as you and I have learned. We never do see anything the same afterwards, besides maybe our Reds or Tigers.

        Your posts may not be the most frequent, but they are the best Jeff (no offense MM).

  22. Internet Monk Reader says

    (Since I can’t delete the original, I have reposted without the irritating bold type)

    The grace vs works discussions have become terminally circular. It’s such a shame that it has become an ‘either-or’ affair. Grace AND works are the opposite sides of THE SAME coin and a lawless theology is just as dangerous as a graceless theology.

    Reading some the comments one would think that works don’t matter AT ALL after one is saved and we’re excused from any moral responsibility to take heed of the imperatives of the NT. The fact that we will never achieve perfection is no excuse for moral abandonment. To say that ‘because we’ll never be perfect, so why bother’, is a cop out.

    There are some niggling verses in my NT that I wouldn’t want to risk ignoring (just in case they’re important…just sayin) such as…

    “Strive [don’t you just hate this word] for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”. (Heb 12:14) and “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thes 4:3-8) PAUL again… “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Eph 5:3-6) JOHN…“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.…. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:6,10) PETER… “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11)

    I would love to know what you grace advocates make of these verses and how you explain them away (i.e. I welcome a rebuttal for the sake of constructive dialogue and mutual edification, but let’s interact with the text rather than opinionated statements)

    Other than the warnings, may I propose that the NT also assumes that grace inevitably produces change. Sanctification and progressive life change are a natural extension of a grace filled life.

    PAUL…“Since we have these promises [GRACE?], beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 7:1-4) ALSO…“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13) JOHN…“And everyone who(K) thus hopes in him(L) purifies himself as he is pure.”….“No one born of God [GRACE?] makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” (1 John 3:3,9)

    Now, if you can read all this and come away thinking that you are exempt from moral restraint and displaying a sanctified life, I rest my case.

    • That’s great.

      How are you doing?

      • Internet Monk Reader says

        Care to explain what you mean Steve?

        • Allow this “grace advocate” to explain, and I’ll do it in three words. These words were spoken by the author and perfecter of my faith. He shouted these words as he hung from the cross (the cross, I know, is extremely foolish. Yet to me who is in the process of being saved, it is the very power of God). Here are the three words I hang my heart on:

          It is finished.

          Is there anything more that needs to be done? Is there anything that trumps the words of Jesus?

          • Internet Monk Reader says

            Jeff, with respect, oversimplification is not an adequate answer. Yes ‘it is finished’ as far getting saved goes, no one is arguing that, but please explain to me what you do with the rest of the NT which is replete with commands and exhortations to ‘do’. Do they matter to Christians, or are they there for show only, trying to scare us, confuse us, trick us or what exactly? Should we rip those pages out of our Bibles?

            I am sure that most readers are familiar with the sample of scriptures I provided, but I’m looking forward to see someone make an exegetical case against them rather than pithy comments.

            • First of all, I do not see “It is finished” as being an oversimplified answer. I believe you could spend the rest of your life digging into those words and never reach an end. I am not going to make an exegetical case against any scriptures. I will simply ask you to read Michael Spencer’s comments above once again. And then ask you to read Romans 6, as he suggests, and maybe mix in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

              As I said at the beginning, the topic of grace scares many Christians. Or, as Michael said, grace is dangerous stuff. Following rules makes us feel safe. It makes us feel like we are in control of our lives. Living in grace means we are out of control. I choose to trust in the completed works of Jesus not just for my salvation, but for my very life.

              If you don’t find Michael’s comments to be satisfactory for you, I don’t know what else to say. This is who we are: sinners saved by grace alone.

    • ‘ if you can read all this and come away thinking that you are exempt from moral restraint’

      This seems to be a straw man as I do not see anyone here claiming to be exempt from moral restraint.

    • I really, really, don’t think that anyone here is saying they can get away with whatever they please because of Grace. I honestly think what I need to hear is just a shift in focus.

      And I am so sorry, and I beg forgiveness for God if doing this is weak, or immature, or whatever: but I DO put sins in a hierarchy. Yep, I consider some stuff really bad, and some not so bad. There. I said it.

      Yes, I do not do the things that I KNOW cause pain and slow decay to myself or the people around me (Oh really?). Yes, I do know we are called to mimic the types of lives that will exist in the Kingdom (You really think you’re doing everything you can on that?). I KNOW we are called to be kind to others, to help others, to offer love and support to those in need (but are you pure enough?). Well, dangit, look who showed up in my thinking, that voice in the parenthesis. That’s the voice that gets me every time.

