What is the singular concept that differentiates Christianity from all other world religions? It’s simple… Grace! As John Newton so eloquently penned, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now, I see. T'was Grace that taught… my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear… the hour I first believed. Through many dangers, toils and snares… I have already come. Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far… and Grace will lead us home.”
This very idea that God’s favor was never designed to be earned but instead always to be given and is therefore designed for our enjoyment and never for our maintenance is one of the most radical and in many ways revolutionary concepts ever presented to humanity! As Martin Luther once wrote, “Christ is no Moses, no exactor, no giver of laws, but a giver of grace, a Savior; He is infinite mercy and goodness, freely and bountifully given to us.”
And yet, how tragic it is that many of today’s churches have substituted the freeing and transforming Gospel of God’s Amazing Grace with a distorted and twisted replacement gospel that only serves to bind and in doing so stagnate the Christian experience.
Upfront please understand grace is such a radicle idea that even the Apostle Paul had to deal with Gospel perversions. In fact, defending grace was the entire purpose behind Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I like how J. Vernon McGee sets up Paul’s approach in his letter… “The epistle contains no word of commendation, praise, or thanksgiving. There is no request for prayer, and there is no mention of their standing in Christ. No one with him is mentioned by name… The heart of Paul the apostle is laid bare, there is deep emotion and strong feeling. This is his fighting epistle — he has on his war paint. He has no toleration for legalism. Someone has said that Romans comes from the head of Paul while Galatians comes from his heart. Galatians takes up controversially what Romans puts systematically.”
Before we discuss how grace ends up being twisted and more deeply why this happens, I want to set things up by working through the first seven verses of Galatians 1… In these first few lines, the Apostle Paul will not only emphasize the importance of grace period but he’ll come out swinging at anyone who’d dare pervert the gospel of Christ.
Galatians 1:1-7, “Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia. Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
Paul begins his Epistle, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Right from the jump, the Apostle, who wasn’t known for a lack of things to say, waists no time getting right to the heart of the issue — “Grace!”
In the original language, the word “grace” means favor. It should also be noted that the word derives from the same Greek word we translate as rejoice. In 156 times the word is used in the New Testament, “grace” takes on a redemptive quality describing an act whereby God avails His favor to those who patently don’t deserve it.
Some have defined the Biblical concept of grace as unmerited favor while others have more creatively expressed its meaning with the acrostic God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Notice the particular order Paul uses in his greeting, “Grace and peace!” It’s not an accident that every time we see this coupling in the New Testament the order is always the same. You see if your salvation or sanctification had any basis on your works or merit, lasting peace with God would be simply unattainable. This is why the only way a person can experience the peace of God is to first fully embrace the grace of God!
Also note that Paul says, “Grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” According to Paul both “grace and peace” are not something a man can provide, attain, or create for himself! “Grace and peace” are something that must be given to him by God alone… They both originate in Him before being extended to us.
After introducing us to the bestower of “grace and peace… Jesus Christ,” Paul continues by immediately explaining how it is that Jesus has the authority and ability to bestow these two things. He writes that Jesus “gave Himself for our sins.”
It’s crucially important you understand no man can accept a Savior for sins unless he first acknowledges he sins. It’s only logical that before there can be any remedy or proposed solution there must first be the existence and assumed recognition of a problem.
Honestly, I’ve found that many good people fail to accept Jesus as their Savior (instead embracing Him as a loving friend, a moral example, or even a gracious God) because they refuse to see themselves for what they actually are — a sinner in need of a Savior…
And since this is the tragic case, there are so many people today who subsequently fail to encounter Jesus for who He actually is — a Savior for sin — because they’re unwilling to admit they’ve fallen short of the person God wants them to be! Pride gets in the way!
This might be a hard idea to accept, but it’s true nonetheless… Jesus might love you just the way that you are but that doesn’t mean He loves the way that you are! Sadly, there are so many people today who misinterpret His love for the person as His acceptance of that person’s condition. Sure, Jesus loves you even though you’re fallen, broken, and messed up, but that doesn’t mean He’s content to leave you fallen, broken, and messed up!
You see Jesus enters a person’s life for one purpose… To save you and then make you into the very thing you aren’t! So much so He was willing to “give Himself” in order to deal with the root of your problem — the sinful state you were born with!
