It is easy to sympathize with those who regard theological debates such as this as mind numbing and unnecessary. Yet the importance of getting a correct definition for grace is highlighted by the fact that an entire book of the Bible – albeit a very short one – was written precisely for this purpose.
Jude was an actual blood half-brother of Jesus who became a preacher of the Gospel. As he recounts in the little book bearing his name, he was getting ready to write some encouraging words to the church when he became aware of a serious problem, and had to completely change his tone and focus. The problem was this: Christians – or those claiming to be such – had completely high jacked the meaning of “grace”, turning it into something completely different to make it fit the lifestyle they were favoring:
- “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:4)
Turning grace into “lasciviousness”. Anyone who has ever attended a Basic Seminar will recognize that old English term as something Bill gives some intense focus to. Without discussing all the details it is enough to recognize it as “moral looseness”, a lifestyle that favors pleasure.
To bring this close to home, there are those today who see grace as a God-ordained ticket to do whatever they want. The dour warnings of “the law” concerning the consequences of things we must never do give way to a new “Jesus way” which consists of “no rules” for the Christian, a life unencumbered by issues of conscience, guilt. Rather than rebuke others for sin we embrace them as they are, assuring them of God’s eternal favor that will not diminish due to anything that they have done, are doing, or ever will do. We are “Free to be bad” if necessary for a time in our “Journey of Grace” with the assurance that such “unconditional love” from our loving Heavenly Father will eventually win our hearts and turn us around.
Did I get it right? This appears to me to be the “grace” that some are seeking with great energy to “recover” from Bill. Yet as already highlighted, Bible grace, when it appears to us, immediately drives us, not to forget about sin and holy living, but rather the opposite, to actively “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts” and start living what must seem to some as dour “sober, righteous, and godly” lives (Titus 2:12). We are freed from one slavery to immediately find ourselves in another, this one in Household of Grace, bringing about “fruit unto holiness” (Romans 6:22), an overt powerful lifestyle that is sinless, clean, morally pure.
Clearly we cannot live this way in our own strength. That is precisely the point of grace: Not suspending the need to be holy, but giving us both the earnest desire and ability to do so. As Jesus said to Paul:
- “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
The focus in Scripture is always on grace as the power to move us into that which God has always expected us to be and do. Grace removes us from the authority of the law given that we have already died in Christ because of our failures, judgment falling on Him, and THAT can never happen again. The fear of death, of hell is gone. But this new life we have been given in Jesus – which can never be lost – immediately moves us, with gratefulness and joy, to begin to live exactly like Jesus lived, “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled (filled up, completed) in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”(Romans 8:4)