Many Christians have lost their way by embracing “hyper grace”, which is really half grace – it robs them of the power to become mature disciples and the confidence needed to go forth as ambassador’s of God’s full grace.
By full grace, I mean both the grace of His often unfathomable but always unmerited love and presence, and the grace of His often hard but always transforming truth and rule.
God’s unmerited love and His revealed truth are both gifts – which is what the Greek word for “grace” in the New Testament means – given by Him for our good.
We need both. In His providence, they are inseparably interrelated:
Because Christ loves us, He reveals His truths to us.
Because He is the embodiment of all truth, He loves us.
Maturity in Christ, then, means that the grace of His love and the grace of His truth must always go together – hand in hand. Too many forget this by wanting one but not the other, and quickly lose their way.
In the past, half-grace believers often pushed God’s truth without embracing or expressing His affirming love and presence – which resulted in legalism with no real transformation.
Today, however, the prevailing problem is that many want Christ’s loving presence and acceptance, but not His transforming truth and rule.
As I’ve watched and studied today’s various half-grace “movements”, the evidence seems clear that they are now trapped in a dilemma: By proclaiming the grace of God’s affirmation and presence, but not the grace of His truth and rule, they have failed to produce maturity. Nor have they effectively reached – or discipled – those they claim to love.
Like the graphic above suggests, half grace always results in a dilemma. Today, it is unable to affirm truth for fear of offending love. In the past, it was unable to love for fear of offending truth.
Both traps, however, spring from the same error: Seeing the grace of love and the grace of truth as conflicting.
Half-grace perspectives that neglect or deny propositional truth (i.e., statements of truth revealed in scripture which are universally valid, regardless of personal perspective or opinion) traditionally found their home in theologically liberal “mainline” denominations.
Now, however, they also are found in self-styled “beyond evangelical” circles, including the “emergent” church movement, “deeper life” movements, some segments of the organic church community, and the growing “grace” movement (whose proponents, I’ve seen, generally remain aloof from forming or committing to any local church).
Those who embrace today’s version of half grace rather than full grace have been deceived into thinking Christ’s propositional truths – His commands, revealed history, moral principles and clear Biblical precepts – must be laid aside (or even denied) in order to fully know Christ, or to love and reach those who don’t know Him.
Often, this is based on the mistaken belief that the “person of Christ”, as defined by their existential perception of Him (i.e., Jesus is only known through our subjective experiences and all else – including external propositional truths – are a distraction), is higher revelation than His written Word of scripture.
Other times, half grace is based on a mistaken understanding of what the New Testament calls the “law”, which it says we are no longer under.
Law and Morality
When Jesus and the New Testament refer to the “law”, that’s the specific Mosaic Code of the Old Covenant – which God entered into with Israel at Mount Sinai but then repealed at the Cross.
Christians clearly are no longer under the “law”, but God’s universal propositional truths revealed in scripture still stand eternal because they are rooted in His very character and nature, which transcend any specific legal code.
For example, one of the 616 provisions in the Mosaic Code required all Israelites to put a parapet (a fence-like structure) around their roofs. This made sense for their culture, because their roofs were flat and used as living spaces. Children would play on the roofs, and needed to be protected from falling off and hurting themselves.
Today, we are not obligated by scripture to put a parapet around our roofs because we are not under the Mosaic Code. In most cultures today, parapets also would make no sense because our roofs are sloped and can’t be used as gathering places.
However, is there a moral principle that underlies that specific Mosaic Code requirement?
If so, does that moral principle, which God revealed by grace in the Old Testament through the Mosaic law for our benefit, still apply today?
I think so.
In the case of parapets in the Mosaic Code, the underlying moral principle of universal relevance is this: Parents are obligated to take reasonable precautions to protect children from foreseeable harm.
Today, for example, that may mean putting a young child in a car safety seat – among other things. I think Jesus still wants us to protect children from foreseeable harm, because He loves children and wants us to be good parents.
Although He repealed the Mosaic Code, and certainly does not expect parapets around sloped roofs, His underlying moral principles have never been repealed because they come from, and reflect, the very character and nature of Christ.
