Why Preaching Grace Feels Dangerous

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How many preachers really preach God’s radical grace–and how many feel the need to qualify it?

Last Sunday I preached the first message in a series on Galatians.  Paul pulled no punches and I reflected that somewhat in my message.  So this morning I’ve woken up pondering this quote from Andy Stanley:

“The church, or I should say, church people, must quit adding the word “but” to the end of our sentences about grace. Grace plus is no longer grace. Grace minus is no longer grace. We are afraid people will abuse grace if presented in its purest form. We need not fear that, we should assume that. Religious people crucified grace personified. Of course grace will be abused. But grace is a powerful dynamic. Grace wins out in the end. It is not our responsibility to qualify it. It is our responsibility to proclaim it and model it.”

I wonder what proportion of gospel preachers really preach the radical message of God’s grace, and how many feel the need to qualify it and augment it and protect it?  How do we over-qualify grace?

1. We preach grace, but insist on human commitment and responsibility in our gospel preaching. 

It’s so easy to preach of God’s wonderful, amazing, life-transforming, gaze-transfixing, heart-captivating grace.  And then in the same breath speak of our need to make a personal commitment, to be diligent, to conform to standards, etc.  Either God’s grace is as good as we say it is, or it is lacking and needs human supply.

2. We preach grace, but quickly shift to focusing on our legal obligations as humans. 

Grace plus works is not grace.  Grace minus relational freedom and delight is not grace.  Grace with a good dose of law is not more, but less.  People might abuse grace?  Indeed, so let’s put more effort into communicating how good God’s grace is, rather than feeling obliged to supply qualifiers that are somehow meant to stop people gratuitously sinning in light of the message of the gospel.  When a heart is truly gripped by God’s grace, then it is truly free to live a life of love for God and others – will such preaching lead to licentiousness and abuse?   Certainly not as much as preaching law will lead to rebellion and the fruit of the flesh.

All that I say here applies to both evangelistic and to edificatory preaching.  If the text speaks of our response in some way, or offers guidance on the difference this gospel will make, then of course we must preach the text.  But let’s not automatically feel the need to over qualify and potentially lose the impact of the message if the inspired author didn’t add qualification.

Preaching grace is dangerous.  It is dangerous because unlike overqualified human-centred preaching, it might actually stir a heart to be captivated by the abundant grace of God and lead to radical transformation!

Peter Mead is involved in the leadership team of a church plant in the UK. He serves as director of Cor Deo—an innovative mentored ministry training program—and has a wider ministry preaching and training preachers. He also blogs often at BiblicalPreaching.net and recently authored Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014).

More from Peter Mead or visit Peter at http://biblicalpreaching.net

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  • Jed

    God, by His grace, forgave mankind it’s sins when Jesus shed His atoning blood for us.  But remember “should we sin more so grace abounds? God forbid!”  Romans 6.1, and “sin is transgression of God’s law” 1st John 3.4

    • Robin

      Yes, Jed …sin is transgression of Gods law…and none of us can keep from sin without Grace. Grace is a person. His name is Jesus. With his own blood he forever paid the price and now I am no longer a slave to sin or under the law. I’ve been transformed, not by works but by faith in Jesus and his finished work on the cross. I have been made clean.

      • Mo

        Hi Robin
        May you please explain why you say Grace is a person. His name is Jesus. I have not been able to come across such a passage in scripture.

        • Kirsty C

          He said “grace personified”. Jesus came and through his own birth, life, death and resurrection brought us grace. Through Jesus we see what grace looks like. Therefore, you cannot separate grace from who Jesus is. It’s not quite a matter of finding this as a quote in the Bible, but you must agree without Jesus there would be no grace?

          • S Davis

            Yes you can..it just his Attribute, just like he’s is the Judge of the Church read revelation and the 7 Churches, the Grace message in that was Repent or be Destroyed!

  • http://www.facebook.com/wendie.carwise.5 Wendie Carwise

    I don’t think that presenting the truth of grace in the same manner that Jesus did would be qualifying it, but presenting the whole counsel of God’s Word. Yes we are justified and redeemed from the curse of the law fully by grace and apart from any works of righteousnesswe bring to the table being considered. Our righteousness apart from the Holy Spirit is as filthy rags, so we can only “come as we are” and accept Christ’s substitutionary perfection before God and death on our behalf. That’s wonderful Good News. The Good News is NOT: “nothing else matters but my profession of faith”. Clearly, Jesus nor the Apostles ever taught that, but it seems to be the “message of grace” as it is taught in this present age. Grace is given as God’s gift not only to redeem and justify, but also to empower us to do what we could not do in out own strength–become holy unto salvation. Grace also inspires us to be responsive, diligent and obedient (i.e. to be faithful). Grace causes us to be convicted when we sin, to repent when we fail and to return to the path of life should we backslide.

    Yes, Jesus IS Grace AND Truth Personified, therefore He is able to “save to the uttermost” those who truly belong to Him beyond their profession! If the profession is real, so will the transformation be real. And if the transformation is real but the person is unclear about their responsibility to be responsive to the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, then God’s intervening grace (working through the agency of His Word and Spirit) will also make that clear to them.

    It also occurs to me that at the beginning of His teaching those who came to Him and began following, Jesus preached committment saying that if we do not prioritize our closest relationships, our own lives, and our temporal acquirements as being less valuable to us than Him AND pick up our personal crosses of suffering and follow after Him, then we were not worthy of Him and could not be His true disciples. He suggested that a person with wisdom usually counts the cost before embarking on course of action that requires a completion. JESUS said that. Was He qualifying grace? I don’t believe so. I think He was giving a picture of what grace looks like if it is genuine.

