Today is Holy Thursday. On this day, we take an inexorable step closer to the Cross, where Christ lavished grace upon us, undeserving and wretched sinners that we are, by becoming the penalty and punishment for our sin that we may be redeemed.
On this day, I would like you to read Michael Spencer’s essay “Our Problem with Grace”, an essay which has been around for several years and which lays out much of his heart in writing and blogging.
I was drawn into the fold of evangelical Protestant-dom by its overtures of salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, of an authentic and meaningful relationship with God and direct, unmediated, unhindered access to the throne of grace. As one who grew up in a branch of Christianity which did not emphasize a relationship with God with direct, unmediated access to the throne of grace, which taught that good works are necessary to complete the work of salvation and make it effective, and which habitually bound the consciences of believers on many points of belief and practice, these overtures were music to my ears.
But in the years since then I have seen that we evangelicals have BIG, FAT, STINKY problems with grace. Salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, to be sure, but we have redefined faith so that it is actually a work. Faith is what saves you, but you must express that faith by raising your hand or going down front at the altar call, taking the discipleship course to learn all the things you have to do in order to grow spiritually, getting uber-involved in church activities, believing all the right things politically, not drinking or smoking or cussing, getting rid of those tattoos and body piercings, making over your entire bookshelf and music collection with nothing but Christian books and music, staying the hell away from the bars, going to the Hillsong concert and getting SUPER-CRUNK for Jesus, going on a witnessing binge and winning shitloads of people to Jesus …you get the idea. If you are not expressing your faith in ways that are clearly visible to others and that show your faith is growing as you continue in the Christian life, then you don’t have faith and you were probably never saved in the first place.
In the Catholic church, grace is viewed as an infusion of divine power which enables us to do the good works which are necessary to complete our salvation and make it effective. Sound familiar, my fellow evangelicals? It should, because that is very close to what it sounds like when we talk about grace. Because we are now in Christ, we now have the righteousness of Christ which enables us to do the good works which are required of us, which we could not do apart from Christ. Ergo, you now have no excuse. If the grace of God is truly working in your life, the results will be obvious to all: We will see a gradual transition from ungodly to godly, from unjust to just.
We evangelicals talk a really good game when it comes to grace. But the truth is that we have big problems with grace–we always feel the necessity to dilute it with warnings about “easy-believism” or “cheap grace”, a la Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Would that we could come to a place where grace is not a problem for us.