      And let’s be honest: we all have baggage concerning what we think, or what has been represented as a “purified life.” KInda makes you want to have a list or something. Sure, let’s not make porn films in the basement, let’s not cheat and steal at work, let’s not kick out the old lady renter who can’t make her rent, but surely there are pages and pages of other stuff we should take out of our lives. If in God’s eyes there are not big and little sins, and our baptism and belief in this idea that has been presented to us of Jesus dying to bring us back to God is only the first part of the process…..then I’m sunk.

      Gah. I sound like a nut. And I’m going round and round again. How many of you think God planned it this way? He knew we’d go in circles over this idea, at times being so secure and filled with relief and just so grateful, and at other times we panic and re-examine everything. Does that keep our faith alive? Was that the idea?

      I am sorry that my comments seem so emotional, and not filled with Scripture. And I am sometimes ashamed that I yearn to hear scandalous stories of grace, but I guess that’s just my personality. In my fallen human mind all I can do is say this; I am a believer. I act a certain way because I am a believer. I do not fit the mold of every other believer. And I am trusting Grace to cover those areas.

      Whew. I need a drink.

      • Beautiful.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I am sorry that my comments seem so emotional, and not filled with Scripture.

        That means your comments sound like a cry from the heart, not a mindless brainless playback loop.

        (I’m just coming off a week that literally had me screaming at the walls.)

    • Internet Monk Reader is onto something, it seems to me. As he/she said, why do we make this issue into an either/or thing? Is there a way to reconcile what he/she is saying, with what Michael and Jeff are saying in the “interview”? I think so. Allow me to ramble.

      “It is finished.” Yes! With his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus bought us back from death, with which we all had aligned ourselves, by choosing to reject God. A pure act of grace.

      But is that all that it’s about? Is the point of the gospel nothing more than that Jesus rescued us from death, and that one day God will wave his magic wand and force everything into perfection? No! Jesus was ushering in new creation–the kingdom of God–which grows like a mustard seed and which eventually encompasses everything and reconciles all things to God. We are the body of Christ. We are his hands and his feet, and it is through us that the kingdom of God advances.

      How does this happen? Both at the personal level and at the corporate level. We each individually become conformed to the image of Christ (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, etc.), and at the corporate level, we work together to push back against the forces of hate, greed, disease, oppression, poverty, war, racism, etc. Again, we are the body of Christ, and it is through us (God working within us) that the kingdom of God advances. God’s grace and forgiveness are infinitely deep, and he never gives up on us, either in this life, or the life to come. So there absolutely is never a place for fear-mongering or judgmentalism or I’m-better-than-thou-ism. But that said, the kingdom of God cannot advance if we’re sitting on our hands, so we need to wake up and get to work, today rather than tomorrow!

      Or at least, that’s how I see it.

      • Well said!

      • The way to reconcile what Jesus said is make the law/gospel distinction.

        Jesus was using the law to show us what it meant to be a REAL human being was.

        And that Word of law exposes our sinfulness and condemns us.

        But that is not the last Word. The last word(s), as Jeff pointed out are, “It is finished.”

        You are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. The inability for so much of the church to distinguish law from gospel and their proper uses is the culprit in so much of the Christian schizophrenia that is going on today.

      • “Internet Monk Reader is onto something.” As was another persistent commenter on the other recent post on grace. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

        I appreciated the honesty and intelligence of Michael Spencer in this blog’s original incarnation. But I had an on and off relationship with reading it because Michael could be an articulate critic and at the same time not too clear on what replaces what he’s dismantling.

        In this sense, the current incarnation of the blog seems to be “continuing the legacy” as promoted, and that’s a disappointment. And it’s why I’ve drifted away again. Clarity is not the same thing as being dogmatic or tenaciously clinging to a ‘my way or the highway’ approach. This blog has always opposed those attitudes, which I appreciate, but at tiimes it’s not listening closely enough to its critics.

        • Dave, I hope you’ll hang around. And I hope you’ve noticed that there is more variety with regard to viewpoints now. Jeff and I and Damaris and Lisa often take different perspectives and that’s one thing we hope will both sharpen us and attract more readers into the conversation. Because that is what this is. We’re not a church with a doctrinal statement; we are a place for all Christians (and those who may not be Christians but enjoy talking about religious matters) to discuss their views, share their opinions, and it is hoped, help each other a bit along the way.

