The message of grace has been a sweeping movement in the Christian world and is gaining traction. No matter what background a person happens to come from, it is shaking things up in a good and big way. Yet, recent scandal in the life of one of “graces” biggest proponents, Tullian Tchividjian, (former Senior Pastor of a Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church) has caused many skeptics to question the message’s validity.
While controversy may be difficult, it’s benefits may be many. One being that God often uses conflict as an opportunity to remove dross from the silver of our faith. I can’t think of a better place for the refinement of this type than in theology of God’s amazing grace. My sins, Tullian Tchividjian’s, or anyone else’s cannot effect where God allows the power of grace to reign. Taking inventory, however, will help us in the restoring process of grace to its original luster in terms of personal application.
First we must realize that the experience of true grace and the theology of it are two different things. Whereas, grace (or true experience of it) activates faith and can never be faulty, we might consider that perhaps the human theology (or interpretation) of it can actually inhibit faith and dull the sense of the divine.
Checking for faulty patterns
As fallible humans we have the age-old ability to appropriate any message as a means to justify our own consciences, and the message of grace is no exception. Here are three questions that we should ask ourselves to see if there is a faulty pattern developing in our own hearts.
- When we say things like—“I don’t need to work for God’s approval because Christ has earned it for me.” Is this an excuse not to do something that is difficult, yet spiritually beneficial?
- When we start using the words liberty, grace and freedom to an excessive degree, is it in order to feel better about living life the way we want to?
- Do we hide behind the idea that there is nothing left for us to do because it helps us feel secure about our current sin?
A faulty grasp on grace deactivates
The first part of all three questions is based on truth: Christ has earned our approval; we certainly have liberty, grace and freedom; there is nothing left for us to do to earn salvation. But once these truths turn to repetitious terms to excuse sin patterns or lifestyle indulgences it becomes faulty. If we are able to answer yes to any of these questions—we may be entering the dangerous territory of a theology devoid of the true enlivening power of grace.
The result will be evident: we start to become less inclined towards devotions; we begin to devalue making good and moral choices and ultimately, we experience a neutralizing effect on all faith-based activities, in that we don’t feel obligated to do anything that requires spiritual discipline. A faulty grasp of grace inhibits rather than activates.
If we see this trend in our life concerning the theology of grace, no sense of divine power, no responsibility, no consistent fruit, and no fear of the Lord, it is time to allow God to remove the dross. Dross can be found on deactivated faith.
True grace activates
For surely we know that the Word of God is active and alive. We also must remember that we are living in the great “I Am,” not the great “I did.” Our faith, as Tullian Tchividjian has many times asserted, is a very present and on going experience, activated by Christ’s words at the cross, “it is finished.” We are told in scripture that we are, indeed, a work in progress. If this were not so, the Scriptures would not instruct us to be obedient to the word, work out our salvation, and to fight the good fight of faith. Here is what the grace theology should do — it should activate!
Active grace breaks chains of legalism
Grace activates the liberating power of God that breaks chains of legalism and stale Christian ideologies that need to be crashed down. It should activate building in Him, which He does in us, in the expansion of the kingdom within and without.
Active grace grants enabling power
It is an activating union in that it breaks the hold of sin where we had previously been held its prisoner. There is the healing, restoration and of the ministry of reconciliation. We have new abilities that we had not had previously; all being activated by the promised helper. So when we are instructed in the scripture to do this or that, with His help, we are able. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Active grace conform us to the image of Christ
It is a mighty work that has been planned since the beginning that starts to unfold in our hearts as we become conformed more and more to his image and character. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Romans 8:29). Fruits of the Spirit start to flow through us as we walk in this activated union with the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23). It is the rebuking, encouraging, equipping of the saints and so much more. Grace activates.
Active grace catches us when we fall
Grace is actively present to catch me when I fall, and I will…we all will. What a comfort to know that controversy and varying opinions on grace (dross or no dross) will never change the fact the God’s amazing grace will be there when we need it the most.
“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience…” (1 Col 1:9, 10).
Paula Masters is the author of “Exceptional Bloom: Coming Alive After Fifty” and the founder of True Source Ministries, an online ministry to hurting women, found at tsmwomen.org as well as next-is-now.com an online online community group for women over fifty . She stays connected with her readers on her “Over Fifty And Fabulous” facebook page and online at OverFiftyandFab.com.