January 21, 2021

iMonk Classic: An Excerpt on Grace

From Michael Spencer’s Classic Post, “Our Problem with Grace”

Note from CM: Some recent comments prompted me to recall some words from Michael Spencer about grace. It’s what we’re all about here at IM, and it deserves continuing emphasis.

The Gospels are full of examples of people whose observable obedience is unimpressive when compared to other “seriously religious” people, but whose faith in grace is pleasing to God. In fact, the Gospels give considerable evidence that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ absolutely relishes tweaking our noses when obedience, not grace, starts to become the focus.

Let’s take two examples from the teaching of Jesus.

Everyone loves the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. There are two actions that make the story interesting. One is Jesus’ gracious and brash self-invitation into the home of a despised tax collector. The other is the declaration of a stunned Zacchaeus that he will give away half his worth to the poor, and return four times his unethical takings. (What an example for Americans!)

The teacher in me wants to give you the assignment of writing a modern evangelical version of this story.

Here are some hints—

Jesus would have to be invited into Zach’s house by Zach himself, of course. Or knock on the door pleadingly before Zach lets him in. (The handle is on the inside.) Once there, Zach would promise to be a good tax collector from now on and share his testimony whenever he had the opportunity. He would buy lots of WWJD merchandise to remind him of what kind of tax collector Jesus would be. He might join a ministry of Christian tax collectors and form an accountability group. Of course, there would be the book deal.

Look closely. Jesus doesn’t require anything of Zacchaeus, but he gets a lot of obedience from him. Or at least, the declaration of obedience. I don’t really KNOW what Zach did after that dinner. I know what Jesus did, and as impressive as Zach’s promise is….it really doesn’t matter what he did. It doesn’t matter if he does all of what he promised, or does half, or takes a while to get around to it. The point is the grace of Jesus. Grace is the point. Not Zach’s obedience.

Doesn’t that just bug you? Admit it. Don’t you feel like Zacchaeus should have to be on a repayment schedule or something? Or can you buy it: Zach’s obedience is really beside the point?

Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, Ladd

One more. Matthew 20:1-16. The parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Who is the real audience of this verse? I’m betting it’s people who get nervous when grace gets out of hand, because Jesus is about to launch a major first strike on any shreds of legalism in the Christian’s thinking.

Matthew 20:15 “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'” Anyone here ever thought grace was overly generous? I see that hand. God bless you. If you came in a bus, they’ll wait.

The obedience of the all-day workers is great. The obedience of the last minute workers is not that impressive. The grace of the owner toward both is the same. It’s an outrageous scenario. Today, we’d sue the guy. The resentment of the first group shows that they want the system to be fair; the system should be about the work that they do. The response of the owner shows that the whole matter was about him, and his hilarious enjoyment of his own crazy grace. He got to do what he wanted with his own money in his own vineyards. Something about paying everyone the same delighted him. Maybe irritating some kinds of people delighted him.

If you aren’t irritated by that story, you aren’t reading it. Of course, you can turn this into something twisted like, “We all go to heaven, but once there we get the rewards we’ve earned,” but it won’t help. The owner of the Vineyard is broadcasting on an entirely different channel.


  1. Love it.

    • Yes it bugs me! I want the system to be fair. Oh, wait a minute. If it was fair, I would get nothing at all!

  2. Love it as well! However, when grace is spoken of most will agree heartily but immediately go off on how obedience must follow. The interesting thing is who says that obedience won’t follow once grace has been given? I am reminded of the story Steve Brown tells of white man buying a female slave on the auction block. The woman is taken away and she is clearly angry because well… she is a slave and another white male has chosen her for their property. As the man comes toward her he tells her that he has bought her and now she is free to go. The Woman stares at him not quite comprehending it and then says you mean I can go wherever I want? He says yes you can. She then asks can I leave your home and go to another state and he said well yes you can do as you like because I have freed you. Steve Brown goes on to say that she stands there stunned because this freedom has been extended to her. So, knowing that this earthly “master” has been so kind and for no reason let her go, she looks at him and says well if it is alright with you I would like to stay with you.
    Steve Brown really nailed it with that story, Christ came to set men free while they were still his enemies.

    • True for a lot of fundegelicals grace is followed by works which erases the grace…in my opinion at least.

      • Eagle, I believe Paul made the same observation in regards to the Galatians.

        This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3)

  3. So are you saying that once I have accepted God’s grace that how I live my life from that point on does not really matter, because it is all covered?

    • Oh, Ken, you provocateur.

      • I actually am genuinely confused on this. And it is because of a history I have seen here of articles that seem to suggest that I can accept Christ then just go on living whatever way I please.

        I think the $10 term is antinomianism

        And I would suggest that it is people who have chosen to live that way who may be the reason why so many who frequent here are hurt, as they have seen a huge gap between what is said and what is practiced.
        Just read through Ephesians to 2nd Timothy this weekend and was again amazed at how much Paul wrote to people about character and specific behaviours to avoid.
        It hit me that Paul was really saying that following Jesus is not a license to sin, but we do have grace if we fall into sin.

