The importance of definitions
by J. Randal Matheny, editor
Michael Potemra wrote, “An assertion of compassion is not necessarily an act of compassion.” Because someone claims to do something for the good of the children, or the church, or the kingdom, does not mean he is acting in the best interests of his object. An act of grace is defined by God, not by man.
The challenge is to discover what is good and right and compassionate. The rich young ruler thought he knew what was good, only to discover that Jesus turned his every concept of goodness on its head. Our Lord challenged his definition right off the bat. “Why do you ask me about what is good? (Matthew 19:17 NET).
So our definitions of grace and goodness are exactly that. They are ours. They are not necessarily the Lord’s. But, like the rich young ruler, we often prefer to walk away from God’s definitions, because these will not let us remain religious and keep our favorite sins.
When man redefines grace, his exercise has this objective and this consequence: man turns “the grace of our God into a license for evil and [denies] our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).
Reworking the definitions of grace is an old trick. People have injected new and sinister meanings into the word, and into all the words of God. Satan believes in the adage that he who defines the terms, wins. Jude recognized that in the false teachers he had to expose.
As an example, some ingenious souls who want to throw out Jesus’ teachings on marriage classify the four gospels as old law. With a wave of the wand and an abracadabra, the demands of God’s grace are trashed. Now you can have your licentiousness and call it the grace of God! Or the sermon on the mount becomes an unattainable ideal, rather than the call to real discipleship.
Others sweep their wand more broadly. They claim that grace cancels commandments altogether (except for one or two favorites). Commandments are not longer gospel. Imagine that! God provides salvation, but doesn’t tell us how to get it or how to keep it. The magician keeps your attention as he redefines grace with the wave of one hand while ripping out the heart of the dove with the other.
Baptism, church, salvation, grace—these and more have been redefined for years. Our appeal has been to use Bible words in Bible ways. That means understanding the concepts according to God’s description of them and responding to God on his terms. But the world wants to use them in whatever way it sees fit. God’s words and truths become man’s tools to promote immorality and protect vested interests.
There exists “the true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12) and a false grace. Not all that is called compassion is such. If we don’t know the difference, we will reap not only confusion, but destruction (see Jude 4 again).