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Ten common misconceptions about grace


'Isn't it wonderful that we're now under grace?' they enthuse.

'Sure is,' you say.

And then they explain what they mean by 'grace' and you wonder what it is they've really found themselves 'under'.

Here are 10 common misconceptions.

1. Wahey!  Isn't it great that God has lowered the bar?  He used to care about loads of stuff.  Now it's just a few things.  You know, important stuff.  We don't sweat the small stuff anymore.  Just the big stuff.  Yay.

2.  Hurrah!  Now we obey God out of gratitude for what He's done, which is an entirely new concept.  Thank God we're free from the law, which obviously was only ever about stoic duty and nothing to do with gratitude for past salvation (Ex 20:2).  Now that we've got gratitude it means all legalism is a thing of the past.  So long as we're grateful.  Properly grateful mind you.  Grateful enough to empower a whole heap of obedience.

3.  Phew - now we don't have to get hung up about the laws of the land.  So don't you dare ask me to pay my parking ticket - you legalist!

4. Isn't it great - it's not about duty-bound works, it's all about love.  Of course the law had nothing to do with love.  Nasty law.  Now, as long as we stress love we're avoiding all forms of legalism.  Speaking of which - what is your love-meter reading today?

5. Grace is about treading that tight-rope between legalism and licence.  It's getting the balance just right between celebrating our freedom and not indulging it too much.  Cos, you know, we're forgiven, but let's not go crazy.  Let's live in grace which is the safe middle-ground between moralism and immorality.

6. God used to be fierce and judgemental now He's chilled and sweet.

7. God used to be about pragmatics, now He's just into dogmatics.  He used to be interested in deeds, now He's interested in creeds.

8.  Legalism is all about obeying the law in my own strength.  Grace is about obeying the law in God's strength.  Grace is the fuel for my car.  It keeps me going towards the destination.  It's a heck of a long drive but, Praise Jesus, there's fuel in the tank.

9.  Discipleship used to be important but now it's about grace.  Which means... you know.  Not really discipleship.  More... you know... grace.

10. It used to be about my works.  But now it's about my faith.

No, non, niet, nein!

In the flesh it was about your work.  In the Spirit it's about Christ's work.  That's the difference.  Not so much "works versus faith" as "you versus Christ".  It's His work.  His redemption.  His Person in Whom all the promises of God are yes and all the laws of God are fulfilled.   He defines the realm of grace.  Not abstract qualities like gratitude or lovingness or certain mental states - all of which might be worked up apart from Jesus.  Neither is it about God's own disposition softening in His old age.  And neither is it about the absence of certain obligations, from the state or Scripture or conscience or Christ or wherever.

It's about the kingdom of the Beloved Son in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and over to which we have been delivered apart from any merit of our own (Colossians 1:13-14).   It's the position we find ourselves in - sealed by the Spirit into Christ, hidden in Him at the Father's right hand - lavished with mercy and honour and kindness, our old man crucified and put away, His Spirit put within us.  A new realm, a new Master, a new Power, a new freedom, a new destiny and we've done nothing to deserve it.  And it's all real and it all holds true not by my own workings but by the Almighty Father's, who raised Jesus from the dead and raised me up with Him.

Grace is not like a new and improved religious programme that's a bit nicer, a bit less draconian - less duty, more love and groovy vibes.  Grace is the blood, sweat and tears of Jesus expended on your behalf while you do nothing but cause His death.  It's the mighty resurrection of Christ in which you are swept up to glory entirely apart from your own efforts and merits.  Grace is where you find yourself - in Christ - and you're in Him not because but in spite of yourself.  Now compare with the 10 misconceptions above.

How do we get it so wrong?

Perhaps my favourite verse:

I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20)

I don't know any better way of explaining biblical grace than the David and Goliath story - here's an older post on it. Or just click the grace tag for more.

Which of those 10 misconceptions do you hear most commonly?  Any more to add?


13 thoughts on “Ten common misconceptions about grace

  1. Dave K

    Number 6 I think.

    Great post. Striking thing about all 10 was the lack of mention of Christ. When people talk a lot about grace but not the person and work of Christ then you know its not really grace.