        • I’m not sure which articles you’re referring to, but *I* certainly have come away with the message that Christian character really does matter.

          “And I would suggest that it is people who have chosen to live that way who may be the reason why so many who frequent here are hurt, as they have seen a huge gap between what is said and what is practiced.”

          Amen to that. We’re very good at spouting Bible verses, very poor (too often) at following them ourselves.
          Good references you mention..

          • **Amen to that. We’re very good at spouting Bible verses, very poor (too often) at following them ourselves.

            Agreed…so do we need more grace or more law to get our act together? I think that is where people fall on one side or the other and I think what iMonk points out here is exactly what is said in the parable of the workers…they are complaining because it seems unfair because some are not working as hard as others have been. Same thing with the elder brother I think. We want fairness which means, I want to feel that my work is earning me something, but I thnk the parables point ot that all of us are charity cases.

          • Can’t find the article, it was one where the author sounded like he was giving up on trying to live the Christian life and came across (to me) as sounding like we should just give up because Jesus would do it all.

            Now it could well be my grid and misinterpretation of things.

            In my early Christian life I have memories of people who came to Christ when I did who just continued on getting stoned and living the old life.
            One of my friends carried a huge Bible around (a big desktop thing) and then shacked up with a single mom who came to the church, and still carried on witnessing to the counter culture crowd we came out of. I mentioned to our pastor how this was not good and got the answer ‘oh he is struggling with his old life’

            My pastor had a very strong message of grace and seemed to cringe at the thought that people needed to turn from their old lives (we called it repenting).
            Unfortunately it seems like those who had the soft message did not last long, their habits of life pulled them away. What I saw in that time is that their habits were self-destructive.

            On the other hand, most of those who had a clean break seemed to last. I was working with Teen Challenge and we had a message that was hard – you have to repent and come clean with Jesus helping you. You have to depend on Jesus, but you can’t go on with the old way.

            So I guess I do a bit of a double take when I hear what sounds like we come to Jesus and that we need not expect change.
            I asked because I am not sure what is being said

        • Everyone pretty much lives the way they WANT To anyway.

          Those that use that line are toeing the line?

          I doubt it. No…I know that they are not.

          • I can agree and disagree with you on this. (not sure that I understand what you mean)

            We can live whatever way we want, but should we?

            In my life I choose to be informed by examples I find both in scripture and in life. I can think of many times of where I have felt one way (and like responding that way) but have chosen differently because of what I have read in scripture. Sometimes my obedience has been without realising that if I did as I felt it would create trouble for me.

            For example, the bible tells me to love my wife. There have been times I have not at all felt that way. Yet, it is best for my marriage and family if I do just that. There have been so many times I have been ticked off and go out and pray in frustration and I come back to that one verse, only if it was not there!

            Yet God tells me to extend grace. I can’t just live however I want. I am commanded to love her and others. If I listen to the principle of love in the heat of the moment it sure helps.

          • I sympathize with Ken because I, as a believer, also hear a call to be better than I am. And I think that is a sign of God’s grace working on us, that we know we should be better, we want to be better. I think Paul wanted to be better and I think David wanted to be better. I think it is less a question of should we live the way we want, but how do we respond when we fail…or do we even think that we fail? I we say, no, you canot live the way you want to…will this change people’s lives? Or do they need to know that God’s grace accepts the worst of us and it is God who justifies the wicked?

    • If we receive biblical grace, our lives will be governed by grace

      That is why Paul can confidently say:

      “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:14)

      Conversely, Paul also says:

      “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.” (I Cor 15:56)

      Here we see our two choices. We can either live under law, by which the propensity to sin is strengthened or under grace, by which sin loses its dominion over us.

    • No, I was saying that receiving God’s grace in Christ produces obedience because he is a loving Father why would you run in the opposite direction once a merciful and just God has gotten hold of you? Sorry if I didn’t make myself clear…

  4. Isn’t it amazing! It’s God’s grace! His free gift! He can do with it as He pleases. Give it to whom He pleases, free of charge. We can’t earn it – no use even trying. The story is about God, the Father, the owner of the vineyard.

    Enter religion. We try to make the story about us, what we have to do to earn grace. We must clean up our act. Work hard. Look good. Know the right things. Believe the right things. Support the right political parties. Attend the right churches. Oppose certain politicians, certain theologians, certain sinners. Be baptized in a certain way. Associate with the right people. Live in the right neighborhoods. Hang out with the right people.

