Posts Tagged ‘grace’

25th February
2011
written by Alden

“Christianity is not the move from vice to virtue, but rather the move from virtue to grace.”

~ Gerhard Forde

Thanks to Steve at The Old Adam Lives! for the quote.

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23rd February
2011
written by Alden

But Christians are not just recipients of forgiving grace; we are also called to be those who extend the grace of forgiveness to others.

From Brian Zahnd’s Unconditional?: The call of Jesus to radical forgiveness. Check out my review of the book at aldenswan.com.

22nd February
2011
written by Alden

Bono (of U2 fame) on grace:

I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

From an interview, a portion of which is reproduced here.

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11th February
2011
written by Alden

I really want you to read The Gospel Uncensored, and I’d like you to encourage other people to read it. Why? Because I really believe the Gospel will change lives and revitalize churches—as long as they’re not afraid to trust in God’s grace.

I’d also love to sell a million or so copies, but to be honest, that’s not why I published the book. I don’t know that I will ever earn enough from it to compensate for the time and expense that went into it, although it would certainly be nice. I really believe in its message, and I want you to read it. If I could afford to give you all a copy, I would. However, the best I can do is to let you download the free study guide and point you to the Amazon link in the sidebar, where you can buy it at a pretty good discount. I make less that way, but I’d rather have you read it than make a few extra cents.

 

The 70 Days of Grace Challenge

Because I’m convinced the book will change lives and revitalize churches, here’s my 70 Days of Grace Challenge: Just give me 70 days. That’s 10 weeks, or less than 1/5th of a year. Gather a group of 6 or 8 people, whether it’s the church board or a group of dedicated pew-sitters. If you’re really brave, get your whole church to do it. Get your discount books and the free Study Guide, and read through and discuss the book. Then, let me know how it went. If you want to try a more accelerated schedule, you can double up on the lessons and do it in 5 weeks.

70 days (or 35 days)—that’s all I ask.

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9th February
2011
written by Alden

I’m serious—some people will absolutely hate this book.

When Ken began preaching the sermon series that inspired The Gospel Uncensored, word spread. Soon, there were beaten-down and abused people everywhere. We had perhaps the most messed-up church in town, but only because that’s the kind of people the Gospel draws.

Many pastors hated it, because the Gospel is by nature subversive. Man-made constructs are no match for real truth—which is why many churches avoid the Gospel like the plague, opting instead for a sin-management approach. Pastors also hate to lose members; when people discover they’ve been abused or manipulated (or simply led astray), they either cause a bit stink, or they leave. Either way, it’s not good for church business.

The book should have the same effect.

 

Who will love this book

“A man must completely despair of himself in order to become fit to obtain the grace of Christ.” ~Martin Luther

The “messed-up” people of the world—those who know they are failures, who know they can’t measure up to any kind of religious standards—love the Gospel. It is music to their ears, and food for their souls. It was the ragamuffins who followed Jesus and clung to his every word. Peter put it this way: “Where else would we go? Only you have the words of life.”

It is for these people—among whom I count myself—this book was written. We not only love this gospel, we need it, desperately.

 

Who will hate the book

However, those who think they can work to achieve some measure of spiritual success—or even to earn their salvation—will hate the book. The gospel pulls the rug out from under their ability to achieve anything on their own.

Religion, as we have been told, is a crutch. In reality, religion is not a crutch, it is, if you will, a purported “stairway to heaven.” It is the Gospel that is a crutch. Seriously. To admit that you need grace is to admit that you are a cripple, unable to walk on your own. People will either embrace and lean on the crutch, or hate it.

 

Who else will hate the book

Many pastors and leaders will also hate this book, because it pulls the rug out from under their sin-management control structures. It is impossible to control grace. Grace is messy. Sins that are hidden by sin-management techniques become suddenly visible. And, perhaps what’s worse is that without the sin-management structures in place, we have to trust God. And, if a pastor or leader is honest, they will tell you that trusting God is often a terrifying proposition. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Aslan is not a tame lion.”

