New covenant grace doesn’t need to be “balanced.” There is no alternative to grace.
Have you ever noticed that for many, suffocating bondage and death producing legalism is tolerated, encouraged, and even celebrated? Yet when grace is mentioned, people go apoplectic with warnings about “going too far,” the “dangers” of the “grace message,” or the “need for balance,” and so forth. Why the dire warnings about supposed “hyper-grace” but no equal alarm about “hyper-legalism?”
Is there no “danger” in the alligator-infested swamp of performance-based religion that most people swim in? One reason there is no indignation about legalism is because it enables people to be measured, controlled, and psychologically manipulated. I can feel superior to you because: “I don’t______________, and you do. Simply put, legalism appeals to the fallen nature. We like it.
Grace frees and grace equalizes: valleys are filled, and mountains are brought low, and in so doing it is offensive to religious sensibilities. Grace frees from sin AND religion. Religion cannot withstand free people. Grace threatens human pride, our sense of fair play and justice. Yes, grace threatens “balance.” By definition, grace cannot be “balanced.”
Paul preached grace so strongly that his critics accused him of promoting sin. You will never be accused of that if you preach a “mild and balanced” grace message! No, only a radical grace message, a message that is begging to be misunderstood will get you those kinds of comments! Those who preach grace with the same urgency and extremity as Paul, will likewise be accused of being: soft on sin, unconcerned about holiness, encouraging lax living and so forth. These are red herrings; straw-men arguments from folks whose understanding of grace and holiness needs some development.
What is supposed to give grace “balance?” Anti-grace? Is it a substance from a bad science fiction movie? “Aye, Captain, we need to get to Romulak 7 and pick up some anti-grace before all this grace blows out our warp drive!”
Does “holiness” allegedly balance grace as if grace and holiness were somehow antithetical principles that keep the universe at a zero-sum equilibrium when they are present in equal quantity? Of course, this is nonsense, but thousands think this way. Thinking grace needs to be balanced with holiness indicates the one thinking such understands neither grace nor holiness very well.
Some think grace is some sort of “get out of jail free” card that means you can do anything you want, or as I once heard a preacher say: “I can commit any sin I want because God is in the forgiving business.” That is likewise, blasphemous nonsense.
In reaction to the above, some think preaching the “law,” or holiness, or hard messages about sin, is the antidote to “not going too far with grace.” That is equally nonsense.
Worse yet, some think we should provide “hard preaching of the law” to restrain believers from sin and balance grace. So-called hard preaching about the law will empower sin! Paul said it plainly: the strength of sin is the law (1 Cor. 15:56). You will never overcome sin by preaching hard about it, and by focusing on the law! By “the law” Paul means any principle-based-sense of living in moral indebtedness to God to “do better.” He is not referring to just Mosaic law, but any sort of “law-based” living–Jewish or Gentile law: “nomos (law) living”. There is only one answer for sin, one answer for victory: seeing, knowing, and experiencing the grace that is in Jesus Christ. Period.
Part of the problem is in our anemic and tepid definition of grace. Too often, it is defined in a very limited way as a “status of favor” or “unmerited favor.” That is true, but it is more than that.
Being “in grace: or “under grace” is to participate/share in the overflow of the covenantal life, love, and power of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That obviously is a “status” of unmerited favor, but it is also a transformative and empowered state of being.
Thinking that actually being in such a state condones or endorses sin or a lack of holiness, is absurd. Now, if we open up the can of worms of false converts, spurious conversions and such, well, that’s another conversation. The reason there can be so much hand-wringing about a perceived “lack of holiness” is because we are trying to conform unconverted people to God. That makes as much sense as trying to herd cats: it’s not in their nature to be herded. The problem is in our conversion theology and experience, not our “message of maturity” or “discipleship.”
When grace is usually preached or taught, the elements of empowerment and sharing in the life of the covenantal Godhead are normally left out in preference to, and overemphasis of, the “forensic” elements: “You are acquitted of your sin–like a criminal declared to be innocent–now go your merry way.” Well, yes, I am acquitted, but I have also been put into the very life, love, and power that abides at the center of the universe and holds this universe together! Grace is a transformative power, not merely a judicial decree of innocence. You are not merely an acquitted criminal, trying to live life like a parolee. You used to be a relationally alienated rebel, and now, you have been made a dear son . . . Wake up to it! Come out of the slumber of sin! Live like who you are, a NEW (Gr. kainos: qualitatively new) CREATION. Live so radically in love with God and humanity that you would no more want to sin than you would want to poke out your own eyes.
It is in the POWER of grace, that ASSURANCE of FATHER-SON LOVE, where I live, rest, abide and find my being . . . that I am free. There is no room for nonsense in that and no room for indifferent attitudes toward sin. Rather, it is the very atmosphere and empowerment necessary to overcome sin.
No, grace does not need to be balanced. It needs to be understood . . . and experienced.
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