    Don’t we know? God demands all this. The Bible demands it. The story of the “Prodigal Son”? Isn’t it all about the son? He had to change his mind. He had to clean up. He had to go home. He had to be convinced that he had made a terrible mistake. He had to do all this to get his big party. What’s all the business about the father seeing him afar off and running to meet him, anyway? Must mean that the son did something so fantastic by his going home that he earned and deserved a big welcome and a big party. While we’re updating the story, why don’t we just eliminate the unpleasant older brother, and substitute fruit and veggie trays and sushi for the fatted calf?

    Why do we miss the point of God’s outrageous free gift of grace and change the stories all around? – If He’s giving it away, we might as well take advantage and figure out a way to charge for it. Just think of all the possibilities! Let’s make ’em pay!

  5. I can’t speak for Chaplain Mike, but I imagine that he posted this item from the iMonk vaults because he’s tired of seeing any thread on any topic being almost immediately driven off the rails by 2-3 perfervid posters. There seems to be a game of catching others at being not devout enough. The fact is, nearly everyone on this forum understands that salvation is by God’s grace. We know it, and we believe it, and we celebrate it. There is an agnostic or two who doesn’t profess anything. But among the confessing Christians ther is none who says anything less than that we are saved by God’s free grace! So the game has become one of snapping as soon as anyone says anything else but grace.

    Muslims feel superior to Christians because their Allah is One and Transcendent, which is expressed in the term wahid! Allah is, in fact, so assiduous in his Oneness and his Transcendence that he can hardly do anything all day long except be wahid. Christians accept the Unity and Transcendence of God. But we don’t think of that as God’s whole job. Because He is Transcendent, God abides in us and with us. We get a lot more good out of Him that way. I think the iMonk “grace-cranks” are a lot like the muslims. If they would only live in grace, rather than making the profession of grace a weapon, they would be better for it.

    • perfervid |pÉ™rˈfÉ™rvid| intense and impassioned : Fun I learned a new word! And I like the term:”grace-cranks” ( :

      Thankful to read this today!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Muslims feel superior to Christians because their Allah is One and Transcendent, which is expressed in the term wahid! Allah is, in fact, so assiduous in his Oneness and his Transcendence that he can hardly do anything all day long except be wahid.

      Islam has always emphasized the Soverignity/Will/Power of God instead of the Personality of God. The part that’s Infiniite, Transcendental, and wahid.

      That is the reason for the Doctrine of the Incarnation, to manifest God in a one-to-one human scale. Otherwise, the wahid takes over and you get Docetism and Islam.

  6. I am sure I will get run over by some doctrinal flurry of comments, but do you guys look around at the world and ask yourself if it’s held together by grace? I mean, how does it all work, really? Don’t you think that it’s cool that math seems to be God’s language underlying our physical world all the way to outer space? And how about those mountains? And the complexity of love? I know we have science to explain most things, but grace seems to me to be God’s glue.

  7. Having just talked about what I think of as cheap grace, these lyrics by Keith Green speak wonderfully my own experience. It is the grace of God that enables us to stand:

    Lord, the feelings are not the same,

    I guess I’m older, I guess I’ve changed.

    And how I wish it had been explained, that as you’re growing you must remember,

    That nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand, in Jesus.

    I know that I would surely fall away, except for grace, by which I’m saved.

    Lord, I remember that special way,

    I vowed to serve you, when it was brand new.

    But like Peter, I can’t even watch and pray, one hour with you,

    And I bet, I could deny you too.

    But nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand, in Jesus.

    I’m sure that my whole life would waste away, except for grace, by which I’m saved.

    But nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand, in Jesus.

    I know that I would surely fall away, except for grace, by which I’m saved.

  8. As an agnostic I really hunger for grace. It’s one of the few things that attracts me to Jesus. I know my past well, all the mistakes, screw ups, and falling short. My life is full of them and will continue to be. Yet I don’t know why Christians refuse to live in grace. Its withheld from a lot of people, denied, etc.. As a recovering fundegelical I know what the Bible says about grace and then I know how the experiences in church were (ie… Campus Jihad for Christ, (minus the suicide bombers of course… 😉 ) or the “McDonalds mega Church in Tysons Corner that braggs about how many they serve…) Christians regularly and rountinly deny grace and how they do so really makes me wonder if they believe in it at all. I would have thought the forgiven would be the ones leading the way, and instead it seems as if the “forgiven” use the Bible as a hammer to smack the life out of you.

    Yet I’m attracted to grace I have to be honest about that…but the real question remains…can it really be found and lived out? My past experiences taught me that “no” grace can’t be found, and yet I’m still attracted to it. You can call me the proverbial agnostic stuck in the headlights when it comes to grace. Nothing will give me greater pause or entice me more to return to Jesus than grace. The million dollar question is this…can it be found? I honestly don’t know.

    • Eagle says:

      > Christians regularly and rountinly deny grace <

      Can you give a specific example of a Christian who denies grace? You say it is done regularly and routinely, but can you cite even one literal and unambiguous instance?