    • Reading some the comments one would think that works don’t matter AT ALL after one is saved and we’re excused from any moral responsibility to take heed of the imperatives of the NT.”

      Of course not. the moral imperative (singular) of the NT is posted plainly in the article. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

      Guess what someone is functionally “believing in” when the qualify the grace of God or say “yeah but you’re supposed to be good…” In these discussions. Hint: it’s not “him whom he has sent.”

  23. I enjoy this discussion. Listening to people tell me they get it , but I don’t. I’m with Michael Spencer, no matter what I do I can’t save myself. “If you love me keep my commandments.” I will always fail that mark, I will never be a perfect husband, father,etc. etc. But I am saved by God’s grace. Don’t try to tell me otherwise. My mind is made up!

  24. Appreciating this post and discussion.

    It brought to mind a lot of talk I’ve heard lately in my little corner of the world about belivers living “godly” lives, including some claims that certain people and their counsel is specifically “godly,” with the clear implication that others aren’t. I’m not sure where this particular wording came from our how it developed, but I have seen some (not all) cases in which it is clearly conveys a sort of spiritual classism. Wondering if anyone has any insight into how this sort of thing develops and how to gracefully counter it.

  25. Rob Grayson says

    I really miss Michael’s writing, and he was at his finest when he wrote about pure grace. Keep banging the drum, Jefd and co; we can never be reminded too much.

  26. Jonathan Brumley says

    The verse that speaks most clearly to me is Galatians 5:6:

    “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (ESV)

    Faith working through love = living faith.

    Through grace, through faith, we receive the Spirit of Christ. That Spirit will sanctify us and compel us to love. And that love fulfills the whole law.

    • Nice!


    • Internet Monk Reader says

      That Spirit will sanctify us and compel us to love. And that love fulfills the whole law.

      Someone should have told Paul then to keep this plain and simple and not fill his letters with so many details about what ‘to do’.

      • We are free to do, and Paul encourages it.

        Paul also wrote that “we are saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

        Paul also wrote that “Christ is the end of the law…” (the law being that which we do).

      • You’ve got to do some theology here. You can’t just be lifting texts out of the bible and reading them woodenly in a monochrome fashion. read the Bible through the lens of the gospel and not the law and it will come alive and liberate you. Through the law, and it will bring you death.

        St. Paul calls the 10 Commandments the “ministry of death”.

        • Internet Monk Reader says

          Steve, I try to remain civil in this discussion but you’re getting cocky and condescending.

          If I am reading simple NT passages in a “woodenly” and “monochrome fashion” I invite you to enlighten me and tell me what those passages mean to you and how you interpret them. I didn’t realize there was some cryptic formula to read the epistles other than take them a face value in their simplest meaning.

          And let me be direct: reducing more than half of the NT to the soundbite of ‘the law kills’ is a cop out.

  27. A fitting post seeing it’s been an entire year… seems like yesterday he was with us but in another way it seems like forever already.

    We miss Michael and the message of grace he couldn’t help but share every time who put pen to paper. It was the main artery to his heart. Your posting this (and you make no apologies, as grace doesn’t and shouldn’t), has a way of quieting the “Yes grace, but…” crowd for a day or two. Legalism dies hard.

    It is finished as you point out above Jeff. And until that light comes on, many think it all hinges on them (whether they admit as much or not).

    Thank you Jeff, your voice that rings of gospel sanity is as needed as ever here in Michael’s absence.

  28. Internet Monk Reader says

    For the record – I am a ‘he’.

    @ JEFF – you keep on avoiding to answer my questions DIRECTLY. I’ve read Michael’s answers and he makes a very compelling case about grace. My questions to you are simple:

    (1) What do you with the rest of the NT which is full of somber warnings, and multiple, explicit and unambiguous imperatives?
    (2) Do you ignore them and teach others to?
    (3) Do you think they MATTER to Christians?
    (4) Do Christians have ANY responsibility to obey them?
    (5) Does Jesus need to be our Lord or only our Savior?

