This interview was in response to the question as to why people who have come out from ‘traditional’ churches find it so hard to ‘hear’ the message of grace, the message of the gospel, the almost too good to be true news even when it is presented to them every week.
Q: So why do you think people are not “hearing” this almost too good to be true news?
A: On reflecting on my own experience, I didn’t come to an understanding of God’s grace until around 5 years ago when I was given a CD with some of Andrew Wommack’s talks on it. Within minutes, the Spirit within me bore witness that what I was hearing was the truth and that this was the answer I had been looking for. My relationship with God and Jesus was not a relationship of peace, and I always felt it had something to do with my misunderstanding of what law and grace was. I remember that in the previous church I was in, the pastor, for a period of time, put out a suggestion box for talks we might like to hear. I put in a suggestion that I wanted to hear a talk on law and grace. The pastor did give the talk but it didn’t help me.
Q: If you thought your lack of peace related to not understanding grace, did you seek out further information?
A: Well, no! I didn’t search too widely for the answer to my situation because I thought the problem lay with me and not with the teaching I was receiving or my understanding of the Gospel message or Grace message in the Bible. Because I thought I understood the Gospel message, I concluded that the reason for my not experiencing the peace of God in my life was because I was just failing in my Christian life. And there precisely was the problem. It was not about my ability, or my failings. It was all about Jesus and His grace, His ability, His success, His free gift to me that covered my failings. . … So back to the question you asked before; I can now understand why people are missing the good news of the Gospel of grace. For me, it took hours and hours of listening to the message of grace to renew my mind and reverse the subtle legalistic teaching I had been sitting under. I guess I thought it took me such a long time to completely embrace the gospel of grace because I was just dense. I hadn’t thought (until now) that it was really that difficult for the normal person. But it appears that there are others who are struggling with the concepts of the grace message.
Q: So what do you think has gone wrong? Why are people not understanding the grace message of the Bible?
A: Well, I have given this a lot of thought. John 1:16-17 - Speaking of Jesus - 16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Everyone has heard the definition of grace as the unearned, undeserved favour of God. While the church may not teach the Mosaic Law, Christianity at large still has a law based way of seeking a relationship with God. Initial salvation may be taught graciously as the unearned, undeserved favour of God and goes something like this:- Jesus died to forgive you of all sin. There is nothing that you have done that Jesus won’t forgive you for. Come to Jesus, just as you are. But after you have accepted Jesus, the subtle or not so subtle message of the Church at large is:- Now you must overcome all sin, do works of righteousness and earn your salvation When we fail, which we invariably do, these failings are met with messages of legalism and condemnation from the Church at large. So... instead of resting in the forgiveness of God which was accomplished at the Cross of Jesus, we pick ourselves up, seek forgiveness and hope it has been granted, dust ourselves off and try to DO better next time.
Q: Surely we do need to act in a way which honours God? We would not be good ambassadors for Christ if we acted in a way that dishonoured God?
A: That’s absolutely true! But the difference lies in the motivation. In the NON-Grace, legalistic approach, good works or good behaviour is the goal for which we contend, strive and put in our best effort. The motive for doing good works is to make God happy with us. If our efforts are good enough, we can gain God’s approval or avoid God’s disapproval. That’s the legalistic, NON-Grace approach.
Q: And the Grace Approach?
A: Good behaviour and good works is not absent in the Grace Approach. Far from it! The motivation for doing good works is because God is already happy with us. We love God because he first loved us. We are assured that God loves and accepts us because He has withheld nothing and provided everything in the sacrifice of His Son. Through the finished work on the Cross, God’s love and forgiveness is graciously extended to us, independent of our own efforts or failings. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14:- It is the Love of Christ which constrains us. Because we are secure in the Love of God which envelops us, we love God back through our actions because it is our natural inclination and our very great pleasure to do so. This is confirmed in Titus when Paul points out that it is the grace of God that causes us to live a righteous and Godly life.
Titus 2:11-14 11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
So it is the Love and Grace of God that gives us the desire to live a Godly life. And there is the difference! Grace approach - We do good works and avoid sin - Because we love God who loved and accepted us first Legalistic approach – We do good works and avoid sin - Because we are trying to gain the love and acceptance of God.
Q: So we’ve mentioned the good works aspect! Everything seems to be going well for a while! Then we fall! What would be the Legalistic/NON-Grace approach?
A: The NON-Grace approach is: - To be right with God you have to DO the right thing and do not DO the wrong thing!! I have come to realise only recently that I wasn’t unique. There are a whole bunch of us who are just as spiritually dense as me. We have had a works based, law based way of relating to God.So when I failed, this is the way I used to think (and I’m still renewing my mind against it). I am now convinced that I am not the only one who thought this way. It goes something like this:
Oh God!I have Failed!AGAIN!WHAT is WRONG with me!
When a Christian (who is under the bondage of legalism) fails in some action/inaction, the legalistic/NON-Grace advice often is ‘throw yourself upon the mercy and grace of God and seek His forgiveness’. So I am now praying 'Oh God I am throwing myself upon your mercy, I am seeking your forgiveness. God I don’t know if you are going to forgive me this time?'
But this is what I am thinking (And now I am really hoping God isn’t listening to this bit)Here I am seeking God’s forgiveness! But if I was truly sorry and repentant I wouldn’t keep doing the wrong thing! And I do keep doing the wrong thing!Therefore I must not be truly repentant! I am really going to have to assume God doesn’t figure that one out! So I am going to put on a brave face and march on with renewed determination to DO the right thing the next time! Then I can prove to God that I am truly repentant because next time I am going to DO better
!Unless I am unique, that doesn’t work! We do continue to fail! When we continue to fail, we give up on ourselves. And there is a clue right there! We should be giving up on ourselves and relying on Jesus, but because our relationship with God is works based, law based and dependent on our good behaviour; our relationship with God suffers. Because we have given up on ourselves, we start heading to a place where we think God has given up on us. And there is the subtlety of the NON-Grace approach. Words like Grace and mercy are used but we have no assurance we have received grace and mercy because of our legalistic law-based thinking.
Q: Surely we fail whether we have a Grace or a Legalistic approach! How does the Grace message differ when it comes to dealing with our failings?
A: Christians living in the Grace of God do fail and fail plenty of times. BUT it’s the way we deal with our failings that is so radically different.