Category: Gospel

When Grace isn’t Hyper

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WARNING! Hyper-grace makes Christians lazy. Hyper-grace leads to Christians-gone-wild living. Hyper-grace gives Christians license to sin.

What is hyper-grace?  Hyper-grace is too much grace.  Hyper-grace is excessive grace. Grace is good, but too much grace is a problem.  Grace needs to be balanced; all in moderation.


But, think about it, isn’t the nature of God’s grace hyper?


For instance:
• The thing about God the Creator coming to earth as one of His creations seems a bit much.
• Or the one about God loving us in spite of our rebellion and our lack of desire for Him seems over-the-top.
• Or the one about sinless Jesus becoming sin for us and hanging on the cross as a cursed man seems out of control.
• Then there’s our receiving God’s absolution and Christ’s righteousness by no effort or contribution of our own – crazy!
• Or the thing that all is finished and that by God’s grace we are justified and sanctified seems overboard.
• Or what about the stuff about resurrection?  That Jesus’ Resurrection is a precursor to our resurrection is totally extreme.


The point being, why would we want grace to be anything other than hyper?


So, what happens when grace isn’t hyper?

Here are some thoughts:

When grace isn’t hyper God’s Law is softened and reduced to exhortations and principles that are keys to unlock God’s favor on your life.

People are left with the impression that God’s Law is a set of life hacks rather than God’s exacting standard of perfection that he requires from everyone.  In other words, if God’s Law is life principles, then God’s grace doesn’t need to be hyper.  Jesus didn’t need to die to get you to the next level in your life; many are excelling in life without God.

But when grace is hyper, God’s Law is held in its rightful place as God’s righteous standard we are required to meet 100%, 24/7. In turn, we see our failure to live up to the standard (close doesn’t count). But when we see God’s excessive grace toward us in spite of our sin, His kindness leads us to repentance.  We trust in  Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Law for us, we trust in the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness to us, and we trust that God’s love and presence is forever with us.


When grace isn’t hyper God’s Law becomes a pathway to get and keep God rather than a guideway to enjoy God.

When grace isn’t hyper, it’s all on your obedience to God’s Law to get you to God.  So week after week people hear messages about how they can keep God’s love, remain in God’s favor, trigger God’s blessing, etc.  “Do this and you get more of God,” we are promised.  “God did his part, now He’s waiting for you to do your part,” we are exhorted.  “Look at all that God did for you, the least you could do is this,” we are guilted.

But when grace is hyper, we know that because of Christ’s obedience to God’s Law for us, we have God fully and completely – forever.  Now, in the confidence and security that we can never lose God, God’s Law becomes His gracious guidance that show us how we enjoy God and live to His glory.  Grace never gets rid of obedience, it empowers it.


When grace isn’t hyper we become insecure and selfish.

Confronted every Sunday with the weight of biblical commands, imperatives, and exhortations as a way to keep God in their lives, people are left wondering if their obedience is good enough.  This insecurity leads to selfishness because when left wondering if their obedience is enough for God, there’s no way to truly worship God and serve others; the person’s focus will always be on himself, either in despair or self-righteousness.

But when grace is hyper, we rest in confident assurance that Christ’s obedience on our behalf was good enough for God.  Now our good works are no longer about us; they truly become about others.  But if I’m loving you because I want to keep God’s favor in my life, then I’m loving you for me.


When grace isn’t hyper we confuse evangelism with pragmatism.

Instead of proclaiming good news, we proclaim good suggestions.  As alluded to above, sermons become life hacks and inspirational teachings that tell you how to get to the next level in your life.  Jesus is mentioned and Scripture is quoted, but they are only there as helpmates to give you a leg-up in life.  No doubt, these are practical and good suggestions.  Heck, you don’t even need to be a Christian to follow them.

But when grace is hyper, we realize we don’t need good suggestions, we need good news.  We realize our biggest problem isn’t finding our destiny, it’s our sin that got us death. We crave the announcement of good news that there’s nothing we did to get God’s love, and there’s nothing we can do to lose God’s love.  We gather every Sunday, not to learn anything new, but to be nourished once again with the ancient gospel of grace.  When grace is hyper, one can’t help but to be evangelistic.

Thank God His grace is hyper because my sin needs His grace to be hyper.

Thank God His grace abounds toward me like a tidal wave rather than a trickle.

Thank God His grace is a hurricane rather than a wisp of air.

Thank God His grace is excessive, over the top, crazy, overboard, and extreme.

Thank God His grace is never less than hyper.

This is Good News!

 

God isn’t a Blackjack Dealer

Rainman Blackjack

One of my favorite scenes in the movie Rain Man is when Ray (Rain Man) and his brother, Charlie, go to Vegas and win big at the blackjack table.  Ray’s mathematical genius, trapped in an autistic mind, is able to count a seven-deck chute and accurately calculate his odds of hitting 21, or busting.  In the movie, they hit often, and they hit big.