    Let’s move away from the soteriological theme, because I’m not trying to make a case that ANY of those things contribute to one’s salvation. I totally embrace the 5 Sola’s and I am not saying salvation is a ‘yes, but’ case. However after the salvation issue is settled, I don’t need a ThD to figure out that when I confess that I am an unworthy recipient of God’s grace, I am also asked to ‘work out my salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil 2:12). I wish this apostle Paul would just shut up and go away, but he has this annoying habit of popping up everywhere in the NT, why is trying to get my attention? Oh wait… He’s the same guy who wrote all that stuff about grace as well. Are you sure?

    For the record: I am NOT trying to turn anyone’s focus AWAY from grace and onto works or self, or suggest that such things either bring us closer to God or that we can impress him. Rather to do a reality check that good works, holy living and personal responsibility have a LEGITIMATE place in the Christian life and to deny their place is dangerous.

    • I will try to answer as nicely as I can. I can tell you this: Michael, were he alive, would not pull the punches I am pulling right now.

      I have no intention of debating you. Like it or not, I am the publisher of Internet Monk, meaning I can steer the ship the direction I desire. We try to let iMonks have a lot of liberty in their comments, as I have with yours. You obviously have a problem with what I say about grace. Sorry about that. Well, no I’m not. I will tell say three things, then I am moving on.

      First, the Greek word for “holy” has nothing to do with morality. It is the word for “other.” God calls us to be “other” as he is “other.” That is our lifetime pursuit.
      Second, Paul spends a great deal of time telling us that the law kills. Do you really think that he is now introducing a new law in place of the old? Or could it be that he gives these lists of things to do and not to do to those who are still under the law, preaching law so that grace may win out?
      Finally, I will say again for the record: Those who are saved by grace are free to go and live any way they want. And if they want to live the same way they did before they experienced the grace of God, then I doubt they really experienced that grace. Saying that puts me in good company with men like St. Augustine and St. Michael Spencer.

      • Internet Monk Reader says

        Jeff you’re getting defensive and personal and there’s no need for it. My problem is not that you take a strong stance for grace, but that you are avoiding to answer simple and clear questions and you come back with broad generalizations that ‘the law kills’ and under this guise you write off more than half of the NT.

        I don’t have an axe to grind with you or anyone who comments here, but it’s a very lopsided and biased presentation of biblical grace. I was hoping all that passion for grace would motivate someone to lay out a biblical case for the passages that I cited, for the purpose of mutual edification and constructive dialogue.

        Clearly you’re not interested in dialogue, and your need to remind me who the IM publisher is so I can pull my head in is duly noted.

        I quite enjoy your posts, so you know, I just part company with this one. Anyways, thank you for the opportunity to participate and may the Lord bless your endeavors in his kingdom.


        • @IMR I’ve read a couple of Jeff’s responses and I don’t see how you can claim he got personal, whatsoever. And he certainly didn’t get defensive, you practically challenged him to a theological duel in at least one comment I breezed through of yours, and hesitantly, he’s responded in more than one instance.

          It’s obvious you don’t see grace the way Jeff does, and several others don’t either. That’s fine and dandy. But you’re certainly out of line to say that because Jeff differs with your view of grace that he “writes off more than half the NT” (yes, it’s safe to assume his view of works and/or law differs from yours). That is about as careless a statement posted in the comments on this post (from the few I’ve read).

          I think I speak for Jeff when I say that you might do well to agree to disagree and focus your energies elsewhere rather than continue to call Jeff out (which I might add, you do once again above). I think he’s stated his case. Clearly. Grace is enough. And the verses you continue to cite are by no means not open to debate or dialogue, Jeff’s simply passed on your requests he do so. He’s even went so far as to point you elsewhere and admit his own weakness or inability in laying out the kind of dissertation you almost demand he does.

          I’d suggest a good look at Galatians (5:18 comes to mind), from maybe a “Paul’s writing to people like me” angle. I have done so, and it’s been most beneficial in helping me understand the kind of grace Michael wrote about, and Jeff continues to remind us about.

          When you approach the verses you cite (and I’m speaking for me here, not Jeff) from a “Jesus fulfilled the law because I couldn’t (and I’m no longer under it even when/if other Christians try to put me back under it), Jesus has set me free and that means free from having to keep a pile of rules to save myself (or keep myself saved for that matter), I’m eternally secure (for real, meaning I cannot lose my salvation since Jesus is the one who won it for me and it doesn’t depend on me), there’s nothing I can or cannot do today to make God love me any more or less and the Holy Spirit and the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ at work in me is the basis and complete foundation and power that fuels my ongoing sanctification”… You stop sweating it and start serving God because you want to instead of have to my friend. Huge difference. Instead of focusing on all the bible verses that regulate grace, you begin to experience something altogether new. The love of Jesus changes your motivations and re-arranges your aspirations. And his wonder captures your affections. And you begin to discover grace around every corner of your Christian life you’d never noticed before.

