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!