Martin Luther is remembered as the Reformer responsible for the start of the Protestant movement. But his original intention wasn’t to establish anything new. His desire was for reformation – a re-forming of the church so that it would again be an expression of what He understood the Bible to say that the church is intended to be. He had no interest in being seen as a rebel against the church. He wanted to be a facilitator of change, but in spite of all he could do to avoid it, he began to be seen, not as a facilitator, but as an instigator who refused to leave well-enough alone. Be advised: that’s a risk you will run if you become of part of the grace revolution that has begun in the church today.
Self-righteous, religious folks can’t stand grace for at least one reason. It takes them completely out of the limelight and gives all the glory to God. Tell the church leaders in Luther’s day that people’s good works didn’t move them one inch toward salvation and, like Luther, you would have been considered a heretic.
Today this fundamental fact about salvation probably makes sense to everybody who reads this. After all, the Protestant Reformation was five hundred years ago and the issue has long ago been settled. Works have nothing to do with salvation. Every Christian knows that. Though it was a controversial matter back then, that fact is a no-brainer in the church world today.
It’s a slightly different grace related issue that will get you into trouble with many in the church today. It’s not about salvation, but about sanctification – how a person becomes holy and then lives a holy lifestyle. Tell many at church that works don’t define salvation and they’ll say a hearty “Amen,” but tell them that the Christian life isn’t defined by works and you’d better take a step back and prepare yourself for the verbal lashing that is likely to follow.
Protestant denominations today have lapsed right back into the same errors that stirred Luther to action in his day. The difference is that the controversy then surrounded what it took to become a Christian while today the issue revolves around what it takes to become a "good Christian." It’s the same battle, just a different battleground.
To suggest that Jesus is the answer in both instances may seem obvious, but when you look at the message given in the modern church world, an unbiased observer would hardly come to that conclusion. Ask almost anybody in almost any contemporary congregation what a good Christian is and then listen as they describe all the things that person will be doing. They may have learned that at church but it sure didn’t come from the
The fact of the matter is this: Christianity isn’t about what we do. Neither entering nor living the Christian life revolves around doing. It has only to do with Jesus Christ and nothing else. I didn’t say we won’t do anything so please don’t read into my words something I haven’t said. Of course Christians do, but we don’t do to be good Christians. We do precisely because we are good Christians. We’re good Christians, not because of anything we may do or not do, but because our good God has put His good Spirit in us where He lives and defines us, giving us our very identity. Your goodness has nothing to do with anything you do. It’s because of what He has done.
I can almost hear the voices now: “People may misunderstand what you’re saying and think works don’t matter at all!” That’s a risk anybody takes who teaches the pure grace of God, but it is a risk that must be taken if we’re going to avoid diluting the truth of the gospel. To make grace clear, we just have to run the risk. I've shared the following quote numerous times, but it warrants posting again:
The great Bible expositor, Martyn Lloyd Jones wrote:
The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.
I hope you’ll begin to find yourself more and more addicted to grace and a biblical understanding of what it means to relax and simply allow Christ to live out His life through your lifestyle. If you get antsy when somebody like me talks about works not being the foundation of Christian living, keep studying the subject.
Works -- it always has been a hot topic in the church. It was the subject that triggered the revolution that led to reformation in Luther’s day and it’s the subject that the growing grace revolution hinges on today, five centuries later. Despite the fact that the Apostle Paul himself said that works and grace are impossible to mix, those who speak out boldly against works-righteousness as the basis of Christian living had better be prepared for resistance. The religious world hasn’t changed since Paul’s day or, for that matter, even Luther’s day when he addressed the subject as it relates to salvation.
Some have argued that “going too far with grace” can cause people to grow lax about sin in their lives. They imagine the Summer Youth Trip at the Local Community Church turning into a “Girls Gone Wild” video. That kind of assumption is totally ungrounded in reality. It ranks right up there with “There’s a boogey-man under my bed.”
Grace doesn’t cause people to go wild in sin. That’s a ridiculous idea perpetuated by two groups of people: (1) Those who are fearful because they don’t trust the Holy Spirit inside other people to lead them and (2) those who are afraid that they will lose control over other people if they actually begin to believe this grace teaching is true.
You can’t go too far with grace. That’s like saying, “don’t go too far with Jesus.” Paul wrote in Romans 5:17 that it is by the abundance of grace that we learn how to reign in life. The real threat to the church isn’t that we will go too far with grace, but that we won’t go far enough. Paul told Titus that the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodly behavior and empowers us to live like the righteous people we are. Show me somebody who is sinning and calling it grace and I’ll show you somebody who is telling a blatant lie. They’ve embraced disgrace and have given it a slanderous new name.
Do you feel an inner defense mechanism suddenly kick in when somebody like me starts to talk about how works aren’t the basis of the Christian life? If so, I encourage you to ask yourself why. Is it because you’re afraid that grace might cause people to become lazy or even passive? Grace won’t do that. The Apostle Paul commented on his own level of work when he said, “I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Paul was willing to put his works ethic in the Christian life up against anybody. What was it that he said gave him such a strong motivation for works? It was the grace of God at work in him. You don’t have to be afraid that grace will make people lazy. True grace never does that. To the contrary, it motivates us toward authentic righteous works as opposed to mandating artificial religious works that only masquerade as being righteous.
Grace is the only way to experience the life your Father wants you to know and enjoy. I need it. You need it. Everybody else needs it. Will you get onboard and join the grace revolution? You may not make fans in the religious world but I suspect that heaven will stand and applaud when you do.