10 Biggest Big Ideas – 4. Grace

This week I have been pondering what might be the overarching, biggest of big ideas in the Bible.  These ideas pervade so much of the canon and are reflected in the specific main ideas of individual passages.

So far we have pondered God, creation and sin.  Now to the continual surprise of the Bible:

4. God’s solution to great sin is the greater power of His glorious grace.

God’s right to rule has been profoundly challenged by the rebellion of Lucifer and humanity.  Surely if God is God then the response from above must be the crashing fist of divine judgment?

Surprisingly, yet unsurprisingly, God’s solution is grace.  Surprisingly because in our power-hungry corruption of the divine image, we naturally would judge all sin in a self-serving display of divine wrath.   Unsurprisingly God is not like the fallen us, but He is just like Himself – that is, self-giving, generous, the God who is love.

Yet surely this is to deny another side of God, another mood of His?  Surely we must balance God’s love with God’s wrath?

No, we do not honour God by offering a schizophrenic portrait of a two-sided God.  Nor do we help by making the Father angry and the Son kind. We must instead seek to present God as He does in His Word.  God’s love spurned leads to wrath, but this shows the fullness of His love, not the reining in of love.

The holiness of God is His perfect, untainted, uncorrupted love.  This profoundly loving God has a purity about all He is and all He does.  So the prophets presented both the muscly arm of divine recompense, right alongside the arm that tenderly cares for the sheep that have young.  And the climax of that prophetic vision is not the crashing down of the fist of divine judgment on sinners, but the outstretched arms of the Lamb upon whom that fist would fall.  All sin will be judged, the wonder is that mine is judged already.

We should always be surprised by grace since it is by definition undeserved.  We should never be surprised by grace since it comes from the core of who God is.

There are glimpses of grace in every corner of the canon, whispers of love when screams of vengeance would fit.  Threaded from the fall in one garden to the rising in another garden is the ribbon of God’s great promise:

In a fallen world there is hope in the coming seed.  There is to be blessing for all the families on earth through the seed of one man.   There is hope for the firm and forever establishment of the kingdom of the seed of another man in the same line.  The ribbon of God’s great promise threads through sinning kings and trusting prostitutes, through flawed heroes and unknowns, showing grace on its journey to grace made flesh in the single seed of the woman, of Abraham, of David.  The seed that must fall into the ground and die, yet in humiliating death demonstrate the depth of God’s glory.

The great corruption of sin marks every passage, and the super-abounding solution is not raw justice, but unjust grace.  God in His goodness moves toward his harlot creation in love, giving of Himself, so that the greatest of sins pale before the greater glory of God’s goodness and grace.

If we preach the Bible with a pounding fist of self-righteous indignation, what are we doing?  Surely the Bible preached should lead to a pounding of the hearts of those captivated by God’s extravagant grace.

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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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