Let me clarify something many Christians get wrong… You are not a sinner because you sin. You sin because you’re a sinner! The Bible is clear the fundamental problem with man boils down to an internal heart condition (a fallen state) which makes any tinkering of one’s behaviors will end the end be frivolous and ineffective.
What man needs most is not a set of religious codes aimed at refining his behavior. What man needs more than anything is a Savior willing to completely atone for his sin, impart an alien righteousness, and is able to permanently transform the very nature of his heart.
What you need more than anything else is your debt paid (atonement), your core problem addressed (redemption of the heart, mind, and soul), and a lasting remedy imparted by Jesus (the regeneration of your core desires brought about by the indwelling Holy Spirit).
This is why Jesus “gave Himself for our sins.” Most incredibly, while in John 3:16 we’re told “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (no doubt communicating the incredible love of God for you and I), in this passage, we’re told Jesus was a willing and able participant. He wanted to lay down His life to pay for “our sins.”
And why would Jesus do this? Paul provides the answer: “That He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever.” In the Greek, the word “that He might deliver us” means to pluck out or rescue. A good translation would be to liberate. So what does Jesus want to liberate us from?
Again, Paul answers the question… “This present evil age.” While there is no doubt Jesus died to save us from a future judgment in hell, His pressing intention in “giving Himself for our sins” was to liberate you and me from the fallen, wicked condition that dominates the world we live in. Jesus saves us from the current of this wicked world!
This is why Paul declares in verse 6, “I marvel (literally, “I’m shocked how quickly”) you are turning away so soon from Him…” With regards to grace, the pressing question we must ask is what was it these Galatians were “turning away from?” In context, it seems that because they were adopting “a different gospel” they were in actuality “turning away from Jesus!”
The phrase “turning away” is much stronger in the Greek. Paul wasn’t accusing them of leaving Jesus. Instead, he says they were abandoning Him! Paul accuses these Galatians of being turncoats! He charges them with deserting Jesus… The One who “gave Himself!”
How does such a drastic thing like this happen to people who’ve at one point come to the cross of Christ? I’ve found they start basing their relationship with Jesus on something other than “the grace of Christ.” Paul says these Galatians were departing “from” Jesus and the saving and transforming power of His grace “to” what he calls a “different gospel” —which he then clarifies wasn’t really “another” before calling it a “perversion of the gospel.”
The word “different” means not one of the same kind. What Paul is saying is that this “different gospel” these Galatians were embracing was not an effective alternative — it was a perversion… A distortion! Whereas the True-Gospel gloriously bases your favor with God and the continuance of that favor solely upon His “Grace.” these men were perverting grace by formulating and teaching a twisted Anti-Gospel (a replacement).
I have found there are three ways the grace of God ends up being distorted to create what I’ll call an Anti-Gospel! First, there is the Anti-Gospel of “Grace, And do these things!” This says you’re saved and sanctified by grace and the things you do.
Sadly, there are people who see the true nature of the Gospel as simply being too good to be true. They reason how could it be that God’s favor would require nothing of you… That His favor is designed to be received and not earned in any way… That the process of becoming “like Christ” occurs independent of your works or disciplines?
Because the idea of “Grace.” is an affront to a person’s pride and sense of self-sufficiency, while accepting God’s saving grace, these people establish for themselves religious codes by which they either seek to earn God’s favor or at least prove themselves worthy of it.
To accomplish this, they substitute the Gospel of Grace. with the Three R’s of Religion: Their relationship with God is base on grace and their obedience to rules, regulations to ensure obedience, and rituals in order to demonstrate their piety and devotion to God.
And yet, here’s the truth… If the basis of your relationship with Jesus is “grace, and” the good things you do for God, your service, and your religious works, then you not only fail to fully understand grace but you’re saying Jesus’ death and resurrection were not enough.
Secondly, there is the Anti-Gospel of “Grace, But don’t do these things…” You’re saved by grace but sanctified by the things you refrain from doing. Once again, there are people who also see the true nature of the Gospel as simply being too good to be true but in an entirely different way. While God’s favor is designed to be initially received, these people fall into the burden of seeing God’s continued favor as something to be maintained.
Yes, they’ll concede there is nothing they can do to save themselves; however, they see human involvement as an essential part of the process of sanctification — becoming like Christ. Sure, their relationship with Jesus is based on His grace, but they believe this relationship can be deepened by the things you willingly and sacrificially give up for Him.