          When something close to what I’ve described begins to happen you stop talking so much about what we must do, and start talking about what Jesus has already done. And it’s amazing once that pressure is off (the unholy drive to perform) what you might do because you get to (and even more importantly, what your motivations might be). You’re no longer under the bondage to try and save or better yourself… or save or better others. You become less worried about trying to impress God and more in awe of his smile when he looks at you (thanks to Jesus of course). When grace truly captures your heart, you become less concerned with what others might think and more aware of what God thinks (has it dawned on you how God and us couldn’t think much different at times? …we sure can be religious, we should ask ourselves why it is that God’s not nearly as religious).

          When Jesus is doing the saving, when he’s doing the sanctifying – we can finally relax. It is truly finished. The stuff we thought was riding on us, isn’t (to our utter astonishment). You become a happy participator in grace, and can’t help but want to shower others in it. That’s all Jeff is doing here. He’s not trying to win an argument. He’s simply sharing the bread he has. And if you don’t like that bread, it’s understandable. Not everybody is going to like grace, it’s too sloppy for most of us. Most of us like our nice and tidy cut into squares piece of works toast too much, with our “I can cite more verses to back up my point than you can” jam on top.

          Until you come to the realization that what you can’t do and what you can’t provide in terms of pleasing God has already been so richly been done and provided for you in Christ (who loved you and gave himself for you)… you’ll continue to be combative towards the kind of no charge, no payback and no strings-attached grace Jeff is excited about.

          Coming from a former works-salvation-aholic, please re-consider. Trust me, grace is a lot more fun and a ton more satisfying. And all of a sudden doing good works becomes a joy instead of a chore.

          It’s more than worth the consideration.

          • Internet Monk Reader says

            Kenny 🙂

            Out of respect for the host, I don’t want to highjack this thread any further, but for the last time, it would be fair to say that in your eagerness to emphasize your position, you misrepresented mine. A careful, close reading of my comments will show that I never suggested that behavioral and moral issues contribute to salvation, nor that any of it will make God love you more (in fact I specifically stated the opposite). Somehow we never seem to get past this point.

            I asked simple questions such as ‘do you think works matter to Christians? Do they have any responsibility to obey NT commands? Does Jesus need to be our Lord or only our Savior? These require straight YES/NO answers no dissertation as you stated.

            I’m not asking anyone to accept MY position, I am simply asking you to explain YOURS. I have approached this from a position of enquiry rather than declaration. Pretend you’re a pastor and a person who is new in the faith comes up to you and says ‘I just finished reading the NT and I’ve come across things like, “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin and don’t not let the sun go down while you are still angry..” etc

            Are you going to tell him/her ‘oh let me think for a minute..hhmm…ok I got it. Anger, right…look, don’t worry about that, Jesus fulfilled the law because you couldn’t and you’re no longer under it so this doesn’t really apply to you. Jesus has set you free and that means free from having to keep anger away.…you cannot lose your salvation since… it doesn’t depend on you…’ Yes, but pastor there are so many things in the epistles that are addressed to Christians who are already saved. ‘yeah, I know…they’re not really meant to be taken seriously because the law kills’.

            So…I’m a little confused…why did the apostles write so much about them then? Do I have ANY responsibility to obey that staff AT ALL? ‘No, you’re free to do as you please….you’re saved no matter what’.

            Do you think that MAYBE this can get a tad confusing?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Jeff you’re getting defensive and personal and there’s no need for it.

          Translation: “What’s YOUR Problem? YOU’RE the one with The Problem!”

          Been there, done that, got the scars to prove it. Including some that never healed.

          • Thanks, Ken, for your wise and kind words. And HUG, I have a lot of scars myself. Helps to keep out the pain at times. But it will not keep me from proclaiming the Gospel of the grace of God, even though I know what the response is going to be.

            Jesus proclaimed this Gospel, and look where it got him. Why should the student think he will be treated any better than the teacher?

            @IMR, you are always welcome here. I have not censored any of your comments. We all try to respond in love.

