Facebook seems to be a hot bed for the new distorted view of “grace”.
The other day someone posted that through grace, God finds our sin acceptable. He thus no longer “deals” with sin in our lives – and we are free of sin – because it no long exists.
According to their “logic”, sin ceases to an issue in our lives because it ceases to be considered sin by God.
That neat theological sleight of hand was followed by lots of “likes” and “amens”.
To deny the reality of sin and its bondage – and to say God doesn’t deal with sin in our lives or that we are free of sin – is an abuse of grace.
The emphasis on grace, to the neglect of forgiveness and repentance in a believer’s life, is creating a very narcissistic Church – which has the appearance of Godliness, but denies its power. 2 Tim. 3:5.
The relationship between forgiveness, grace and repentance is not that complicated: Through the Cross, God forgives us. By grace, He offers us the benefits of His forgiveness. Through repentance, we receive His forgiveness and its benefits, as evidenced by our ongoing internal and external change into the person He created us to be.
Through grace, God offers forgiveness as a unilateral act of His sovereign will. It does not depend on us. However, short of repentance, we will never experience the benefits of His forgiveness – or His grace.
This process begins at salvation, but continues throughout the life of any believer who has truly surrendered to Christ’s Lordship and wants to become mature in Him.
To understand this, some basic concepts are needed.
Back to Basics
Forgiveness is the act of God letting go of His rights – and any associated wrath or dictates of justice – against me for having rebelled and sinned against Him. It is what He does.
By itself, however, forgiveness does not result in any actual change in me or a relationship with Him. Without repentance, it simply stops with God and is of no benefit to me.
Grace is God then offering His forgiveness, and its benefits, to me – the offending party – while also enabling me to respond with true repentance. I don’t deserve it, nor can I earn it.
It is a gift, freely offered because He decided – of His own accord – to let go of the things He legitimately had against me.
Repentance is my – the offending party’s – proper response to the grace He offers, by acknowledging my sin and guilt, accepting His forgiveness, and beginning to change both internally and externally as He gives me the faith to submit and put my trust in Him.
The problem, however, arises when folks abuse grace through a twisted view of sin and forgiveness, thus preventing true repentance and an authentic relationship with the Lord on His, rather than our own, terms.
When I forgive someone, it means I pardon them for an offense they committed against me. It does not mean that the wrong they committed was – or if repeated, will be – acceptable.
For example, someone who was abused as a child can forgive, without in any way saying what their abuser did was right. In fact, if we minimize or deny the wrong, we are in denial and we are not able to forgive. In such cases, we are avoiding the offense and its pain, rather than dealing with it.
Forgiveness, therefore, is never an excuse for saying some wrong was, or is, acceptable. If that were the case, there would be no need for forgiveness.
Likewise, God’s forgiveness is like a pardon. He says that even though we are guilty – and offended His dictates of justice – He will not hold it against us.
Whether we accept His forgiveness and its benefits, however, is an entirely different matter.
Just because someone is pardoned, that doesn’t mean they accept it or even that they will change their ways. They can choose to remain trapped in their sin and bondage, and also remain alienated from their forgiver.
Most of our fellowships are populated with new believers with very rough backgrounds.
When they accept Jesus as Lord, He often redeems them from significant sins and associate issues in their lives. But there are other issues that persist, which will need to be dealt with later – in God’s way and in His timing.
Intellectually and doctrinally, they accept the truth that God has fully forgiven. But sometimes their heart still carries the burden of, and remains in bondage to, particular sins.
Eventually, the Lord brings them to places where they have to fully embraced the grace of His forgiveness on particular issues by owning up to – and acknowledging – the stark reality of their associated sin (past and ongoing).
When they are willing to go to those places, and truly repent, they realized the full benefits of His pardon – not just in their head, but also in their heart.
As part of that process, we also have them explicitly cast upon the Lord – by releasing to Him – the associated bondage, hurts and guilt of those sins. Where their heart had been carrying hurt, shame and guilt, and their head had been believing internal lies (often about themselves) that were rooted in those sins, they then find freedom.
As they are willing to walk through the process of true repentance (in God’s timing) on issues that remain in their lives, the Lord takes their worst – as they own up to it and give it to Him.
In return, He gives them His best by instantly redeeming their internal beliefs and perspectives. That internal change then results in new attitudes and external behaviors.