 

The others

I will also acknowledge that there are those who simply disagree with our exegesis, and I’m okay with that. Paul pointed out that we will have disagreements, and that through disagreements the truth is made clear (1 Cor. 11:19). As the book itself discusses, Paul contended with Peter over the “grace vs works” issue, and Paul prevailed. It seems to me that Paul is so clear in his explanation of the gospel in Galatians that I fail to see how anyone could get a different meaning from it, but people apparently do.

So, I have to admit that I could be wrong on some points, though I don’t think I am. As Martin Luther also said,

I shall never be a heretic; I may err in dispute, but I do not wish to decide anything finally; on the other hand, I am not bound by the opinions of men.

I am as certain about the Gospel as I can be.

 

Hot or cold

I have said half-jokingly that the best advertising I could get is for some famous pastor to absolutely hate the book. To me, the wort possible thing would be for people to find the book boring or inconsequential. As Jesus put it, “I”d rather have you cold or hot.” If someone could read the book and go, “so what?”, then I would feel like we haven’t stated the Gospel clearly enough.

So far, the people I’ve heard from all love the book. However, as odd as this sounds, I’d love to hear that it’s hated as well, just so I know that we’ve done our job.

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16th November
2010
written by Alden

There are people in every church I’ve been in who need to be set free.

This is not to say that some of these churches didn’t preach grace. But sometimes, it just takes a while for grace to seep in to where change needs to happen. Grace on the surface is one thing; grace in our innermost being is life-changing.

Much of Christianity teaches that we “miss the mark.” This is true, of course. However, much of Christianity forgets to teach that Jesus has hit the mark for us.  So, rather than hearing that we have succeeded in Christ, we only hear that we have failed and that we need to do more, and try harder. Once this concept is fully rooted in someone’s thinking, it may stay with them for years, in spite of their gaining an intellectual understanding of grace.

I suspect that some people first join these graceless, “miss-the-mark” churches because they already know that they don’t hit the mark, so they fit right in. They are given some guidelines that may help them hit the mark, sometimes, and they are promised that someday they will either make the mark in Heaven, or perhaps that the mark will simply be removed. And, being beat up every week for continually missing the mark helps assuage their guilt.

That’s the only reason I can think of to explain why people actually convert to a works-oriented form of Christianity. This parody of Christianity functions something like a 12-step group: The first step is admitting you are a sinner, and realizing that you will always be a sinner. The best you can hope for is God helping you to sin just a little bit less, or perhaps it’s enough just to know you’re surrounded by people who feel as lousy as you do.

This kind of graceless thinking gets into your core, because in your core you’re already feeling like crap. It simply confirms that what you have believed about yourself is really true. Here’s the irony about converting to a legalistic version of Christianity: In some ways, because you aren’t changing how you feel about things in your core, you don’t really have to repent all that much.

To accept salvation by grace takes real repentance. What you need to repent from is the thinking that your performance actually matters, in a spiritual sense. Yes, you’re a sinner, and if you ever think you can keep God’s law, it will condemn you. Now, get over it.

What you need to repent (turn) to is the truth that Jesus performed on our behalf; he kept the law, and more than that, he conquered death (the consequences of sinning). Think of the law as a video game (only with life or death consequences): Jesus has beaten all of the levels. In essence, the game is over. And not only that, the consequences for losing the game has been removed. You are now free to play the game (just make sure you log on under Jesus’ name).

The truth about repentance

Repentance (in a soteriological sense) has never been about changing your behavior; no behavior-mod program can save you. Repentance is about changing your core beliefs. For most of us, repentance is like peeling an onion; it happens layer by layer. With the discovery of each new layer of self-reliance, more repentance needs to take place. The good news is that it’s all by grace, the great onion-peeler.

So be free—because that’s why we’ve been set free.

(cross-posted at aldenswan.com)

7th September
2010
written by Alden

I was recently talking about my book with some dinner guests, and after hearing the title, one gentleman asked, “So what part of the Gospel has been censored?”

He asked a very perceptive question.

Typically when we think of something being censored, we think of something which has been hidden or removed, like bad words being bleeped out of TV broadcasts or black bars meant to erase words or parts of photographs which someone has deemed objectionable. Merriam-Webster defines censor as “to suppress or delete as objectionable.” This brings to mind the Jefferson Bible, in which Thomas Jefferson cut out the portions he didn’t like, or the complete suppression of the Gospel in places like China.