          • Internet Monk Reader says

            J@ JEFF – thanks for the white flag!

          • One more Mike says

            @IMR – yeah man, you win. Just like the pharisees and sanhedrin did. Congrats.

    • The weird irony in these discussions is that the people directing our attention off of the “works passages” are doing exactly what their critics are saying they should be doing- work! The work is to direct our attention onto Christ’s work and off of our own. How one can claim he’s taking a “do nothing” attitude is beyond me. They’re fiercely advocating a certain kind of work- the same work that the Apostles found most important. That of gazing on the grace of God in Christ. Consistent with Jesus from John 6:28(not to mention John 17:3, John 15, zillions of other passages) So what’s the problem…?

      The problem is people don’t agree on which works are significant enough to place lots of attention on. At first glance, it appears that someone drawing our attention to the “virtue passages” has a spirituality that emphasizes works/holiness, while the others don’t. This isn’t the case.

      Blog threads like this one are a prime laboratory. Mark Galli, for example, has written several articles about decreasing our attention on things like “transformation” and “holiness.” Inevitably, a string of comments appears below it lambasting him for being encouraging licentiousness or something, and throwing around the usual verses about “walking out our faith.”

      The irony is thick. The commenters all get to appear holy and stuff. Like they’re for an emphasis on Christian virtue. But for Galli to write such an article, and de-sensationalize “personal life change” in order to gaze on the Cross, is itself a huge effort that takes a total life changing transformation to produce. The commenters missed it. While they were harumphing about how totally, awesomely active and holy Christians should be, they missed the most important activity/holiness of all, going on right in front of them: the action of being humble next to Jesus.

      Galli DID the work; the commenters TOLD HIM HE SHOULD BE DOING the work. Bizarre.

      It’s a testimony to human blindness. I find it morbidly fascinating. It ought to be introduced into college-level Psych curriculums.

      The bottom line seems to be this to me: When someone expresses excitement about Jesus’ work and their inability to do what he did, it must take a profound dissatisfaction with Jesus to bring up our own works, or the necessity of them. It’s also to deny that the act of abiding in Christ is significant, let alone the most central work of the Christian’s life.

      Maybe someone, somewhere, is denying that Christian faith produces a change of any kind. I haven’t met them. The possible problem I see when people ride the grace emphasis isn’t anti-nomianism. The possible problem is divorcing grace from the human, historical life and death of Jesus. Grace as merely a concept won’t work. Grace as a human being in real time, doing relatable things. That’s the grace of the Bible. I believe this was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s warning in Cost of Discipleship. Not fundamentally against anti-works stance, but a bloodless, Crossless grace.

  29. Internet Monk Reader says

    @ LISAJO – I hear ya and what you’re confessing describes what 99% of us grapple with day-to-day. Welcome to the club! C’est la vie on the fallen planet. What seems to trouble you though is the same way of thinking that has been expressed by other commentators.

    “Why try and do the right thing here when I know how impure I am in those 5 other things over there? Why try so hard to be kind when I can see jealousy in my heart? Why bother lodging an honest tax return when I break the speed limit almost daily? Why help someone in need when I know I have lustful thoughts? ……and on and on it goes. So the most obvious solution is abandonment and lapsing into que sera sera, whatever will be will be.

    Let me pose some questions and see if they make sense. When people irritate you on the road and cut you off, do you stop driving altogether? When you have a few bad days at work do you resign? If your kids give you a hard time do you kick them out of the house? Most people would answer ‘no’ because our common understanding of life is that we endure and keep going.

    Some sections of the church (beginning with some Catholic mystics) have romanticized the subjects of obedience, devotion and self-denial as a high ideal to uphold. Add the purpose-driven social gospel activism into the mix, and it’s not hard to see how the subject of biblical obedience has become dyspeptic to so many Christians and they ‘react’ as is obvious in this post.

    Let’s remember the promise of Jesus: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” When we try and go above and beyond the Bible and start drafting ‘a list of rules’ as you said, then the burden gets really heavy, unbearable in fact.

    The ‘positive’ side of the despair that you so honestly described, is that it is meant to drive us to the arms of Jesus realizing how hopeless and incapable we are on this journey by ourselves.