Clearly, we are no longer under the specific 616 provisions of the Mosaic Code or justified by obedience to them (see John 1:17 & Rom. 3:20). On that, I hope we all agree.
But I know of no verse which excuses Christians of the general moral principles revealed throughout scripture or of Christ’s numerous specific commands found in the New Testament – many of which relate back to the Old Testament.
One of those commands, found in both the Old and the New Testament, is to “be holy for I am holy” (see, e.g., 1 Pet. 1:13-16). In fact, this is one of the most frequently found phrases in scripture, and is key, because it says His moral precepts and calls to obedience are rooted in His own character and nature – and thus stand eternal because His character and nature are eternal.
The Law – the Mosaic Code – has been repealed, but what Christ has revealed throughout scripture about His nature and character, and what He says in scripture it looks like to be “holy for I am holy”, have not been repealed.
Although Jesus makes it clear in the New Testament that our obedience doesn’t save us, He also is unequivocal: “If you love me, you will keep my commands“. He immediately follows that pronouncement, however, with the promise that the Father will send the Holy Spirit to help us do so (John 14:15-16).
This is important to understand. Otherwise, Christ’s commands, revealed history, moral principles and clear Biblical precepts become just like the old Mosaic Code: A dry set of obligations that frustrate and condemn us, rather transforming truths than liberate us.
Under the New Covenant, obedience to God’s propositional truths is a joyful expression – through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit – of our love for Jesus.
Jesus has given us in scripture the gift of His propositional truths as a revelation of Himself. He did this so we may know Him not just subjectively, but also objectively.
He doesn’t just stop with His propositional truths, however. We are now empowered through the Holy Spirit to want to be, and increasingly come to be, holy – just as He has revealed Himself through scripture to also be holy.
The problem with today’s version of half grace is that it ignores a fundamental principle: Although love brings us into Christ’s embrace, we become His disciples and are set free only by abiding in what He says – i.e., His truth.
In John 8:31-32, Jesus makes this very clear: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Let me repeat that: His “truth will set you free” – but only as we abide in His word and become His disciples.
To be clear, I think His word can be subjectively spoken to our hearts as He brings His liberating truth into our lives (see God Shows Up), but He also has spoken through His external Word of scripture – which holds plenary authority over all other revelation (see 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Today’s half grace, however, reduces God’s people to merely talking the talk – without external fruit. When we reject the liberating truth of all that Christ says, we are unable to walk the walk by actually helping real people find real freedom from real problems.
We can introduce folks to the Person of Christ – but if that means we cut them off from His propositional truths, we are only presenting a fractured Jesus.
We can introduce folks to the grace of Christ’s unmerited, accepting love – but if that means we cut them off from the grace of His transforming truths, we will leave them stuck in immaturity.
This is the tragedy of today’s half grace. It goes no further than the grace (gift) of God’s love and affirming presence, because it neglects – and sometimes explicitly rejects – the concurrent grace (gift) of His rule and transforming truth. As a result, there is little maturity or lasting external fruit.
Without embracing all that Christ says – both internally as He speaks to our hearts but also externally through His written Word of scripture – we will never fully become His disciples or find the freedom that only comes through His revealed truth. Nor will we be able to lead others into discipleship and freedom.
Those who profess the liberation of half grace are, in fact, in bondage to it. They have perverted Christ’s affirming grace of love by turning it into an excuse to ignore His transforming grace of truth.
I don’t think it’s an accident that many half-grace believers, therefore, remain autonomous Christians without real attachments to authentic community within the framework of real ekklesia (the Greek word in the New Testament for “church” – but which means much more than our traditional concept of church). Others try to form fellowships, but they are anemic, insular and short-lived.
They want the grace of love, which is the glue that binds us together in the Lord, but not the grace of truth, which provides the framework for growing up together in Him.
Freedom and Fulfillment
True grace is full grace: it accepts and affirms, while revealing, transforming and enabling.
Only full grace brings maturity, fruit and fellowship by embracing the love and presence of Christ, and the truth and authority of His external Word of scripture – as the Holy Spirit calls and enables us to become more and more transformed into who Christ created us to be, which is like Him.
There, and there alone, is freedom and fulfillment.