    Jesus also said that HIS sheep will hear His voice and they will FOLLOW. That was a declarative statement, not wishful thinking. He did not suggest that His sheep will not accept or recognize His truth, will stand in one place distracted by thr world and unmotivated to follow, or ignore His call and go away in the oppositie direction saying, “I am still His sheep because of the wonderful fullness and completeness of grace”. That is not the message of the Gospel and will never be no matter how eloquent and benevolent sounding the “let’s only talk about grace” teachers sound.

    Scripture is clear that not everyone should aspire to be teachers because they will receive the greater judgement. So those who feel so called should be certain that even in revealing the wonderful gift of God’s grace, they still are teaching it in relation to the whole counsel of NT revelation and in agreement with what our Lord and Savior actually taught.

  • Dan Keough

    Do Ananias and Sapphira have the same view of grace?

  • Wayne Felton II

    I find that the “grace is a person” language is used to condemn anyone who questions the Biblical validity of the message, because then your speaking against Jesus. Grace is not a person, grace is not God. No where in the Bible is grace described as person. It is a gift from God. That’s like if I gave someone an iPhone and they said “this is Wayne personified”. No it’s a gift. Further that favor got us saved but the NT tells us over and again, now that we’re saved stop sinning, chasten your body, flee sin, be obedient. Everything in God requires our whole hearted response. Even Jesus preached showing your love by keeping His commandments. So what this article is describing is not Gods grace it’s a separate religion where grace is god.

  • Philip Broesamle

    Wow! The reactions against this post are astonishing! It is interesting to note that it was the deeply religious-scripture touting leaders that were the biggest enemies of Jesus. “Only God can forgive sin.” They proclaimed. People want to believe that they can somehow earn grace and quote the book of James “Faith without works is dead” It could also be said that works without faith is dead. By the way Grace is not a gift if understood from the penal substitution theory. Dogma, doctrine and theology is destroying what Jesus stood for.

    • johnny_j

      “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Eph 5:3-5)

      Grace is amazing. But to use the grace card with no true change of lifestyle is no grace at all. It is worshiping something other than the Christ who died for us.

      • Philip Broesamle

        Thank you for your thoughtful comments… I will agree to disagree. I understand your point of view. If grace is fully understood there will indeed be a change in lifestyle and fruit will be produced.

        • johnny_j

          Based on this, we don’t disagree. If you truly believe what you said,”If grace is fully understood there will indeed be a change in lifestyle and fruit will be produced”, then we are saying the same thing. Maybe the only difference is I believe that those fruits are given to us in scripture which is the only moral compass we can follow, not the relative morality of the world.

  • johnny_j

    Once again, someone taking the gospel message and only preaching half of it. Do you know what a half-truth is? A lie. You can not preach without also preaching holiness. The two can not be separated. stop cherry picking scripture. Salvation is not just faith in Jesus Christ, it is also repentance. A TURNING. Saying that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior with no fruit of a life change is proof that you haven’t made Him your Lord and Savior and surrendered your life – died to your old self. Paul speaks of grace yes. But there are plenty of other times that Paul also made it clear that this grace would cause a change in life. A change that looks different to the culture around us! Stop leading people down the wide path to hell with a half truth message. This message that too many use as a crutch to continue in their sinful life style all in the name of the god of grace.

    • Dakota373

      Your post has an air of judgement to it. You are exactly right of course, repentance from sin is necessary, we cannot be cavalier about the death our Lord suffered for our sin, and yet, I sin every day in so many ways, I cannot count them, so I repent, and go through the cycle again, over and over. Sometimes I conquer a sinful behavior, sometimes I backslide, each time I am repentant, and forgiven. Every day I ask forgiveness for sin I don’t even know I have done, because I know my very nature is sinful. So, would you say that I am forgiven because I am repentant? I do not believe you would, I am forgiven because I believe in Jesus, invited Him into my heart, gave him lordship of my life, and have renounced every other authority in my life, even myself. A non-believer is not in the same circumstance as me, there is no belief, no confession of Jesus as Lord, no understanding of the depth of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. I am called to preach Jesus, to plant a seed, to bring the non-believer to Christ and ask them to trust the Love of their creator. I follow my Lord in this, I speak lovingly, kindly, with grace. I do not condemn or ask for repentance from sin. It is the work of the Holy Spirit as you have correctly identified above to cause the change in the life of the new believer. If a new believer accepts Jesus as Lord, renounces himself, they will be repentant, but many will not accept the change, will not give total control of their life to a God this fallen world denies in a million ways, but they have been given free will, and it is their decision from that point on. The men of this world will not win, their destruction is foretold, there is no escape, Gods will be done. Read it in the Bible, every word is truth. I can not argue them to salvation, I cannot out smart them, or prove my point so well they are miraculously saved, no, I can only lead them to Jesus, after that it is their decision, and I shake the dust from my feet if they choose this world over Jesus. I left my church because the people in my church thought they could decide what sin is, no, they cannot, God is in control, everything seen and unseen is His work, and His law will stand forever. So choose, choose Jesus, and give yourself over to Him, or not. I will not judge you, I will be there if you want to talk to me about faith in a creator God and Jesus Christ His son that died for you. But if you walk away from Jesus, I will not pursue you, I wish you well.