Sadly, what is produced from this particular outlook is nothing more than a wicked form of Christian legalism that establishes a moral structure and a church culture that demands liberties to forgo and things to be sacrificed in order to be a better Christian.
Though God’s favor was given at the cross, these folks believe God will be more pleased with a person when they abstain from a non-Biblical list of does and don’ts they create for themselves! Once again, when anyone says they’ve been saved by grace but are sanctified by anything other than His grace, they are distorting the very nature of grace itself!
Here’s the truth… If the basis of your relationship with Jesus is “grace, but” the things you refrain from doing and the sacrifices you make for Him, then you not only fail to fully understand grace but you’re saying Jesus’ death and resurrection are not sufficient.
Thirdly, there is the Anti-Gospel of “Grace, So I can do anything…” Because you’re saved and sanctified by grace there are no restrictions on the things you can do. The irony is that while these people correctly understand the freeing nature of God’s grace (it’s true you can do anything as God’s favor is provided independent of the individual), they subsequently distort grace in an entirely different way than the previous two.
Instead of grace yielding greater holiness and a sanctified life as it’s designed to do, grace is presented as a license for whatever goes. Unmerited favor in place of sin plus Jesus’ complete forgiveness concerning sin is viewed as an unrestricted permit to sin! It’s what I like to call the Romans 6:1 mentality… “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound!”
Sadly, while it’s true that if you're worried grace can become a license for sin you have a fundamental misunderstanding of grace, it’s equally a reality that if you see grace as a license to sin you also have a completely distorted and perverted view of grace.
Christian, here’s the truth… If the basis of your relationship with Jesus is “grace, so” I can do whatever I want, then you not only fail to fully understand grace but you’re actually making a mockery of the death and resurrection of Jesus! To those who take this approach, Paul would simply ask in Romans 6:2, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
If you truly grasp the True-Gospel of “Grace. (period)” you will understand that being saved and sanctified through God’s unmerited favor transforms who you are and therefore what you want to do. You see when the heart changes and you enter into a love relationship with Jesus it’s only natural your desires change also! You no longer live to please Jesus because you have to. You live to please Jesus because you now want to!
I need to point out that while these first two Gospel-Distortions (Grace, And & Grace, But) fosters a false perception of one’s standing before God and therefore view of themselves, they’re dangerous because they also warp how we interact with others!
One of the reasons legalistic Christians are a drag to be around is that they’re often hyperaware of your shortcomings while being completely unaware of their own!
And there is a reason for this… When a person embraces a religious stance on moralism by adopting a “Grace, And” or a “Grace, But” structure as the basis for how they earn and maintain God’s favor, this person will logically hold everyone they know too that same moral standard and thereby judge everyone accordingly.
You see religion (things to do and things to refrain from doing in order to tether yourself to God) provides the legalist a mechanism whereby they can maintain their own sense of moral superiority by highlighting, comparing, and condemning the failures of others.
It’s why religious people have the reputation of being mean, judgmental, unkind, spiteful, and stuck up. It’s been said, “The worst thing about religion is religious people.” I would add by pointing out the worst thing about religious people is religion! Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy Graham, said, “It has been religious people, often within the organized church, who have been the most critical of and even hostile to my relationship with God.”
Understand, if a person rejects religious legalism (Grace, And & Grace, But) and embraces their standing before God as being through His “Grace.” they no longer have any basis to judge their fellow man or see themselves as being morally superior because God’s favor is both given and maintained independent of their involvement.
Think of it this way… If you’re climbing a moral ladder to God, it’s entirely possible for you to judge those below you. But, in contrast, it’s really hard to be judgmental or have a sense of moral superiority when (instead of a moral ladder) you find yourself at the foot of the cross! Because religion leads to self-righteousness as opposed to the sole sufficiency of His-Righteousness, as Joe Focht rightly said, “Religion makes us the enemy of grace!”
Truth be told… I’m struck by something Paul says in this introduction. He affirms that “there are some who want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” What Paul is saying is that these distortions of grace do not occur on accident and are instead intentional! It’s provocative!
We must ask why would anyone want to pervert the nature of God’s amazing grace in any of these three ways? While all three distortions are different in their own right, there is one commonality that provides half the answer… Me! You see a central component of the true nature of grace is that it completely takes the power out of the hands of men.
