Whose grace is it anyway?

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 NASB

Tales from the Raggedy Edge

I haven’t been posting as much lately, because I suppose I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. I’d like to say I’ve been studying, praying, meditating, and growing closer to God. But I’ve mostly been working and reluctantly pastoring and reading and watching netflix. Truthfully, I’ve mostly been holing up and trying to avoid people because I’ve grown to resent them.

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. I’ve noticed that I’ve become despondent and resentful toward most people. I view almost everyone as a threat, and due to their low anthropology, this is of course largely justified. I’m not proud of this. I’ve noticed this dynamic happening: the more I preach grace and preach it truly, the more I become a magnet for people who are in such trouble that they actually know that they need it, and I become a target for them to test grace. And the more they test, the more I come up short.

What do I mean? When I preach the message of law and gospel, people are coming from a confused position in which they functionally don’t believe in God. What they hear through their garbled unbelieving ears is this: grace is a way of life – something you practice. They know I was also preaching some theological mumbo jumbo in there as well, but that part all sounded like the gentle meaningless squawking of Charlie Brown’s parents. What they know even though I the preacher have never said so, is that “grace” is something I the preacher must practice, because I’m preaching it. Never mind that I always go to lengths to dispel the notion that I am not the source of grace, but that Jesus is the vine and we are all branches. So I the preacher have become a TARGET. Certain people will come and with their toe cross what they think might be the line to cross, to see if this “grace” is authentic. I am lazy and largely apathetic and I like to avoid even urgently needed confrontation, so when I don’t immediately react negatively these certain people may interpret that as “grace”. So they go a little further and touch their toe across a further line. When they finally find the line that I can’t ignore, such as having sex in the church bathroom or spreading slanderous vulgar lies about my wife, I do react. Yes, Mr. Grace and Love will kick your crazy ass out of the church. Yes, Mr. Grace will get upset with you when you finally find that line and cross it. And then people judge!!! This grace thing he preaches is all a sham!

Let’s be clear: there is no harsher law than this kind of “grace”. It says, no matter how horrible and crazy and insane and rotten and sinful someone is to you, you have to “accept” them and love them and forgive them and redefine the law for them on their terms as they see fit. And if you don’t, it proves that you were wrong about the whole message. It proves for them that grace was all a fake. And people who believe this kind of crap are right: it is all a fake. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the Biblical and true concepts of grace and love. This kind of false “grace” will always fail.

So, here is my response to all of that nonsense:

Grace is not a sham

I want to step back and notice that all of this dysfunction does not stem from belief in the radical grace of the gospel. It stems from wrong impoverished weak belief. In fact, it stems from unbelief. It defines “grace” as softening or watering down the law, to prevent the need for justification, as a means of justification. It stems from poor theology, from ignoring the power of good theology. And I’m here in my little way “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) Because it is not a gift of my grace by which people are justified. We are justified as a gift by His grace! You want to push my boundaries in order to disprove grace? I’ll tell you the truth: if you simply glance to the side with wrong motives for an instant, I judge you instantly for it. In fact, if you even show up in my life at all right now, likely as not I will resent you for it even if you are a perfect angel. I’m sorry to let my low anthropology show. And you’re looking for ME to prove grace to you?

You can hold your thumb up really close to your eye and block out the sun, even though the sun is 1,300,000 times the size of the earth. So the sun isn’t smaller than your thumb, it is a question of perspective. For people who harbor the style of unbelief that I am talking about, their perspective is that a single instance of their sinful insanity crossing my human boundaries invalidates grace. Sometimes in the thick of life I forget how wrong this is. But the real perspective is that God is the giver of grace. He sees the infinite and eternal perspective. He sees the real injustice of things. He alone forgives sin and He alone knows how sorely we need forgiveness. He sees us truly and He truly forgives us. At a certain point, whoever you are, you are going to have to come to understand that it is actually important to come to grips with the fact that God Himself is the only source of grace. People will always disappoint you and it isn’t fair to expect otherwise from them. Grace isn’t something you practice, it is something you believe. Stray from that, and you go back under the worst and harshest law.