With true repentance – confessing, asking for and accepting His pardon (which has been available since the Cross), and surrendering all our associated hurt and beliefs to Him – He immediately transforms what we think, believe and perceive.
Our sin-bound perspective is then replaced by His liberating truth, and grace becomes real.
How is this possible?
Forgiveness only takes one – the person offering forgiveness unilaterally decides to release the offense they are carrying by pardoning the offender.
The benefit is to the forgiver, because it frees them from the offense and weight of another’s sin.
God, when He chose to forgive us, could have stopped there. However, He took it further: By grace He now offers us the benefits of His forgiveness – restoration and an ongoing relationship with Him.
It’s the same with us. When we forgive others, it is an act that only involves us. But through it, we find freedom and grace. In our new-found freedom, we then can choose whether to seek restoration with our offender (although sometimes this may not be wise – for example, between a vulnerable person and habitually abusive person).
Whether our offender responds by repenting – changing their attitude and behavior – so that restoration occurs, however, is always their choice.
Unlike forgiveness, therefore, restoration and relationship takes two. Without repentance, and a resulting change in the offender’s attitude and behavior, there will never be a full, ongoing relationship even with forgiveness.
Sin and Pardon
When we understand that forgiveness is not saying sin is acceptable, but is a pardon, then grace makes more sense.
At the Cross, God let go of His rights and offense against us for the sins and wrongs we committed against Him.
He offered us a pardon – but never said our sins are acceptable. Instead, He released His right – as a God who’s very nature defines holiness – to have us pay for, satisfy the dictates of justice over, or make right the wrongs done against him.
God’s pardon doesn’t make our wrongs right – either with Him, or with anyone else. It simply means He offers, through grace, to no longer hold the offense of our sin against us.
Whether we accept the benefits of that pardon through repentance, however, and thus find the freedom of release, is a very different matter.
Only through repentance can we receive the full benefits of God’s forgiveness and grace.
Without true repentance, we are not able to have a true relationship with Him.
To say otherwise is to fall into gross deception, and to insist that God accept you on your terms, rather than His. This is the central problem with the new hyper-grace doctrine making the rounds these days.
In the original Greek language of the New Testament, repentance is “metanoia”. It means a change in the very way we believe, think and perceive so that the way we act also changes.
The Biblical concept of true repentance, unfortunately, seems to have been lost by many. It is rare to find churches any more that minister – in practical, hands-on ways – the liberating reality of true repentance.
In true repentance, I acknowledge my sin and accept the forgiveness that the Lord offers to me through grace. How I believe, think and perceive then changes – resulting in outward changes.
Without true repentance is there no true restoration or any authentic, ongoing relationship with Him – at least, in that area of unrepentant sin in my life.
Where there is true repentance, we are open and honest about our past sins, because we now having nothing to hide.
In my own life, even though I’ve known the Lord for nearly fifty years, I have to deal with sin and repent. I still need to have the Lord change how I believe, think and perceive – with a resulting change in my outward behavior.
When I do that, I allow Him to become Lord of my life in that area where sin and bondage had reigned. In that aspect of my life, I am restored to a proper relationship with Him.
He accepts me because I responded to His grace nearly fifty years ago by generally repenting and surrendering my life to Him.
He still accepts me today, despite my ongoing imperfection and sin. But He never excuses or accepts that sin. It is still wrong, and it still has consequences.
Rather, in His own timing, He brings me to places of specific repentance as He continues to transform me – little by little – into the man He created me to be.
I legally was pardoned – for all eternity – nearly fifty years ago when I genuinely surrendered my life to Jesus as my Lord.
The last fifty years, however, have been an ongoing, wonderful journey of accepting the benefits of His pardon – as I continue to submit to His transforming grace, through repentance, in areas of my life where sin or bondage may have still held sway and I needed to change.
As I repent and receive the full benefit of the forgiveness He offers through His ongoing grace, I come into a true relationship with Him in those aspects of my life where I had been living and acting on my own terms. As I repent, I also find the freedom to become – more and more – the man He created me to be.
Those in the so-called “grace movement” – who insist that our sin either doesn’t exist or somehow is now acceptable to God and thus deny the power of ongoing transformation through forgiveness and repentance in a believer’s life – have a distorted view of grace.
God’s grace calls me to Himself, and through faith alone I come and repent by acknowledging my sin and my guilt – thus receiving the benefits of His forgiveness.
