Why are we so wary of grace?

My good friend Dan Bowen has started a new blog highlighting the ministry of Rob Rufus. It's called Rob Rufus - Grace and Glory and contains notes of many sermons that Dan has listened to, including notes from a recent conference Rob had in Hong Kong (which Dan attended). There is some interesting stuff here. {edit: Although I wouldn't endorse everything that Rob Rufus teaches now (or even when I first wrote this post), his messages about grace really helped my to understand the radical and wonderful truth about God's amazing grace.}

Some of this material, particularly that on grace, has really made me think hard. It has almost made me uncomfortable. Here are some examples from the most recent post:

"In the re-born nature all “have-tos” are off and are transformed into “want-tos!”. We are free! Totally! Legalism tells you that you aren’t free and gives you a price for it."
"The power of the blessing supersedes your weakness! It is bigger than your failings! How much do you really want to sin? When your sin and grace meet in a boxing ring then grace always wins. (Romans 5:19) – I am constantly in an infallible obedience! He perfectly kept the law on my behalf. You cannot balance grace – it is extreme!"

"You don’t change by keeping laws and rules – you truly change in the glory! The Father isn’t interested in behaviour modification but heart transformation and one day you will see victory! (John 16:10)"

"The Holy Spirit won’t leave you because you are perfect forever. Nothing is criticising or condemning you from heaven because you are perfect forever! Once you see this – you can’t get deceived anymore. You need to go on a grace diet!"

I have been pondering on what makes me feel uncomfortable, and I have concluded that it is the total and utter separation of our performance from our standing before God. "You are perfect forever." Somehow deep down, a part of me wants to contribute something. I am used to feeling guilt when I sin. But grace says even when I do sin, nothing, absolutely nothing, can alter my standing in the presence of God and His favour towards me.

Much of the early teaching I received spoke of not disappointing the Lord, of living to a certain standard and not living on "cheap grace" (a phrase which is a complete contradiction in terms, for grace is totally free by definition, the price was His not ours), and while have been exposed to good teaching on grace for a number of years, it still sounds almost too good to be true.

Why? And why am I not alone? Why does Rob's teaching on grace (and also the teaching of Terry Virgo) get met with the charge of antinomianism (being against the law)?

The theological objection

I believe that one issue is theological - what is the purpose of the law to us as Christians? Jesus Himself said "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle, will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled." (Matt 5v17-18). So if Jesus hasn't abolished the law, who does it apply to?

Well the scripture tells us very clearly. And, helpfully, Adrian Warnock has just quoted John Piper on this very subject:

“The reason the law is not against the promise is precisely that it was designed not to give life but to hold under sin and lead to Christ who gives life [Gal 3v19-25]. Paul says that if the law had given life, then it would have been against the promise. It would have short-circuited the purpose of the promise to make Christ the basis of life and righteousness. . .

"[He continues stating that 1 Timothy 1 shows us that] to use the law lawfully (v. 8) is to understand that it is designed to lead people to the gospel of Christ and to indict what is not in accord with the gospel. In this way, the lawful use of the law leads to the transformation of the heart through “sincere faith” (v. 5) and thus leads to love, which is in turn the aim of Paul's preaching (v. 5) and the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:8). The key defining criterion of the life-change that Paul is pursuing is whether it is “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (v. 11). Using the law lawfully means using it to convict people of living out of accordance with the gospel. . . .We bear fruit for God (love) by being joined through faith to Jesus, not through the law. That is what the law was ultimately designed to show."

The law leads us to Christ, and it is basis of our preaching to unbelievers to bring conviction of sin and a coming to Christ. The law is not the basis of a believer's relationship to God - we no longer need a school master, but have grown up. We are full sons with the full inheritance (Gal 5v25-26).

The practical objection

If we teach these things, won't people simply do what they want? Won't our churches be filled with people who say "if nothing can change my standing with God, then surely it doesn't matter how I live?"

