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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Preaching Controversial Theological Issues – Part 2

Yesterday I began this post on how to preach a passage that may tread on some toes.  Sometimes there are informed members of the congregation who hold a particular position theologically.  Often there are relatively uninformed members of the congregation who hold a particular position tenaciously.  What should we do when we have to preach a passage that might stir disunity in the church?  Perhaps a passage touching on predestination, eternal security, eschatology, or a particular branch of Christian theology?  We should evaluate the choice of passage, preach the passage and preach wisely.  Furthermore:

Recognize, but don’t overqualify. It is often appropriate to recognize that there are different opinions on an issue that comes up in the text.  By recognizing it we assure people that we are not preaching unaware.  But don’t overqualify every statement and end up sounding like a politician who is saying a lot, but basically avoiding saying anything bad.

Watch your tone. It is important to choose words wisely, but don’t forget your tone.  Model a gracious spirit, never take cheap shots, demonstrate an attitude of harmony.  Make sure you are not using the opportunity and platform to win some points in a theological sparring match.  Fully pray through the situation ahead of time, not only in reference to the message, but also in reference to your relationship with key individuals in the church.

If appropriate, overtly teach theology. If you have the authority to do so, the situation requires it, you have prayed at length, etc., then it may be appropriate to ignore what I have written here and preach blatant theology (apart from watching your tone – always appropriate!)  Generally I would save this for the genuinely central issues – deity of Christ, salvation by grace/faith alone , the inspiration of the Bible, the trinitarian nature of Christianity.  The issues listed at the start of yesterday’s post are important, but not as central as these.