The concept of ‘grace’ is one of such sublime simplicity that it has become one of the most complicated topics in Christian theology. Right off the bat, there’s a clue as to the magnitude of the complications it presents.
Grace, as a concept, owes its mind-bending complexity to its basic simplicity.
It is so simple that entire religious denominations have come into existence trying to decipher it’s simplicity. The concept is so basic and rudimentary that it is hard to believe — for some, it is impossible to believe.
So they complicate it until they find it believable.
“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty,” Paul writes in his first letter the Corinthians (1:27).
The word translated ‘foolish’ is translated from a derivative of the Greek, musterion meaning ‘a mystery’. “Confound” is from kataischuno, meaning to ‘bring shame.’
Those being confounded are “the wise” (Greek; “sophos” meaning, wise, worldly, sophisticated) to whom the simple concept of grace remains a mystery, even after being saved. Grace is a mystery to those are wise in their own eyes.
The biggest obstacle to overcome when attempting to understand ‘grace’ is that we tend to see it only from our own perspective. But we are the recipients of that grace, not the Author of it. When viewed from God’s perspective, it doesn’t look the same.
One of the most seductive spirits to a Christian is the spirit of legalism. “Legalism” in its most basic form, is the attempt to live a life pleasing to God by the principle of the law.
That is to say, we are saved by grace through faith, but now that we’re saved, we must maintain our own salvation by adhering to the same law by which we were condemned.
It is seductive because it sounds true. It suits our logic. It follows our own understanding. It redirects our trust towards something more tangible than in an invisible God and an ancient Sacrifice.
We know the law — look at the list of things that are forbidden to Christians. Everybody’s list is different, but we ALL have a list. You don’t think so?
Ever hear of a Christian being arrested for some heinous crime and wonder if the guy was really a Christian? “How could he be a Christian and do that?” (So whatever that was, it is on your‘forbidden to Christians’ list.)
There is nothing that can compare with that bright, shining moment when our sins were first washed away. We never feel cleaner in our own eyes than we do at the moment of salvation.
As we run our race through the entanglements of this world, we sometimes try to recapture that incomparable moment — and failing, we start to doubt our continued cleanliness. The more we’re tempted, the harder we try. The harder we try, the more we are tempted.
Hal tells a story of a luxury hotel built on a pier with oceanfront balcony windows. On opening day, the manager, a fisherman, worried that people would be tempted to fish off the balconies.
He feared the windows in the lower rooms might get broken when they cast their weighted lines into the wind. So he ordered signs posted in all the rooms strictly forbidding fishing from the balconies. People fished anyway. Windows got broken.
In a staff meeting called to discuss the problem, somebody suggested simply removing the signs. As soon as the signs were gone, so was the temptation to fish off balconies.
There is a saying to the effect ‘laws are made to be broken’ — the very existence of a law is a source of temptation — a principle sometimes expressed in another old saying about ‘forbidden fruit being the sweetest’.
There is a old Abbot and Costello routine about chocolate cake diet. “A chocolate cake diet?” says straight man Bud Abbot. “You can’t lose any weight on a chocolate cake diet!”
“I know,” Costello says, before delivering the punch line, “But I’m never tempted to cheat.”
People on a diet are tempted by the things that are forbidden them. If you can eat anything you want, there is no temptation.
Are you starting to see where I am going? The Spirit expressly labeled them ‘seducing spririts’ because their doctrine is so seductive. The doctrine of demons seduces you into forging your own chains to replace the old ones that fell off when you first got saved.
The more things on your personal “forbidden to Christians” list, the more temptations you have to fight off. Nobody bats 1000 every time, so that wonderful, incomparable feeling of cleanliness we once had, grows more distant and seemingly unattainable.
Your constant battle and your consistent failures gnaw at you and wear down your spirit. You wonder if you were ever saved. Or worse, if you have lost your salvation.
“…and the last state of that man is worse than the first”, Matthew 12:45.
We began our discussion with the discussion of grace and the simplicity of it all. We are saved by grace through faith that payment for our sins was made at the Cross and that the Blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.
Everything in the above statement that comes after the word ‘grace’ is the direct result of grace.
The mechanism whereby we are saved is that our sins are covered by the Blood of Christ, shed as full payment for the sins of the world.
Dwell on that for a second. The sins of the world. The whole world. From the moment of creation to this present hour. You — everything you are, all you know, all you’ve experienced, everything you’ve ever done or ever will do — compared to every sinner and every sin ever committed in the history of man.
You know that the Blood of Christ was sufficient for them. But you’re different?
Wisdom is thinking God’s way, and God’s way of thinking is expressed by His Word. Understanding comes from seeking wisdom in God’s Word and seeing its application to a given situation.
Legalism as a doctrine is a seduction against which the Spirit expressly warned. The Law had a purpose — it tells us exactly how far we can go without sinning. But by definition, we find that line by crossing it.
Now we are on the other side. God knows that. He designed things that way.
The Law was created for the express purpose of exposing the impossible nature of sin so man would know he needed salvation. Salvation reveals the need to walk close to God. But not for the purpose of currying His favor with good works, but rather for protection against the temptations of the law.
That’s why we are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14-15)
Under grace, God accepts us based on the fact we are in Christ and judged according to Christ’s performance on our behalf. Under the law, we are judged exclusively on our own performance.
Law and grace are therefore each complete systems unto themselves. They are also mutually exclusive. To mix these principles robs the law of its terror and grace of its graciousness.
Grace cannot be made complicated, despite our best efforts, because in the end, it only means one thing, and every expression of that meaning carries with it the very flavor of heaven.
‘Grace” (Greek: charis) means ‘gift’ — but it means so much more than that.
It also means acceptable, benefit, favor, joy, liberality, pleasure, thanksworthy, — the word ‘grace’ carries so much yet it weighs so little on the mind. Grace cannot be appropriated, it can only be offered freely, or it is no longer grace.
And grace cannot be rescinded, or it was never grace to begin with.
“Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved:) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places with Christ Jesus: that in the age to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus.”
“For by grace are ye saved through faith, and than not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:5-8)
“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)