But that is exactly the question that the apostle Paul brings out in Rom 6v1, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" I believe it was Lloyd-Jones that makes the point that if our preaching does not lead to this question then we have failed to preach the gospel properly.

But of course Paul's answer to the question is very interesting. He doesn't respond by saying "of course not, you must remember what the law says." Rather he says, "Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death?" (Rom 6v2-3). His response is that - we have died to sin, we have been transformed, and so how can we continue to live in sin?

Rob Rufus puts it: "The Father isn’t interested in behaviour modification but heart transformation."

So much is written with sincerity to help other believers overcome certain sins. I have read the books on overcoming anger and dealing with lust. I have sought to apply the different rules about praying more, reading the Bible more, not looking at this or that. I have read the advice to young women that they must dress in a particular way to help their brothers - and I have in the past given such advice myself. And yet all these things miss the point entirely.

The Father isn't interested in behaviour modification but heart transformation. Rules and regulations cannot help us. In fact, they have the opposite effect. Paul tells us, "These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and the neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh." (Colossians 2v25)

On the other hand, the teaching of grace, rather than causing people to throw off all restraint and to run into sin, sets people free to love the Lord. The awe that the gospel of grace brings has such transforming power that all the rules of the self-help books are simply irrelevant. We love Him. He is the best. I don't need to have my gaze upon things that will stir up sin, why do I need that, when I am free to enjoy the glory? The Father loves me unconditionally. I am fitted to enter in to the Most Holy Place. Nothing else matters.

So grace sets us free.

The personal objection

Such declarations of liberty lead to another question. If we are free from the law, then how do we know what the Lord requires of us. Are there no rules at all?

Romans 13v8 says "...he who loves another has fulfilled the law." After describing the fruit of the Spirit, Pauls says "Against such there is no law." (Gal 5v23).

Our whole obedience to the Lord now flows out of relationship - of love for Him and love for others. We no longer need great lists of rules, we need love! And for every single child of God - "the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Rom 5v5).

Our obedience flows out of our relationship with the Lord by the Holy Spirit - and that is scary because true obedience has nothing to do with completing a list of requirements. We cannot measure ourselves up and say "well I have prayed for an hour each day this week." We cannot hide from intimacy with the Lord behind a list of requirements.

The heart of Christianity is about enjoying God in the Spirit. There are times when the Spirit will shine His light upon things, as Ern Baxter has said - Christ is our advocate with the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the Father's advocate with us (John 14v16). This relationship of love will lead the Holy Spirit to speak into our lives, not conviction or condemnation, but revelation of the Father's purposes for us. These revelations will often challenge our walk and will lead to further changes - because we love Him.

And I believe that I find this the greatest challenge of all - I have been saved, not for a law, but for an intimate and most precious relationship with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. I have to pursue Him, rather than satisfying my performance mentality, prayer programme or anything else. And pursue an ever closer relationship with Him who loved me and gave Himself for me.

In summary...
So why are we so wary? Well - grace challenges our theology, challenges our practice (we are no longer sinners contrained by law, but born again transformed saints), and challenges us personally - to pursue Him above every other thing.


Dan Bowen said...

Awesome awesome awesome EXCELLENT post!! It's incredible to read how you have so abley sketched out every objection that I - the expert legalist - go through every time I hear Rob Rufus or Terry preach on grace!! But we must become expert at shutting up our heads that so object to the grace truth and train ourselves by exposing ourselves to this glorious revelation that it is our POSITION in Christ that makes us acceptable not our PERFORMANCE!!

Glory of glories!! We have done and can do NOTHING to make us less or more acceptable to God! Jesus Christ has done it ALL - ALL!! And from that wonderful truth opens up the whole world of the glory and Presence of God and the certain and sure knowledge that we can step into the Glory-Cloud unashamed for we come in Him!

Peter Day said...

Thank you so much for this encouraging comment and for highlighting the glorious implications -

"And from that wonderful truth opens up the whole world of the glory and Presence of God and the certain and sure knowledge that we can step into the Glory-Cloud unashamed for we come in Him!"

Amen! Amen!!