by Barry Newton
Many have trodden the path of a religious environment where salvation depended upon getting every doctrine and biblical practice exactly right. Critics charged its adherents with either centering their salvation on a self-centered confidence or producing the fear, “What if I’m wrong somewhere?”
Then a new understanding of grace seemingly saved the day by providing some wiggle room. Salvation did not require our perfection.
Traveling down the trail of their parent’s legacy, a new generation grew up focused on Christ, praising God’s grace and exerting a new freedom of religious thought and expression.
If anyone attempted to reign in this liberty by insisting upon strict adherence to God’s word, the response was simple: “But that’s legalism.” The conviction, “grace will cover it,” propelled Christian ministry forward with confidence.
Let me introduce a traveler down one of these roads. Whenever I heard him teach the Bible, regardless of the subject, his intensity appeared to be driven by an underlying motive to dismantle traditional doctrine. I’m guessing his perspective was: They need to grasp the good news about the comfort of grace!
Tragically, an affair ripped apart his life. When confronted about his unrepentant immorality, he responded, “grace will cover it.”
His Christian friends faced a dilemma. They are certain he accurately understands grace. Yet, his use of grace feels like rationalization because they know immorality is wrong. However, if grace means the Christian cannot be condemned for failing to conform to God’s standard, then how is this not the logical conclusion?
Perhaps what first needs saving is grace. Paul described God’s grace as “bringing salvation to all the people” (Titus 2:11). At least here, biblical grace refers to salvation being a gift.
Such grace “trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). To truly understand grace drives the Christian into alignment with godliness. It doesn’t empower my desires.
My reading of scripture understands that neither the notion that we somehow earn our salvation by getting everything perfect nor the teaching that grace nullifies our need to obey scripture are accurate. Scripture describes a third option.
Salvation and belonging to God are fundamentally a relationship issue, a relationship made possible by God’s promises through Christ crucified, creating disciples who have died to self (Luke 9:23; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Romans 6:6). The nature of discipleship is obedience. Grace does not dissolve discipleship’s call to obey.
While God forgives disciples, he is no fool. Intertwined with forgiveness comes the constant call for repentance. God knows if we are walking toward him and his Son (1 John 1:7; 2 Peter 1:4-11), away from him (Hebrews 10:25-31) or blazing our own path while claiming to serve him (1 John 2:4).
The idea that grace enables a dismissive handling of doctrine and obedience fails to consider discipleship’s nature. Biblical grace creates relationship and promotes godliness; it neither dissolves discipleship’s obedience nor promotes our will.