Denying the reality of sin prevents true, ongoing repentance – which is critical to the process of God changing my sinful nature so that I become more and more the person He created me to be, both on the inside and on the outside.
My sin, however, never was – or if I continue in it, will never be – acceptable. He graciously offers me forgiveness. He does that without regard to my own merit. I don’t deserve it.
But only if I respond with repentance, which by its very definition in the Greek means real change – both internally and externally – can I have a healthy relationship with the Lord in those areas of my life where sin previously prevailed.
The Lord says He corrects and disciplines us, and that is an act of grace because it is an expression of His ongoing love for us.
Let’s stop rationalizing or denying sin – and the need for true repentance – by abusing grace.
- Hyper Grace – Part 1 (crossroadjunction.com)
- The Existential Cliff (crossroadjunction.com)
Jim, that was really good explanation. Thanks for putting that together.
I did a study on walking in the light as He is in the light based on 1 John 1, and part of what I found jives with what you are saying. : 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
A few highlights:
1. Walking in the light is walking in openness and honesty. Paul defines light as “everything that becomes visible” according to Eph 5:13. Darkness is defined as things hidden (Luke 8:17, Luke 12:2-3, Luke 3:20)
2. Walking in the light is walking in truth and obedience to the Lord (John 3:21, Eph 5:9-10, 1 John 1:6)
3. Our fellowship with God and with one another is hindered when we are walking in darkness.
4. Bringing our sin to the light through repentance and confessing the sin allows Christ’s blood to cleanse us from all sin and from all unrighteousness. To your point, we’ve been cleansed in eternity through Christ’s atonement. That is a completed work of Christ’s death on the Cross and our faith and baptism into his death and resurrection. However, John is saying that our lives in time (the temporal) are hindered by our sin that has not brought to the light and repented/confessed, and only when we repent and bring those to the light in the face of Christ and his truth can we receive cleansing in our lives now (in time, again not eternity). Our sin in the darkness weighs us down, impacts our soul and sometimes our body, and clogs up our heart and prevents Christ to fully dwell in our hearts through faith (note: we are one Spirit with Him, but we can choose how much of heart to give over to him).
I think those, like you, who are actually ministering to folks in functional local fellowships understand these issues, because we see them played out in real lives and real circumstances. We also see the actual power of true repentance as a response to God’s grace.
Excellent teaching – bold, as well.
I like simple definitions, like yours here: “The relationship between forgiveness, grace and repentance is not that complicated: Through the Cross, God forgives us. By grace, He offers us the benefits of His forgiveness. Through repentance, we receive His forgiveness and its benefits, as evidenced by our ongoing internal and external change into the person He created us to be.”
I especially like the words, “as evidenced by our ongoing internal and external change…” because narcissists are great with talking – excellent in manipulating emotions and mimicking repentance.
I really appreciate your site and your teaching, Jim and Marianne – thanks!
I currently see grace a bit differently than you outline here. Specifically, I believe that grace is offered by the Father willingly and independently of my actions one way or another. God’s grace depends only on Him and His promised willingness, not on any action I may or may not take.
That said, His grace does not negate the consequences of my imperfections, poor choices, and falling short. Except the vitally important consequence of separation from the Father and His favor towards me. He gives it. I can’t lose it, increase it, or decrease it by what I do or don’t do. This, to me, is the foundational essence of the Gospel.
Most of the teaching that I have experienced in my more than 50 years in the church responds to this with, “Yes, but…” Effectively arguing that I can increase or decrease God’s grace towards me. Scripture makes it clear, however, that it is not possible to do so. Instead, as I become more aware of the truth that it’s all God, Jesus did it, it’s done once and for all, I begin to change from that realization. Not in order to have grace, but to please the One who offers it infinitely and eternally–ironically pleasing Him by making choices that are better for me!
But–and this is critically important to me for some reason–I don’t change in order to activate grace, create it, accept it, or otherwise inculcate myself in the process of grace in my life. I can know it or not, accept it or not, act or not, but none of this action or inaction changes one iota of the Father’s grace towards me.
…and it is this truth that makes the Gospel so stunningly simple and difficult: we can do nothing to alter His grace towards us.
That doesn’t mean my falling short doesn’t exist. It doesn’t mean that I would serve myself and Creator God to a greater degree were I to align myself with His guidance. But doing so doesn’t cause a change in His grace. It does alter the consequences of my life, though.
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