    The one thing that we forget is that God’s Spirit that indwells believers empowers us to ‘want’ to do the things that please him. “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13) As John says in his epistle, those who are born of God have His ‘seed’ in them that makes them to not want to sin (1 John 3:9)

    Do Christians sin? They can and they do all the time (and I’m no exception). But as someone told me once, ‘a life of continual obedience is not possible, but a life of continual repentance is’. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) and also, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-3)

    So yes, Christians can’t keep ALL the commandments ALL OF THE TIME, only Jesus was able to do that. But sanctification is gradual ongoing and hopefully when we look back we CAN see that we’re not the same rebel sinners we once were when Jesus picked us up. I just can’t accept that Christians are in the same category as unregenerate sinners, totally helpless and completely controlled by their sinful nature without any ability to overcome the bondage of sin. If that’s the case, then our ‘conversion’ was only a state of mind and nothing more.

  30. Charles Fines says

    I truly have a hard time understanding this discussion. It is like Jesus has said, “Folks, we are gathering here in NYC and we are going to hoof it to San Francisco, stopping off all along the way to help anyone in need. Follow me!”

    And the huge crowd gathered starts arguing over whether we should hop there on our left leg or our right. Voices are raised, scriptures are quoted, theologians are cited, creeds and doctrines are brought out. There is a very loud minority who are yelling, “You idiots, we already are in San Francisco, we don’t need to do anything,” but most of those around me are chanting, “Grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, left leg, left leg, left leg , , ,” I suspect they are Protestants. There are a few shouting, “Right leg, right leg . . .” but they are drowned out in the general hubbub.

    Meanwhile Jesus is disappearing in the distance and I look around to see if anyone else is going to make the run with me to catch up. This Internet Monk Reader guy seems like he pretty much gets it, maybe I can catch his eye before I take off.

    Half a loaf is better than none. I suppose that is generally true and in this case maybe fixing on the concept of grace is better than a lot of other things. Martin Luther certainly was needed and his half a loaf of grace was far better than what was being offered at the time. But folks, it’s been 500 years. It didn’t take the Roman Church a tenth of that to do their own reformation and grab some balance. The Orthodox might never have lost their balance but I don’t see any of them here.

    Love God and your neighbor. That’s what Jesus said the Scriptures boiled down to. That was the essence of his three and a half years of teaching. It was the essence of Paul’s teaching if you could cut thru all the intellectual obfuscation of Greek philosophy and Pharisaic legalism, but then we haven’t been able to do that yet with going on two thousand years to puzzle it out.

    Love God and your neighbor. “Works,works,works,works, works, salvation by works, salvation by works . . . ” The early church was called the Way. What was the Way? Love God and your neighbor. That’s how you get transformed, that’s how you acquired the mind of Christ, that’s how your grew into a grown up child of God so you could join your Father in spiritualizing all of creation starting with your own rather messy soul.

    The twentieth century is noted for its wars. Perhaps the biggest war was fought between Either/Or and Both/And. Strange to say it is apparently still going on with holdouts in the Either/Or camp dug in like Japanese soldiers still fighting on remote Pacific islands twenty years after World War II was ended. God doesn’t hold out one hand to us, He holds out two, Word and Spirit. We aren’t supposed to choose one, we are supposed to take both. We need both.

    When the Word of God took human form, He worked, He worked hard, blue collar, nail busting, sore back hard. And when he left his day job to do his real work it was really hard. Seven days a week, hardly ever a rest, phone calls in the night, try to catch a break and people are at your door, no matter how much you do there’s more to do at the end of the day, work, work, work, really hard work. Loving God and the neighbors fueled by the grace of God’s Spirit.

    I’m sorry, I’ve been long winded and I’ve really got to run if I’m going to catch up with Jesus.

    • Charles Fines,

      “Love God and your neighbor. “Works,works,works,works, works, salvation by works, salvation by works . . . ” The early church was called the Way. What was the Way? Love God and your neighbor. That’s how you get transformed, that’s how you acquired the mind of Christ, that’s how your grew into a grown up child of God so you could join your Father in spiritualizing all of creation starting with your own rather messy soul.”

      That was really good.

      It wasn’t Christian. But it was really good. Good because it is a great example of what we should NOT believe. We don’t get transformed by “loving God and our neighbors as ourselves. If that were true, no one would ever get transformed, because no one loves God and their neighbor as themself.

