Overqualified! Grace, But.

Here’s a quote to start the week.  It’s a quote I found very encouraging last night.  Yesterday morning I preached the first message in a series on Galatians.  Paul pulled no punches and I reflected that somewhat in my message.  So this morning I’ve woken up pondering this quote from Andy Stanley:

“The church, or I should say, church people, must quit adding the word “but” to the end of our sentences about grace. Grace plus is no longer grace. Grace minus is no longer grace. We are afraid people will abuse grace if presented in its purest form. We need not fear that, we should assume that. Religious people crucified grace personified. Of course grace will be abused. But grace is a powerful dynamic. Grace wins out in the end. It is not our responsibility to qualify it. It is our responsibility to proclaim it and model it.”

I wonder what proportion of gospel preachers really preach the radical message of God’s grace, and how many feel the need to qualify it and augment it and protect it?  How do we over-qualify grace?

1. We preach grace, but insist on human commitment and responsibility in our gospel preaching.  It’s so easy to preach of God’s wonderful, amazing, life-transforming, gaze-transfixing, heart-captivating grace.  And then in the same breath speak of our need to make a personal commitment, to be diligent, to conform to standards, etc.  Either God’s grace is as good as we say it is, or it is lacking and needs human supply.

2. We preach grace, but quickly shift to focusing on our legal obligations as humans.  Grace plus works is not grace.  Grace minus relational freedom and delight is not grace.  Grace with a good dose of law is not more, but less.  People might abuse grace?  Indeed, so let’s put more effort into communicating how good God’s grace is, rather than feeling obliged to supply qualifiers that are somehow meant to stop people gratuitously sinning in light of the message of the gospel.  When a heart is truly gripped by God’s grace, then it is truly free to live a life of love for God and others – will such preaching lead to licentiousness and abuse?   Certainly not as much as preaching law will lead to rebellion and the fruit of the flesh.

All that I say here applies to both evangelistic and to edificatory preaching.  If the text speaks of our response in some way, or offers guidance on the difference this gospel will make, then of course we must preach the text.  But let’s not automatically feel the need to over qualify and potentially lose the impact of the message if the inspired author didn’t add qualification.

Preaching grace is dangerous.  It is dangerous because unlike overqualified human-centred preaching, it might actually stir a heart to be captivated by the abundant grace of God and lead to radical transformation!

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8 thoughts on “Overqualified! Grace, But.

  1. Nor must we abbreviate grace. It is God working in us both to will and to do His good pleasure so that we can work out our own salvation (Ph. 2:13). We are to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18). It can be multiplied to us (2 Peter 1:2). It does teach us to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12 ESV). For that reason we approach the throne of grace to obtain more grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Grace is not just a means of forgiveness; it is the power of God to live godly lives in a perverse generation.

      • Robbie asked, What does it look like to invite peploe to follow Christ in your church? For many it’s an altar call etc. But I don’t remember Jesus asking peploe to come to an altar or say a prayer. (Not to dismiss a time honored tradition.) I’d love to hear how you all invite peploe to Christ. At Life, we ask peploe to raise their hand and make eye contact. Then we give them a free new believers pack with tons of stuff to help them get started. This also helps us get information from peploe so we can follow up and help them start their walk with Christ.I am not hung up on any model or style of altar calls. I believe what happens the other six days of the week to be as much or more important in the evangelism process.

  2. I think you are correct in that we add a lot onto grace that doesn’t belong there, but I think you’re also stripping too much away at the same time. It’s interesting that even Paul did not preach grace alone. In Ephesians 2:8 he says that we are saved by grace, but it’s by grace “through faith.” Is God’s grace sufficient to save us? Absolutely. There is a difference, however, between grace’s sufficiency to save and whether it actually does. Is a power plant sufficient to power a lamp? Absolutely. Will the lamp shine if it isn’t connected to the power plant? Absolutely not. Can God’s grace save us? Absolutely. Will it save us if we don’t take advantage of it? Absolutely not. The gospel message of God’s grace is the power for salvation. But as Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, it is the power for salvation for all who believe.

    • Thanks Carl. I agree with what you write. I suppose it depends on how we define faith. Is faith a responsibility or a response? On the one hand, God’s grace doesn’t mean that all are saved irrespective of response. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to turn faith into a work on our part, which seems to be a significant aspect of what he was saying in Ephesians 2. Good to chew these matters over together. Peter

      • Peter, I think the trouble is that we paint with an oversized brush sometimes when we talk about faith and works. Paul isn’t necessarily saying that works have nothing to do with our salvation. He’s principally saying that we shouldn’t use action on our part as a way to pat ourselves on the back for saying what a great job we did. Think about this: if you fall overboard on a ship in the middle of the ocean and you are saved because someone threw out a floatation device, do you talk about what a great job you did swimming to the device or how grateful you are for that person throwing out the device to you and then pulling you in?

        It’s about attitude and perspective. When we talk about “obeying the gospel” (which infers the existence of works), no one can rightly claim to have “earned” salvation by doing those things. After all, it’s still God’s grace that He “counts” or “credits” those things as righteousness. It’s still God’s grace that you even know those things are required. Could Naaman rightly claim to have healed his own leprosy? No, especially when Elisha refused to take payment for the healing. There was nothing about dunking himself in the Jordan River seven times that should have done anything to heal that leprosy…especially if it was as dirty as he claimed!

      • Thanks Carl. You are right that we shouldn’t be using oversized brushes. If I fall overboard on a ship in the middle of the ocean and am already dead, then I would talk about my swimming to an inadequately thrown flotation device. I remember talking to Mormon missionaries on my doorstep who assured me that Jesus’ death was absolutely critical – 97%, we just need to supply the other 3%. I think we need to be careful to have careful biblical definitions of terms like faith, works, sin, etc. Thanks for engaging with the site Carl.

  3. I’m a little late to the discussion, but this is excellent and refreshing to see! This emphasis has been my idee fixe, my obsession, for some years now. I think it is in fact impossible to come to a place of obedience from the heart (Romans 6:17) unless you believe in a grace strong enough to raise the Romans 6:1 question – “shall we sin all the more?” There isn’t therefore now just a little condemnation to keep us going forward. There is therefore now NO condemnation! (Romans 8:1) Thanks for posting this!

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