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  4. Kirstin

    I wonder if a lot of those misconceptions come out of trying to answer the question 'what does it look like, practically, to live under grace?'. Asking about practical differences causes us to start defining grace in terms of differences in our behaviour/ how our behaviour relates to God's standards of righteousness.

    Here you're talking about grace 'perfect tense': (God's) past action with present effect, our status before God in Christ, which is really important to get right. Otherwise we get a cart-before-the-horses situation. But I think the practical outworking question is still a valid one, once the horses are firmly in front. It's something some of my non-Christian friends have been asking me recently, and I found myself struggling to articulate it well. Any ideas?

  5. Glen

    Hi Kirstin,
    That's a key question and it's very easy to answer it legalistically! The fruit of the Spirit can always be prescribed as law - and so often are in Galatians 5 sermons!!

    I think the dominant note of a Christian under grace will be *freedom*. I don't have to scramble up onto my holiness perch, I don't need to be worried about who will knock me off, I don't need to judge others to make myself feel better, I don't need to perform to feel better, I'm confident in Christ.

    It's great your friends are asking you about this! Don't assume the gospel in your responses (we mustn't assume it in speaking with Christians, how much more do we need to be explicit when evangelising!). But perhaps practically speak of how your unbreakable union with Christ makes a difference to how you approach - fill in the blank - (a bullying boss, relationship disappointment, temptations to workaholism, financial insecurity, health scares, bereavement, etc, etc). A helpful teaching aid is always to contrast with the alternative. So what would it look like if you tried to tackle the issue from a performance-based mentality? How does being "hidden in Christ" make a difference?

    Is that close to what you're asking?

  6. Kirstin

    I think what you've said is very helpful when talking about how I behave 'horizontally' - I don't need to prove I'm better than others etc. because I'm safe and confident in my acceptance before God. My friends' questions have more been related to how Christianity can avoid producing license. They say 'if all your sins are paid for and you don't have to do anything to be accepted by God then why would you ever do anything good?'. I think this comes down to me not being able to explain the gospel well, really. I've been thinking about how to do it better and tried to explain it like marriage - there's something about a personal relationship and belonging to someone that means you're no longer your own. I've found it really hard once I've started going down the Lordship of Christ route not to end up just saying that in the end what saves us is obeying Jesus. Does that make sense? I feel like I'm explaining it from two different ends and can't quite make it match up in the middle for them. And they're quite fairly confused...

  7. Glen

    Marriage is exactly the right analogy to use. Your spouse unconditionally gives themselves to you, for free and forever. Does that mean you think "Woohoo now I can cheat on them with impugnity!"? Not if you've understood the relationship. The more your spouse loves you unconditionally the more you *want* to belong to them. Actually it's conditional love that embitters you and makes you want to cheat.

    The people who love me unconditionally have my heart. And that means they get my time/energy/resources too. But all that other stuff flows from the heart.

    If there was a god who wanted stuff from me - obedience or something - then they could set up a system of rewards and penalties. Maybe I'd buy into the system, and maybe I'd produce the goods. But that god would never have my heart. I'd only end up hating him/her/it. Jesus wants our hearts and so He loves us first and gives Himself to us unconditionally (this is the meaning of grace). Faith is receiving Him. And in the security of that marital union, my heart is won and the obedience etc comes out as fruit.

    You mention "Lordship". One of the key Old Testament terms for "Lord" is also a word for "Husband." That's the kind of Lordship we preach.

  8. Glen

    Hi Nicolai,
    Number 5 is probably the one I hear most from evangelicals. It's this sensible "middle ground" where you're free but you're not *that* free. And it's preached as though, *obviously* if people took grace alone to its logical conclusion they'd be wanting to sin all the time, so we need to balance the teaching with stuff about wanting to honour the Lord who's saved you etc.

    'Grace alone' gets a mention but the preacher is so keen to avoid the appearance of 'licence' that he fences it around with a hundred caveats.

    But the truth of the matter is this: when it comes to salvation, grace is not held in tension with obedience/faithfulness/works. It is "apart from" such works. Faithful discipleship does not occur in the middle ground between God's mercy and our labours - it occurs on the far side of a radical gospel of grace alone.

    Does that tease out what I mean a bit more?

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    15What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

    16Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

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