“Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be” (Rom 6:1-2)! “And His grace toward me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10-11)
“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” (John 5:22-23)
In this series concerning the many differences between the gospels of salvation and the kingdom, we now come to what I consider to be the most critical one of all: what is grace, and who exactly is the One who gives it? The two are inextricably tied together. We cannot embrace a proper perspective of one while holding a false perspective of the other. Under the gospel of salvation grace is absolutely free of charge, inherited for life by “praying the prayer,” cannot be forfeited in any way thereafter, and given by a god whose singular attribute is love, mercy, and forgiveness. Is that the gospel of the kingdom Jesus preached, and if not then can the god who gives grace under modern Christendom’s definition be the true Jesus?
Beginning with the definition of grace itself: if you asked most Christians birthed and nurtured under the gospel of salvation what the meaning of grace is they would overwhelmingly respond with “unmerited favor.” They would be wrong, as are those who taught them. Unmerited favor is more closely related to the Hebrew meaning of the word “lovingkindness.” The translation of grace (charis) in the Greek is “the divine touch on the human heart, and its reflection in the life.” Brings an entirely different meaning to the word than unmerited favor, yes?
The grace of unmerited favor had to exist under the Old Covenant, for prior to the indwelling of the Spirit of God within men “the divine touch upon the human heart” was simply not possible. Under the former covenant, which has now passed away in light of a better one (Heb. 7:22, 8:6), God’s people required unmerited favor. But not so those who now claim to follow Christ, because the gospel of the kingdom is all about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That means an expectation of radical transformation, and thus the need for the differing definitions.
Anyone can think they’re saved under unmerited favor, for there is no requirement for transformation. But how many could claim the reflection of the divine touch in the life the true meaning speaks of? Paul said of God’s purpose in sending Jesus: “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). He also said it was to transform us in to entirely new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Total transference into a new kingdom, and total transformation in to new creatures! If there is no evidence in the life of this taking place then there can be, by definition, no grace.
What we experience under the gospel of salvation is what is often referred to as “cheap grace,” and I would argue it is offered by a cheapened, lesser god. Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote, “Cheap grace is grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, [and] Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, and grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate…The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more [believers] than any commandment of works.” Bonheoffer wrote it is “grace without [the true] Jesus.” It is grace from a lesser counterfeit. This cheap grace is unquestionably the doctrine most responsible for our Laodicean condition in the body today, and is indeed “ruining believers” by excusing laziness and disobedience, robbing them of the exciting life of following Jesus into the kingdom of heaven on earth through obedience reflected in the life! It’s great for filling mega-temples with dues-paying members, but it falls far short of the Great Commission.
Jesus was above all men “divinely touched,” and showed by His deeds and His life the reflection of that touch. He said to all men chosen to be His friends, “Follow Me!” It would stand to reason then those who follow Jesus would do those works as well. John said we are not to love [show grace] with words, but in “deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). The One who preached the gospel of the kingdom never forgave the lack of “the evidence in the life” the divine touch was to inspire. In fact, He required it (John 15:12,17)! The gospel of the kingdom Jesus taught and was leads to discipleship, which is “observing all He commanded [the evidence in the life].”
Finally, as the passage from 1 Corinthians 15 above shows, true grace is active and motivational, not passive and reactive. Paul proclaimed he was driven to labor more than anyone because of “grace with him.” Appreciation of the grace of Jesus should drive us on to live as Jesus and Paul both lived, not encourage passivity. Under the gospel of salvation grace motivates no one. It simply waits until we sin and then reacts by covering any and all transgressions with unmerited favor. In Romans 6 Paul speaks of being freed from sin through grace to become willing “slaves to righteousness,” not forgiven transgressors “who sin all the more that grace may abound.” The life of a slave consists of one thing: total obedience to the master’s commands. The active/motivational grace of the gospel of the kingdom is therefore the greater grace than the passive/reactive version salvation’s gospel espouses, because it expects the Spirit introduced in to us by grace to transform us that the evidence in the life of obedient disciples might become manifest!
When you think about it, the Son came to earth when the Father became proactive about grace! Hebrews 8 tells us God’s former manner of grace [which was passive as it waited for His people to sin before it acted] had in part led Him to “stop caring for them” because they had become incapable of keeping His commands. But then, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” [grace became proactive]! Grace becomes active and motivational in our lives so “the reflection [obedience] in the life” is evident.
Which brings us to the god of modern Christendom and its gospel of salvation: it is a god who gives everything and requires nothing. It is a god who has no commands that grace won’t immediately forgive disobedience to, and therefore is not the God of the Bible. In fact it is not a god at all, but an idol. There is one clear distinction between God and idols. We submit to God while idols submit to us. We follow God while our idols follow us. Rightly did Bonheoffer assert the salvation gospel’s grace “is grace we bestow upon ourselves.”
Why do we construct idols? We want something that puts a lesser requirement on us than the real McCoy does. Ergo “unmerited favor” follows our lead by forgiving us anything we want it to, while “the divine touch upon the heart and the evidence in the life” requires we bow to it by demanding something of us. Idols put no restraint on who or what we want to be because we created them. God places many restraints upon us [which those truly in Him embrace gladly] because He created us. The idol of grace, god of Laodicea is the god of the gospel of salvation who offers this cheap grace.
Am I saying the Jesus of the Bible is not full of love, grace, and mercy? By no means, but that is not where His sovereignty ends! That is not everything He is! The Bible describes Him as both Savior and Judge (John 5:22-23). He is both Lamb and Lion (Hos. 5:14, Rev. 5:5). He is both forgiver and commander (John 15:17, Matt. 28:20) of men’s souls. The Father, with whom Jesus is One, said He was the One forming light and creating darkness, and causing calamity as well as well-being (Isa. 45:7), and Jesus told the Jews who were rightly intimidated by the power of the Romans over the flesh, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28-29)! Our God is not only to be loved, He is to be feared.
God will not be confined to our convenient packages. It is a false perception, gained through growing up in the age of grace where we have not witnessed yet the Judge dispense justice and the Lion roar that this Jesus does not exist, and the reason we put Him into a box labeled “Love.” But the One who came to bring, be, and preach the gospel of the kingdom will fit in to no such definable boxes, for only idols hang out in boxes made of men. The God of the gospel of the kingdom who leads us in to transformation is multi-faceted in His being and all-powerful in every way, and is therefore far greater than the god of salvation’s gospel who leads us into passivity and can be easily defined as “love.”
The gospel of salvation preaches a convenient, passive grace and a lesser god who is really no god at all, but an idol who bows to our desire to lead less than holy, fruitful lives. The gospel of the kingdom preaches a grace full of power: active, motivating, and brought through the indwelling of the Spirit who demands transformation. This is all made possible through the suffering of a Jesus who is both Lion and Lamb, and Judge and Savior. But make no mistake, the Lamb is about to lay down and the Lion is preparing to roar! The Savior is about to hand His gavel to the Judge, and the door to grace will slam shut. I pray enjoy fully the Lamb and Savior, but do not fail to give to the Lion and Judge the fear due them. Lay aside the gospel of salvation and embrace the gospel of the kingdom today while there is still time. It’s a better gospel and a far, far more awesome God!