      I would contend that a Christian who denies grace is an impossibility. Either the person you're thinking of is not a Christian, or else what they're saying is not really a denial of grace.

      • I need to run…but I had one minister I knew who took my confessed sin, which was done in confidential channels and seriosuly affected my career. He later told me that if would be good if I leanred about the consequences of sin. It’s created problems up until today at my job and is something I have to live with. I had another fundy at a Bible study at work who took me to the cleaners, more of less. It didn’t matter where I turned… in different fundy environments I kept discovering it so over the course of time my perspective changed. In order to be a Christian I learned one had to shut their mouth (even in confidential channels) , not confess sin and say what people want to hear. I’m not going to lie my butt off to fit into some culture. Yet that’s daily life for many fundys.

        • Eagle, your observations are dead on. I hear you loud and clear. I have been through many of the same things as you. I couldn’t find grace anywhere, but then I did after 30 years of searching. Churches have no idea what they put people through sometimes. Because they often do not respect the dividing line between the old covenant and the new covenant, between law and grace, they proclaim liberating grace one minute and condemn you with law the next. People who are thinking/paying attention notice this immediately and are confused by it and worse.

          I was blasted on this before, but that’s ok. I recommend that you grab anything you can find by Pastor Joseph Prince from New Creation Church in Singapore and you will find a pastor who understands your thinking and will give you solid, biblical answers.

        • Eagle-
          In your baptism Jesus promised His forgiveness of sins was for you. In the bread and wine He brought His forgiveness to you.

          Your interactions and feelings about dysfunctional people who gather together on Sundays (Christians) does not negate Christ’s promise for you.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I need to run…but I had one minister I knew who took my confessed sin, which was done in confidential channels and seriosuly affected my career. He later told me that if would be good if I leanred about the consequences of sin. It’s created problems up until today at my job and is something I have to live with.

          THAT’s one of the reasons my church institued the Seal of the Confessional. (Along with private confessions so as to leave no opportunity for gossip.) Any breaking of that Seal for any reason (in American law it’s formally called the Priest-Pentitent Privilege) is automatic laitization (defrocking) and excommunication.

        • Eagle says:

          > I had one minister I knew who took my confessed sin, which was done in confidential channels and seriosuly affected my career. He later told me that if would be good if I leanred about the consequences of sin. <

          I don't know the details of your story, but this doesn't seem like a case of anyone denying grace. The pastor betrayed your confidence. But I don't understand why you offer this as an example of a person denying grace. Grace means you stand eternally justified before God despite your unworthiness. It has nothing to do with what happens to you at work. Your conduct at work is judged by a less forgiving judge.

          As Rob says, you've suffered from more than your share of bad fellowship and bad leadership. We can only ask you to reconsider the possibility that the promise is true despite the untrustworthiness of the messengers.

      • “Can you give a specific example of a Christian who denies grace?’

        I was about to answer…..but then realized that wouldn’t be a very graceful thing to do 🙂

    • Eagle:
      We are a whole lot harder on ourselves than God is.

      After University I had a number of years of agnosticism (almost 10 years), I just really did not know.

      Jesus was attractive, but I felt like a homeowner who had not made mortgage payments in years and knew I could not repay. If I did come back how could I ever answer for my life choices? How I had left Him after having experienced his love? Surely the banker would come down on me!

      So I went to a church invited by friends. And I had a clear experience one Sunday were I was aware that I had been touched by Him but not changed. The call was clearly one just to come and surrender. There were many times I just sat and wept in the back. And I saw that he never was the banker, and that I needed his grace to keep walking. But I also had to learn to be sensitive to walk in obedience to that call. So for example I drank too much one night. When I awoke next day there was a clear message: You overstepped a line.

      So in some sense I had to learn to walk, and it really came back to I walk by grace, but if I blow it, I can go back to Him for forgiveness. But I have no license to go and live whatever way tickles my fancy. Some of those things are just plain dangerous.
      And for me that also includes I can’t just rag on my wife and children, and if I step out of line I have to turn around, ask for grace, forgiveness from my family.

      I used to be in a christian group that was even more rdical than Campus. We did some stupid things. I look back now and say some of it was because we were young (19-30). We put some stupid burdens on one another, and I see so clearly now it was because we were young and really did not know better. I talk to some of the gang now and we cringe when we think of who we were. We had very good hearts and very empty heads. So we have had to extend grace to one another and forgive.

      Jesus has a place for you in his heart, he has not forgotten that you were like the love of his youth and how you were excited about him. You may find some other individuals you can walk with in this. They are not always in churches.
      The place can be found, and by his grace you may find it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I used to be in a christian group that was even more radical than Campus. We did some stupid things.

        Let me guess… Navigators?

  9. It’s all a matter of emphasis.

    Those who emphasize the law (what we do) are going to be caught up in all that and are in danger of losing the gospel all together.