The truth is that the “Grace, And” model is appealing because it affords my involvement in procuring the favor of God. The “Grace, But” model is appealing because it enables me to maintain a sense of moral superiority with my fellow man through my piety. And the “Grace, So” model is appealing because it allows me to remain in total control of my life.
In contrast, the True-Gospel of “Grace.” is deeply offensive to human nature because it’s an insult to one’s pride and in turn denigrates self. Fundamentally, Grace alone declares that you are a sinner in need of being saved… There is nothing you can do to save yourself… And that once you’ve been saved there’s no way you can take credit for it!
But there is another reason people willingly distort grace… I’m convinced the resistance of grace bubbles forth from a much deeper well — a desire for fairness! Understand, justice is more than the act of being fair. Justice also includes the judgment of the guilty and the administering of necessary reparations to re-level the playing field.
As such, the concept of justice and our longing for fairness is an idea that transcends race, culture, ethnicity, and religion and one that strikes deep within the core of the human spirit.
Though this propensity for fairness manifests in the formation of all kinds of public policies both domestically and geopolitically, our longing to be treated fairly is also the foundation for a religious concept that permeates our social landscape… Karma!
Introduced by the beatniks of Greenwich Village during the ’60s, today the idea of Karma is all over the American mainstream. As one expert on societal trends remarked, “People have embraced karma because it helps explain why something good or bad happens.”
According to the teachings of Buddha, Karma states that “actions bring upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in our future incarnation.” In other words, in the end, Karma ensures life is fair in the end! Everyone gets what they deserve! Regardless of the moment, good deeds are always rewarded and bad ones punished.
This is what makes the cross so offensive and why people struggle with the idea of grace. Not only does the cross completely contradict the concept of Karma (Jesus in no way deserved the brutal nature of His death), but it violates our sensibility for fairness.
The idea of grace (that God would grant His favor indiscriminately and independently of human involvement) is resisted because it doesn’t come across as being equitable. Even the legalist in each of us cringes at the notion that someone who’s lived a life of sin and wickedness can come to Christ on their deathbed and immediately receive the identical status we possess as a child of God and co-heir of all the Father’s promises.
While it’s true the fairness of grace is evident when one understands “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and there is no fundamental difference between all people not named Jesus, in a practical sense, grace isn’t designed to be fair!
Ultimately, you have to ask yourself this very important question… Do you want God to be fair with you? Do you want your interactions with Him to be on the basis of what you deserve? Or would prefer God to handle you through the prism of His love and kindness?
Paul was enraged that these Galatian believers were deliberately leaving the radicle nature of God’s grace by exchanging it for these Gospel distortions. And yet, the reason he was so angry and what made all of this so dangerous is that Paul rightly understood in adopting such an approach they were in actuality departing from Jesus!
You have to keep in mind what changed Paul’s life was not knowing more about God’s grace… What changed his life was the moment he experienced God’s grace through the revelation of Jesus Christ! What changed Paul was not a concept but a relationship!
When we talk about grace period it’s so easy for us to speak in platitudes that we often fail to fully grasp what’s being articulated… While God’s love sent Jesus to atone for our sins on the cross, His grace (unmerited favor) is the mechanism that now affords each one of us the opportunity to know and have a relationship with His Son Jesus.
God’s grace allows for the relationship! Consider… How does a person receive God’s grace? They enter into a relationship with Jesus. How does a person grow in God’s grace? Their relationship with Jesus deepens. How is a person transformed by God’s grace? Their relationship with Jesus naturally changes their desires and impacts their behaviors.
In regards to Paul, it had been God’s grace alone that afforded him the opportunity to have a relationship with Jesus — one that freed him from his former life, liberated him from the guilt of his past mistakes, and had now filled his life with meaning and purpose.
Sadly, there are some of you listening to this message who’ve never experienced the power of grace because while you’ve known about grace you’ve never known Grace! You see Paul’s life was forever changed the day he met Jesus (Grace) and his life continued to change each and every day he walked with Jesus (Grace). It’s why he fought so hard!
Grace is such a revolutionary concept because it provides you a way to approach God that isn’t based upon your ableness or His fairness, but rather His goodness. You see grace is so much more than an idea to know… It’s a relationship to be experienced!
The power of God’s grace and the peace that manifests, as a result, can only be discovered as you get to know the person of Jesus! So again I ask… Do you want God to be fair with you or would you prefer to sit back and bask in His incredible grace?
No Additional Links.