However, the unusual thing about the Gospel is that it is typically not censored in the Western world by removing anything. The Gospel is censored — suppressed and deleted — by adding to it.

The Gospel message according to the New Testament is this:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8,9 NIV)

To change this “Jesus plus nothing” formula — even by adding good works like Bible reading, tithing and prayer to simple faith in Jesus — is to delete the Gospel completely. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, if we could gain righteousness through our works, then Christ died for nothing (Gal. 2:21).

The expectations that many churches put on people — things to make us “more holy” or “better” Christians — have the same effect as those black censorship rectangles. They censor the Gospel, eviscerating it, rendering it powerless. What is left is religion — a form of godliness, but without any saving power (2 Tim. 3:5).

The goal of The Gospel Uncensored is to rip off the black bars of censorship wherever we have found them, exposing the raw Gospel of radical grace.

9th August
2010
written by Alden

From Chapter 14, Understanding Internal Conflict:

If we try to live up to who we are in Christ by our own power, we become worse off emotionally than the person who still lives in the flesh. We have raised the bar, but without any power to reach it. Studies have shown that the least happy people in our culture are conservative, evangelical Christians, because they hold to a high standard to which they believe God has called them, but they are stuck without the power to reach that standard.

If the flesh cannot talk us out of God’s perspective, then the flesh will try whatever it can to keep us from God’s power. Galatians 5:22-23a says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Not the fruit of the law. Not the fruit of self-effort. Not the fruit of trying harder. Not the fruit of discipline. These are the fruit of the Spirit—the things that only the Spirit can produce in us.

The internal conflict is real; it’s crazy to deny it, and useless to try to resolve it by human effort. God’s perspective says, “Here’s where you are, and there’s where you’re going. Don’t fret about the gap; just check back occasionally to see how far you’ve gone.” Again, the gap is why we need grace.

14th July
2010
written by Alden

(Cross-posted at aldenswan.com.)

A great post today from Molly Friesen at Route 5:9, Forgiveness is an Investment: What it Costs. She’s blogging through Paul Tripp’s book on marriage, What Did You Expect. This, and Linda’s prior post,  The Dark “Benefits” of Unforgiveness, are worth reading. I’m guessing Tripp’s book is, too.

It’s interesting that so many legalists forget about the rule of forgiveness, which is a key element in Jesus’ teaching. He even went so far as to say that if we don’t forgive, our Heavenly Father won’t forgive us, either.  Seriously – it’s at the end of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:

12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Now, you can try to take the position that this “is more of a guideline than a rule,” but Jesus doesn’t seem to give much leeway here.

So how does this fit into a theology of radical grace?

It fits quite well, actually, with a proper understanding of forgiveness.  As many of us were taught in Sunday School, Jesus dies for the sins of the world.

1 John 2:2: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.  (NIV)

Jesus’ sacrifice was not made for us individually; forgiveness was truly once and for all.  If we refuse to acknowledge and participate in this forgiveness for someone who has wronged us, we are simply refusing to participate in God’s forgiveness. Being forgiven means we agree that everyone is forgiven. Refusing to forgive someone means we are closing our heart, not that God is withholding anything from us.

Now, do we forgive perfectly?  I seriously doubt it. I don’t think I do, even if it is my intent. But, God’s grace–God’s power made real in our lives–is sufficient for that, too.

We have been set free, not to sin, but so we can live–and forgive–freely.

14th July
2010
written by Alden

This past Sunday, a friend of mine was in a car accident on her way to church. During the coffee/fellowship break (the contemporary version of  “passing the peace”), the pastor announced it to the church, mentioning that it was the 2nd time my friend has been hit on her way to church. He asked, “Have you been tithing?”  The church broke into laughter.

Now, I’ve been to churches where this question would have been asked seriously; or at the last, it would never have been the subject of a joke.  The fact that the church treats the “tithe superstition” as a joke is a great sign that you’re in a grace-filled church.

Ain’t freedom grand?