    You might as well take your Bibles and just rip out the New Testament. You won’t really need it on your obedience project. Moses will do just fine.

  10. In reading through the comments, it still amazes me that so many of us (who I truly think believe in grace) still can’t help saying, “Yes, of course, but…”

    Could any of us stand in the pulpit and simply tell a story like Jesus did, a story about grace, without adding any qualifications to it whatsoever?

    • “Yeah but…” is the retort of those still under law.

      Sorry…but it is true.

    • I think Mike that I may be able to say yes if I am convinced that you are not talking about cheap grace that ignores that Jesus also commands us to change our minds about how we are living and turn around and follow Him.

      I think you are oversimplying the question of what grace means.

      Why not consider the passage where Jesus caught the woman being accused of sin and said ‘go your way and sin no more’

      • Ken, you are still missing the point. I can find a dozen parables, teachings, and situations in Jesus’ ministry that stress grace alone without ever mentioning obedience to every one that adds some word about what happens next. On those occasions, he apparently did not think it was essential to qualify grace in any way whatsoever. I know of few who have the courage to do that, including myself most of the time.

        • Can we make a distinction between grace that gives us access to the kingdom of God versus what happens once “in”? I understand your point here about unqualified grace but I feel like we’re talking past each other when we’re probably on the same page. We don’t enter the kingdom except by grace and I don’t think anyone argues with that. The above parable seems to me to be talking about entry into the kingdom. Getting hired at all was an act of grace and getting hired and receiving the same pay for less work was an act of extreme grace. But both groups hired were asked to work!

          If I love my wife, I’ll do things she asks me to do. By the logic seemingly tossed around here, doing those things would be living under law. But it has nothing to do with legalism…I do what she wants because I love her. If I didn’t try to please her at all and did only what I wanted, most people would say I didn’t actually love her. Grace is important to understand for receiving faith and becoming part of the kingdom, but I think it’s better to just look at obedience afterwards as a matter of love in a relationship…has nothing to do with legalism or conditions being attached to grace. We’re not going to lose that grace which keeps us in the relationship but through obedience, we can sure make that relationship a lot sweeter and more meaningful.

          • JeffB, there are many discussion that could be had. I am responding to Michael’s point, which is that Jesus delighted in telling stories and acting in situations that pointed to God’s pure grace. Period. He did not feel the need to qualify it in any way. He did not immediately enroll the recipient of grace into a program to teach him/her obedience and proper behavior. He felt comfortable on a multitude of occasions to simply speak the word of grace and leave it at that. I find that fantastically refreshing. I also find it deeply threatening to my self-righteousness. I also find it incredibly interesting that so many of us can’t just let it go at that.

          • JeffB, we all need to keep pushing on to a greater understanding of grace. Grace does so much more than save us initially. Grace is to be the foundation of our Christian walk thereafter as well. Scripture presents unbelievers only with law as the governing influence of their lives but gives believers two distinct alternatives under which to live – law and grace. This so clearly taught as follows:

            “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Romans 3:23-25)

            Christ and grace can actually be used synonymously. We are taught that grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17) To be saved by grace is to be saved by Christ and vice versa. Paul calls the gospel the grace of Christ and also the gospel of Christ. (Ephesians 1:6,7) After going through all of the Scriptures dealing with the words gospel, grace and Christ, they begin to merge and become synonymous and can often be used interchangeably. The word righteousness also appears often in conjunction with or in close proximity to them. All of this comes alive to us through faith (belief). The kingdom of God also comes into the picture when studying along these lines, which is at one point described as righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)

            As we meditate thusly, these things become more than things and more than words on a page and become increasingly powerful gifts that guide and control our lives. We also find teachings on love, wisdom and peace to be closely related and we see these also enveloping us and gradually taking over our lives. We then don’t have to make a dividing line between before we were “in” and after and we will recognize that our actions do bear a very clear relationship to grace. In short, we will simply be living a Christian life and have a conscious awareness of what He is doing in our lives.

      • CM, I think you just proved your point.

        Ken, just soak up pure grace for a while. It’s fantastic and a little scary.

      • Ken, but He first said to the women, Neither do I condemn you (there’s grace), go and sin no more.

      • Ken – Grace = free and unmerited favor; it is free and we don’t earn it. He who has no sin, cast the first stone; take the log out of your own eye before worrying about the speck in your brother’s eye… respectfully as possible (because posts are hard to communicate), you are basically having a works mentality and are comparing your works to others and somehow think you have merited more favor. I’m not saying we go out and sin all we want, the point is that it is not up to us – we will never be without sin – we take on His righteousness. If it were up to me, I would never ever make it and I am so glad that the truth is that it is not up to me. I don’t have to try. My early Christian years were in a legalistic church that basically drove me away from God because I finally realized that I would never measure up. Thank God I don’t have to because that is so freeing as opposed to being under the bondage of legalistic works.

        • Actually you missed my point completely!