Without getting into the nuances of the game, blackjack is fairly simple: if your cards total 21 you win, if your cards exceed 21 you’re bust.  Of course, hitting 21 means you win money; busting means you lose money.

It occurred to me that Christians often see God as a blackjack dealer.  We see God as having a big stack of love and favor – like casino chips – that he distributes when we hit 21. For example, we hit 21 if we do certain things like have devotions, go to a small group, invite a friend to church, resist temptation, help someone in need, etc.  And like a casino dealer, God is compelled to give us his love and favor chips because that’s the rules of the game.

Now, I realize that we don’t view God’s love in a purely transactional way, i.e. we do, he gives. I think most would agree that God loves us unconditionally, at least in the beginning.  However, there is a sense that if we play our cards right, God bestows on us more love and favor.  In other words, we say, “of course God loves us, but there’s more to be had.”

But then if God is giving out love and favor chips when we hit 21, then the opposite must be true also.  When we bust and don’t do the things that get us to 21, then God takes back his chips.   It’s not that God now hates us, it’s just that God doesn’t love us as much as he could.  God is more so tolerating us like an annoying friend or co-worker.

The problem with “blackjack” theology is it confuses the means of God’s grace with the evidence of God’s grace.  “Blackjack” theology makes the evidence the means.

This leads us to believe that our obedience gets us God’s love, and keeps us in God’s love (we hit 21).  Therefore, the opposite must also be true: our disobedience causes us to lose God’s love (we go bust).  You see, we make the evidence (our obedience) the means, or the way, we get and keep God’s love.

“Blackjack” theology turns the gospel upside down, or puts the cart before the horse.  The gospel tells us that God loves us. Period.  Full stop.  The gospel tells us that there is nothing that we did to initiate God’s love for us, and that there is nothing we can do to remove God’s love from us.

To demonstrate this love, God the Father sends God the Son to die, not for repentant people, not for obedient people, not for sorrowful people, but for sinful people (Romans 5:8).  And since this was God’s rescue plan before time began, we have a deep assurance that God won’t back off of his plan as soon as we go bust.

It’s good news that God’s abiding love isn’t dependent on my obedience.  God’s love abides in me and is perfected in me, not because I obey, but because I am united by faith to the One who obeyed perfectly for me.

That God’s love is perfect in me means it is complete, 100% in effect.  It means there are no more chips to be won because they were won for me at the cross.

This also means we can live to the glory of God who loved us before time began.  We can love God and neighbor, not as a means for God’s love, but as evidence of God’s love.

Further, we can rest and abide in God’s love because his abiding love won’t pick up and go the moment we have a bad week.  No, the love of God that got you, is the same love that keeps you, and holds on to you, and is with you.  Right now. And forever.

Period.  Full stop.

 

My thoughts on Tullian

This past Sunday Tullian Tchividjian confessed to having an affair.  You can read about it here.  I follow Tullian pretty closely.  I read his books, listen to his podcasts, and went to his Liberate conference in 2014.  (Liberate is now closed.)  Here are some thoughts about the situation:

  • My concern is this situation gives the message of grace a black-eye.  It’s not that grace becomes less beautiful, but this gives people more ammunition to say that too much grace leads to debauchery; that speaking about grace too much gives people license to sin, with Tullian serving as the most recent example.  Grace already sounds like a foreign language to us (Swedish?), and this situation doesn’t help.
  • However, I can’t help but think that this situation helps the message of grace.  The brilliant beauty of the Good News of grace is best seen against the black backdrop of our sin.  The best way to see a diamond is to see it against the jeweler’s dark material.  What Tullian did was sinful and he has hurt many, many people, but because of the Gospel of grace, this doesn’t change one degree of God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness of Tullian.  I think this situation doesn’t tarnish grace, but actually brilliantly displays grace.  Tullian has always said that grace runs downhill and meets you at the bottom.  Well, here he is, at the bottom.
  • I’d still go to the 2016 Liberate conference if it didn’t shut down.  I like to listen to Tullian, but I’d go fully knowing that Tullian will be out of the pulpit, probably forever.  I’d go because it’s about the Man who the message is about, not about the man giving the message.  In spite of Tullian, the Good News of grace still stands. What Tullian did has nothing to do with the message of grace, and has everything to do with the sin in his heart.
  • The nature of grace is wild, untamed, even dangerous.  Grace always flows to the wrong people like hookers, and addicts, and half-breeds, and slutty women, and lame guys.  My fear is preachers (and I am one) will try to tame grace, to put grace on a leash.  Preachers will say, “Yes, grace, BUT…” Grace’s wings will be clipped with a 1000 qualifiers.  “Yes, grace, but you have to do your part.”  “Yes, grace, but keep up your end of the deal.”  “Yes, grace, but do what it takes to transform.”  Nervous pastors will always need to keep grace in a cage otherwise they lose a sense of control and manageability over their congregations, and ultimately themselves.  Rule-keeping gives you a sense that you’re pulling it off and that God is grateful that he didn’t waste his grace on you.  But in reality, grace threatens moral superiority because grace tells you that you’re just like — Tullian (gasp!).  The Gospel of grace first knocks you on your back and exposes you for who you really are, but let’s not go there.  God forbid that we actually see the “first Adam” in us, always trying to cover our shame with the external fig leaves of good works.
  • What about obedience?  I think we mistakenly connect grace with obedience like connecting eating ice cream and wearing shoes, or going swimming and scratching your elbow – one has nothing to do with the other.  The grace of God we have through faith in Christ has nothing to do with our obedience; it has nothing to do with us, period.  But you don’t throw out obedience like you don’t stop wearing shoes or scratching your itch.  Because of grace we can actually hold obedience in its proper place.  Because grace has nothing to do with our obedience, we can now obey, not for God’s sake, but for the sake of others and ourselves.  Stop trying to prove yourself to God and to others.  Believe  and rest in the obedience of Christ.  Know that in your feeble attempts at obedience, God looks at you in Christ and says, “That’s my kid!!”  And know that in your fantastic failure to even come close to the obedience that God’s Law requires, God looks at you in Christ and says, “That’s my kid!!”