      We are transformed from outside of ourselves by the Living God in His Word and in His Sacraments. These are the power of God. God does not wait for us to get our act together. He acts for us, in our rebellion, to give us faith, to kill off the old sinner, and create the new man/woman…again and again and again…all throughout our lives. ” We live from faith to faith.” We cannot trust in the flesh (what we do) for our righteousness or relationship to God, or assurance of those things. We must get it from outside, from Christ Jesus. The good works will follow in whatever ways they manifest themselves, and most of the time they will not be visable, or known. Our lives are hidden with Christ. “We walk by faith, not by sight.”

      So, to put emphasis on works or feelings or things we ought be doing, is to take emphasis away from what He has already done for us, is doing for us, and will yet do for us. And it could quite possibly drown out the gospel. it has for a great many people who’s pastors and preachers (with the best of intentions) law the law down every week, in place of the free gift of salvation for real sinners in need of a Savior.

      I have said this before and I’ll say it again, if there is no real presence of Christ in Baptism or in His Supper, then you are inevitably going to be left with…yourself. You will look for assurance within, instead of from outside of yourself. And the ‘religion project’ will prosper at the expense of the gospel.

      I don’t mean to be harsh. But this is very important and I am trying to drive home a point. And I am NOT saying that you are not a Christian. That statement was not Christian. I say things that are not Christian from time to time, myself. It is in our nature to want to play some role in all this stuff where God is concerned. He has done all that is needful. Our role is now on the horizontal plane, and we take that up in our Christian freedom, and live in repentance and forgiveness and the promise of our baptisms.

  31. Internet Monk Reader says

    Since Jeff has waived me a white flag, I’ll post one more for my ‘friend’ Stevie…

    @ STEVE MARTIN – I gather you’re a confessional Lutheran (I forgive you 🙂 )

    Doesn’t your own Book of Concord (which the LCMS accepts) have something to say about the subject at hand?

    Interestingly, Article VI that discusses the ‘third use of the law’ begins by addressing some confusion that arose at the time in relation to whether the law is morally binding to Christians. Within the first few lines the article says:

    “…a dissension has occurred between some few theologians concerning this third and last use of the Law. For the one side taught and maintained that the regenerate do not learn the new obedience, or in what good works they ought to walk, from the Law, and that this teaching [concerning good works] is not to be urged thence [from the law], because they have been made free by the Son of God, have become the temples of His Spirit, and therefore do freely of themselves what God requires of them, by the prompting and impulse of the Holy Ghost, just as the sun of itself, without any [foreign] impulse, completes its ordinary course.”

    I haven’t done a lot of research on this but I suspect it may have been referring to Johannes Agricola (whom Luther severed ties with), who taught that the Law was no longer needed by regenerate Christians.

    The Article then goes on to outline the opposite position and then puts forth the following declaration:

    “For the explanation and final settlement of this dissent we unanimously believe, teach, and confess that although the truly believing and truly converted to God and justified Christians are liberated and made free from the curse of the Law, yet they should daily exercise themselves in the Law of the Lord, as it is written, Ps. 1:2;119:1: Blessed is the man whose delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law doth he meditate day and night. For the Law is a mirror in which the will of God, and what pleases Him, are exactly portrayed, and which should [therefore] be constantly held up to the believers and be diligently urged upon them without ceasing”? (VI. Of The Third Use Of God’s Law – the Augsburg Confession)

    So by your confession then, the law has a legitimate place in the Christian life and intends to fulfill a purpose. The fact that some are confused around what the use/function of the law, makes for another conversation. Bottom line however is, that it has a role to play in the life of the Christian.

    This also seems to be in harmony with Calvin’s Institutes, that the 3rd use of the law, “has respect to believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already flourishes and reigns. … For it is the best instrument for enabling them daily to learn with greater truth and certainty what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow, and to confirm them in this knowledge”


    • I don’t buy the “3rd use”. Guide? What for? We already know what to do in the 1st two uses.

      Those uses are 1) the civil use, so we can get along in this world together as much as that’s possible and 2) the theological use to convict of sin and to drive to Christ.

      Lutherans have disagreed with each other right from the start about this, but I only see the “3rd use” opening the door to legalism and pride and despair.

      • Internet Monk Reader says

        Oh dear…

        Now I am even more confused! So according to your way of thinking a simple passage like Eph 4:26 which simply says ‘watch your anger’, you would completely ignore it because if you were to take heed it would ‘open the door to legalism and pride and despair’???

        Lord help us!

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