          We can’t clean ouselves up either before or after coming to God. He has to extend grace to us. I am not addressing the issue of those who don’t subscribe to Christianity.

          But my point is to those who say they are walking with Him.

          Some people are of the opinion that because grace covers my sin, I can just continue on sinning because I am forgiven. I can never forget witnessing to people in the South who were living completely unchristian lives who told me they were Christian and forgiven for anything they did.

          What you see in 1 John (and other places) is an attitude that IF we sin we can come and ask forgiveness and grace is extended. But that grace does not give license to carry on living however we want.

          This is one of the elements that drives the emergent church crowd up the wall about some Evangelicals. Their claim would be that we treat salvation as a fire insurance policy and then go on building bonfires in the living room.

          My point would be if we hold an attitude like that we can fully expect that people who come to our churches are going to get severly hurt by those who don’t necessarily think that loving other people needs to be done.

          Yes, we are saved absolutely by grace, and we are being saved, and will be saved by grace. But the outworking of grace should be changed lives, not a license to continue living selfishly.
          And it is Jesus Christ who changes us, we can try all we want, it won’t work (been there, tried that). It is as we make more room for him that change comes in our hearts.

          BTW, I know what a legalistic church is like, I have Pentecostal roots. Kind of looks like ‘don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t be worldly, and don’t run with those who do. In my memory both playing cards and going to movies were on the bad list.
          I used to wonder why they came down so hard on external behaviours, a lot of it was about how you looked. Was he here Sunday, no,must be a problem. Didn’t raise his hands in the service, went out with his friends instead of Friday youth?
          I could never figure out why gossip was not a problem, or how it was I could be a good Christian but an idiot to work with. Somehow it seemed we never got around to the deep issues of the heart that manifested themselves in gossip,lust, anger, judgementalism. And why the positive things that we should be manifesting never came up.

          As I look at what Paul seemed to go after in many of his letters was deeper issues like anger, malice, envy, bitterness, gossip, filthy talk – the inside of the cup! He urges those things be replaced by compassion, kindness and forgiveness (those things worked out in our lives by the Holy Spirit). In short, to me it seems like God’s call is that each of us look after our own ‘stuff’ before Him and allow Him to cleanse our hearts and form the character of Christ in us.

          So my argument is that grace should lead to sanctification, not sanctification to grace. (sorry for the $10 words)

          I am off the soapbox fellow journiers

    • We don’t want grace to really be unmerited. We want to earn it, somehow, some way. Let’s be honest folks – as our dear Imonk has stated, Grace is DANGEROUS.

  11. Of course we ought not sin.

    BUT we do!

    Jesus said it “Don’t sin anymore”…and we ought say it too…but not for righteousness sake. We say it to convict the sinner, over and over and over. We never stop proclainiming God’s law. But we don’t proclaim it in order to make people better, but to drive them to Christ.

    The law demands good conduct. And as Robin said a while back, God’s grace inspires good conduct. And none of us are qualified to be the judge of who’s doing these good works and who is not. Only God knows the heart and the motivation.

    • Which comes back to what I said in an earlier post, if we do sin, we have grace extended to us.

      How often? 70 x 7 (I have been told that means a big number).

      So reading what you just wrote, I can say I would agree.

      Agreeing with Robin, I think of it as the outworking of grace in our lives is good conduct

  12. Ken,

    I think you have it, my friend.

    There are practioners of cheap grace. There always will be. But the cure is not to lay the law on people, it is the opposite. Preach the law (not to make better – but HARD to convict ALL…and then announce to people that their sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. That they are free, because of what Christ has done for them. (Galatians 5:1)
    And forget about trying to figure out who is in and who is out. we cannot know. “The wheat and tares grow together.”

    • David Cornwell says

      “… forget about trying to figure out who is in and who is out. we cannot know. ‘The wheat and tares grow together.'”

      Exactly. We do not have the wisdom to figure this out. But in the end it will be sorted out.

    • Absolutely Steve.

  13. What’s Our Real Problem with Grace?

    There are many differing formulas.

    The following is a mere sampling:

    (1.) Dr. Martin Luther:

    Justification by Faith Alone “is the article upon which the Church stands or falls.”


    Faith + Nothing = Justification.

    (2.) Dr. John Piper:

    “Loveless faith is absolutely useless; and anybody that comes along and says ‘We are justified by faith alone, and so you don’t have to be a loving person to go to heaven’ is not telling the truth.” [http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/does-james-contradict-paul]


    Faith + Love = Justification.

    (3.) Dr. John Gerstner:

    “… It ought to be called “Justification by Christ Alone,” rather than “Justification by Faith Alone,” though I have to admit that’s biblical phraseology [Ephesians 2:8-9]. But what the Bible means and what [the] Westminster [Confession of Faith] is saying it means is: all Justification is not by anything and that’s not even by our faith. Justification is by Christ only.” [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGqMn0ph3Q0&NR=1]


    Christ – Faith = Justification.