The Gospel Groove

rutsWhen I was in the 10th grade I was in a play called Thurber’s Carnival.  I had only one line, and in spite of rehearsing that one line over and over again, I still barely managed to say it.  If you asked me today I wouldn’t be able to tell you my line in spite of rehearsing for several months. In the same way, I forget the gospel.  Of course I don’t forget the basic truth of the gospel that Jesus died for my sin, but I do forget the gospel in many, many other ways.

For example:
• I forget the gospel when on a scale of 1-10 (10 high) I believe that God loves me less than a 10 because I fail at a consistent devotional life, and I forget that God’s acceptance of me is not based on my devotion to Him, but on Jesus’ devotion to obey the Father, even to die on the cross.
• I forget the gospel when I feel I need to make up my shortcomings to God, and I don’t remember that Jesus gives me his perfect record as my own.
• I forget the gospel when I feel crushed that my church isn’t as big as the church down the street, and I forget that God doesn’t measure me by the size of the church but by the success of Christ’s finished work for me.
• I forget the gospel when I feel bitter toward people who have offended me and owe me an apology that’s never coming, and I forget that every selfish, sinful act of mine is a deep offense against God. Yet, he forgives me not because I was the most sorrowful, but because He is the most graceful.
• I forget the gospel when I look to success, approval, sensuality, food, etc. to satisfy me, and I forget that God has given me the only thing that can truly satisfy me – Himself.
• I forget the gospel when I present my “resume” to God and others so they will like me, and I forget that the only resume that counts is Jesus’, and He puts my name on His resume.

Therefore, our attempt at a rehearsal of the gospel every Sunday is because it’s so easy to forget.  At GBCK we want to develop deep grooves of the gospel in our soul.  The songs, the sermon, and the sacraments serve to put the gospel on repeat in our minds and our hearts.  They serve to retell the gospel drama in all its parts.

The singing, the preaching, and the observing of the sacraments heal us from gospel amnesia and returns us to our true source of joy, peace, and contentment.  May we never try to escape the groove of the gospel, but may we ask the Spirit to continually etch the gospel on our hearts.

Transformed Worship

blue-worship-hand2-1Over the years in Christian ministry I’ve often heard that we need to teach people how to worship.  I interpret this to mean that we need to teach people a way to show worship. Depending on your church tradition, you can show worship by standing, sitting, clapping, eyes opened or closed, dancing, staying still, loud singing, reflective singing, hands and arms raised, folded, clasped, shaking, etc.  Over time I’ve come to understand that you can’t teach people to worship because we are born worshippers; we will worship something.  Our hearts are wired to proclaim that something or that someone has our ultimate affection, and without it we will die.  The problem with worship isn’t how we worship, it’s what we worship.  Paul says in Romans that we sinful humans “exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…”

So the aim isn’t to teach people how to worship, the aim is to point ourselves and others to a new object of worship, who is Jesus. Paul prays in Ephesians 1 that the eyes of our heart be opened so we can see the beauty of God’s work in Jesus to rescue the rebellious by forgiving sin and imputing righteousness.  God’s rescue clears the way for us to receive the ultimate, most satisfying gift – God himself.

As this good news washes over us again and again, our heart’s affection begins to change.  After a while, we begin to see the emptiness of the things we worshipped, we see that rust and moth will eventually have their way with our “idols” which will end up in either a landfill, or a grave.  Ultimately, our worship isn’t learned, it’s transformed.