If you find yourself thinking, that this is all so theoretical and theological and fake that you could just be the same as anyone and still be a Christian, it betrays your unbelief. God loves us, and that is what defines us as Christians. It cannot be that we are defined as Christians by how well we love, because we do not love well. (1 John 4:10)

We do not come to the table of communion as beautiful redeemed progressively sanctified saints. We come as scoundrels and scalawags who are barely able to mask our irritation and judgement and hatred for each other. If we don’t hate, it is because we have no real intimacy and we have little or no genuine fellowship. We come to the table in sore need, collectively, of the strong mercy of justification through His blood. That is how we love each other.

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2 “But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. 3 “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. – John 10:1-3 NASB

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  1. You’re right Jim. We don’t practice this and I think I definitely understand your resentment. We really need to look to Jesus. He has the final word or as He would say words: “I am the first and the last”.

  2. Hi Jim. First I want to say that I agree with a lot of things that you posted on this website, which I found very helpful in my grace walk. However, I hope I am not misrepresenting you, but I have some concerns with some of the things written in this article. I am most concerned about this statement written in your last paragraph, “We do not come to the table of communion as beautiful redeemed progressively sanctified saints. We come as scoundrels and scalawags who are barely able to mask our irritation and judgement and hatred for each other. If we don’t hate, it is because we have no real intimacy and we have little or no genuine fellowship.”

    Now, I don’t believe this to be a condition for salvation, but it is God’s will for us, as believers, to love one another. God’s commandments were written clearly in 1 John 3:23, “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” Does not 1 John 2:9 say, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.”

    Just because we are saved by grace (no amount of morality or religiosity could ever contribute to that) that does not mean we make little of sanctification. I want to be clear though that we don’t do these things to get God’s favor and approval, to make Him love us more, or even to maintain or prove our salvation. It is simply to enjoy having a relationship with God (because when we’re so preoccupied with sin, we can’t enjoy the things of God). This is not done by gritting our teeth and trying to sort everything out in our own strength, but by focusing on Christ and resting in Him.

    I hope you will leave a response to my comment. I look forward to hearing what you have to say. If I have misunderstood you in any way, please do clarify. Many of your other articles have been very helpful to me, and I hope the matter that I have addressed was merely a failure to communicate. May the Lord bless you and your ministry Jim.

    In Christ,

    • Hi Ben,

      I wrote a whole series of posts on 1 John, which have been compiled into a book and carefully edited, called Grace in Community. 1 John 3:23 is a keystone verse, actually. Note that it is a single commandment, not two. What is the significance of that? Belief in Christ IS loving one another. How does that work? In context of 1 John 1:5-10, we see that there are only two kinds of people: those that sin and live in the light of Christ’s blood, and those who lie about their sin. There is no third option, people who don’t sin and can fellowship based on their righteousness. So the ability to have fellowship is based on faith in the propitiation.

      Hatred of others is ironically the right thing to do under the law. Apart from the cross of Christ, the only choices are to transgress justice by embracing the sinful people around us, or to maintain personal holiness by rejecting those sinful people around us. Only through faith in the power of the blood of Christ can we embrace others without transgressing justice. That is why belief in Christ and loving the brethren are a single, monolithic command.

      In the midst of talking about horizontal love between the brethren, John throws in this zinger:

      10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:10 NASB

      The central basis for our love for one another is the propitiation. It is only if we have escaped the tyranny of the law’s condemnation that we are able to love. And the communion table is a perfect picture of that, exactly. The law says, love one another. The cross says, you are loved – believe it.

      I believe this is the consistent way to understand all of 1 John. 1 John 1:5-10 is the context for everything that follows.

  3. Thanks Gahigi! Of course that resentment is sin, and stems from how I came under that false law of “grace”; realizing this really helped free me from the resentment. I always appreciate your comments and encouragement!

  4. Wow!! I wasn’t sure you read all my comments not that I expect you to answer them. I just wasn’t sure. The thing I could relate to is I’ve resented people too (and of course I don’t want to) because all I seem to hear everyday is what I’m not doing. But the fact is I can’t do what they’re asking all the time and I wish they’d give me a break but I know that has to come from the Lord and He definitely gives me those breaks. But like Mary I guess we can expect Martha to scream so to speak.

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