    SUMMARY: How can three preeminent Protestant theologians have conflicting statements on Justification — “the article upon which the Church stands or falls”?

    Our real problem with grace is the ever-expanding array of Justification definitions.

    Perhaps the answer is in the affirmative to Dr. Mark Noll’s book, “Is the Reformation Over?”

    • The Problem in not Grace.
      the Problem is Formulas – any formula.
      This is a ‘chicken & the egg’ riddle that we can never solve.
      But pride & self-righteousness allows us to worship our formulas.
      God is Love, he forgives, so love him. he will take care of the rest.

      • “Although known as gospel people, evangelicals no longer share any consensus on the Gospel’s meaning.”

        -Eminent Evangelical Church Historian and author, Dr. Carl Trueman. Quoted from his book, “The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.”

        Regardless of formulas, doesn’t each of these three Protestant leaders have his own way of salvation?

        Isn’t Protestantism now really up to the individual? One could call each Protestant his own denomination.

        In short: Each Protestant is his own “DNA” denomination. Each must find his own way of salvation.

  14. I gave up on ‘fair’ a long time ago. i’m just glad to be alive.
    as for the whole grace/works question. when God is before you, what you do is what you do. and, when God is not before you… well, there’s no meaning to life then anyway.
    (to qualify this statement a little bit, i believe that people can ‘obey’ God unconciously, and do the right thing as one who has God in sight without acknowledging it. maybe)

  15. Hey guys! I’d like to take a quick stab at this. But first a couple of things: I tend to read more ABOUT the Bible, than to actually read the Bible, and that said, I’m sure most of you could run rings around me logically and doctrinally.

    I wonder is maybe the beauty of the Word and the Gospel is that it ISN’T totally clear on some things. I’m not saying that we can’t just read it and understand what the gist is, I’m just saying that there is this TENSION in some of the ideas, and that tension is what keeps it alive. If it were more clear, if it were bullets points, would we still be studying? Would we still have Bible classes? Would we still be wrestling with parts of it? Thousands of years later and we are still trying to figure exactly what it all means?? That used to frustrate me until I realized, what a beautiful plan! I don’t know, maybe that is a weak attempt at making sense of things.

    We all know we are saved by Grace, we all know that none of this would be possible without Jesus dying on the Cross. We know it’s a Gift, we all know it says we aren’t saved by works, but we know we are supposed to be “transformed.” So we all wrestle with what that means to each one of us. And it can look so different for each one of us. Was this tension all part of the plan? How does that whole “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” factor into this?

  16. LisaJo,

    Wonderful points and great questions.

    I believe that it makes a tremendous difference how one views the Christian faith depending on what grid they apply over the Scriptures. There’s the grid of the law, and then the whole story will inevitably revolve around the reader (hearer) and what he/she does (or should, must or ought be doing). There’s the grid of a lot of God and a little bit of me (but that usually inverts itself). And lastly there is the grid of grace and God’s doing.

    The last one is the only one that preserves the freedom of God (to be God and forgive REAL sinners), and to establish securely the freedom for the believer, in Christ and His finished work…for us.

    I think St. Paul’s language in that verse is one of encouraging the hearer to realize the gret thing that has been accomplished for them and to not squander the opportunites laid before them.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • LisaJo – throw away any “grid” Steve gives you! 🙂
      it’s the living Word – Listen in Love.

      • “Listen in Love”


        There is law language and gospel language in that book.

        Read it through the grid (or lens) of gospel. It will help you keep off the legalism, or semi-Pelagian track.

        • “Read it through the grid (or lens) of gospel. It will help you keep off the legalism, or semi-Pelagian track.”


      • I think I got what Steve was saying…and what you are saying, and I think we are saying the same thing!

        We should Listen in Love and be mindful of the grids we impose upon it.

        Again, I am trying to be blessed with this tension, to be thankful to God for me continually wrestling with these ideas. It’s a journey, that’s for sure! Am I at a different point at 45 than I was at 20? ThankyouJesus, YES.

  17. It seems we have been putting a “but” at the end of true grace for such a long time, that we actually get very offended when we see it in action. We don’t believe the warden when he tells we’re free to go. We actually kind of like the feel of the shackles around our ankles. They’ve been there for so long, you know. We can actually get around quite well without them.

    After much thought and debate about this, I’ve decided that Paul meant what he said when said Christ set us free. We are for once truly free to choose. The question is will we use our freedom for our own dumb pursuits or for something better. The kicker is, though, realizing that God isn’t going to be ticked off at us either way. We’re truly free to choose. Will we choose things that bring us life or things that bring us death? Only we can answer that. To those who are used to the chains of religion, it’s a scary thing.

  18. Oops… I forgot my 😀

  19. What I find shocking is that the knee jerk reaction to say “Yes, but…’ and tack on warnings to the end of any presentation of the Grace of God have done absolutely nothing to reform the church or improve the quality of our ‘spiritual lives’. The church is filled to overflowing with moral exhortations and “scriptural’ warnings about sin and bad behavior and yet Christians still struggle and ‘revival’ never comes. None of the biblical principles and formulas for ‘sin management’ and ‘overcoming’ the world, the flesh. and the devil, ever deliver on the promises our preachers so confidently assure us they they will.

    But we just can’t lay off the ‘Yes, but..’ in our attempt to ensure ‘balance’ when talking about God’s grace.

    This all sounds to me like the warnings of people harboring lots of deep seated guilt.

    • Do you mean we can’t let go of what God has already let go of?

    • Well said. I once had a pastor in Michigan refer to these types of individuals as “ya buts”.

      To paraphrase my hero Steve Brown on trying to overcome our shortcomings as some sort of adder to our salvation, “Give up.”

  20. Listen to Rosenbladt’s “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church” on the link to the right. One key point he makes is that antinomianism is a trait of legalists. Legalists pick a few esoteric or man-made rules totally devoid of reality to justify their self-righteousness and abuse and neglect of their neighbors. This is the beef Jesus had with the Pharisees, who “tithe mint and rue and every herb, but you bypass justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42, WEB).

    I think the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears goes well with this parable. The point Jesus makes is that “whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). Forgiveness doesn’t need to be hedged with legalism, because forgiveness produces love. As Chesterton stated in his biography of Saint Francis of Assisi: “It is the highest and holiest of the paradoxes that the man who really knows he cannot pay his debt will be for ever paying it. He will be for ever giving back what he cannot give back, and cannot be expected to give back. He will be always throwing things away into a bottomless pit of unfathomable thanks.”

  21. So let me see if I’ve got this straight: God reveals himself to the people of Israel and establishes a set of commandments as to how they should live as well as a sacrificial system to atone for sins. Over the centuries, the religious leaders refine, define and expand upon those commandments through deep study and religious tradition.

    But that system just doesn’t satisfy God’s requirements, sooooo, he sends his son as a once and for all sin sacrifice and then, over the centuries, the Christian church refines, defines, and expands the requirements through deep study and religious tradition.

    It didn’t work the first time, and applying the methods of the first failure won’t change the outcome. Defining salvation as Jesus + something else would only seem to diminish what Jesus did and I can’t buy into that.

    • “Defining salvation as Jesus + something else would only seem to diminish what Jesus did and I can’t buy into that.”

      However, Dr. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, defines salvation as follows:

      Justification by Faith Alone “is the article upon which the Church stands or falls.”

      By your statement Luther and his Faith Alone theology are wrong.

      How can Protestantism stand if its foundation is removed?

      • I am not qualified to stand for any organization or individual except myself therefore cannot respond intelligently. In my simplistic view, when I say Jesus only, it is my stated belief in his sacrifice that saves me. What doesn’t interest me is somehow proving that to any other person through my actions or works.

        Also, I wasn’t aware that Luther was a doctor

        • Ed,

          Your point (“[Salvation by] Jesus only, it is my stated belief in his sacrifice that saves me”) is quite sensible but that’s not what the founder of Protestantism stated.

          To follow Luther, to be a Protestant, to be Evangelical, to be in the “church that stands,” you must agree that faith (sola fide) and Christ’s work are part of your justification.

          However, if you believe that faith is not added to Christ’s work, then, by definition, you’re not a follower of Luther but instead you’re part of a “church that falls” [is damned].

          Luther leaves no leeway between these end points. According to him, if you reject sola fide, you reject Christ Himself.

      • Faith is a gift of God whereby the forgiveness of the cross and trusting in it is brought to an individual (unilaterally, “monergism”). It is Christ for you. Therefore it is not Christ plus anything else.

        • Since faith is a gift from God (as are all good things including hope, love and peace), why would it be essential for salvation?

          One would think that Christ’s grace alone would be sufficient. But Luther said otherwise.

          I wonder why?

  22. Charles Fines says

    Grace? “Yes, of course, but…” there’s that pesky verse by Jesus himself that says, “Be ye perfect . . . ” I think of it like a tightrope stretched across Niagra Falls and somehow you know you are meant to get to the other side. There is a long pole thingy lying there with God’s Grace written on one end and God’s Perfection on the other.

    I watch as the occasional person either rejects the pole or doesn’t even see it and starts on across. Others pick the pole up and snap it in two across their knee, and proceed across with one end or the other. Most seem to pick up the whole pole but they don’t hold it in the middle. Hmmmm.

    I have a new game I have started playing. When someone proclaims the concept labeled Grace, I rate the proclamation on a scale of 1 to 10 as to its graciousness. Yes, I know, judge not, but I’m sliding this one under cover of Grace.

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