Overemphasis: Grace

Can there be an overemphasis of grace? Of love? Of prophecy? Of faith?
In my previous post I wrote about my personal experience with “faith” teachings.

Another example of excess that I’ve seen over the years relates to “grace”.

Most recently I’ve seen some professing Christians with the attitude that grace over-rules everything else. They say we are saved by grace – and effectively THAT becomes the only thing that matters. Nothing else is needed, and therefore once gained, by grace, salvation can never be lost – even if a person turns their back on God.

That idea tends to be supported by appealing to one partial bible verse, but it is completely refuted by countless other parts of scripture, a reality that highlights not only the importance of addressing scripture according to context, but the importance of a broad biblical understanding as opposed to a knowledge of parts of the bible.

The people I saw promoting that view of grace and salvation were recommending articles on a website propagating a theology known as “Free Grace”. But they are not the only ones to overemphasise grace.
Previously I have seen other “grace” dominated theologies being promoted.

Calvinists have their “Irresistible Grace” through which they insist that God saves those who He has personally elected for salvation. It is a kind of grace that effectively forces people to believe, over-ruling the totally depraved nature that Calvinism insists prevents anyone from turning to God through personal choice.

Arminians answer the Calvinist belief with the idea of “Prevenient Grace” – which suggests that hearing the gospel can empower people to choose (despite a depraved nature), of their own free will, whether to believe or not.

I think an important thing to note is that the terms “Free Grace”, “Irresistible Grace” and “Prevenient Grace” can be found nowhere in scripture and they each describe different types of “grace” that have different and contradictory, outcomes.

Grace has an important role in the gospel message and without God’s grace salvation would be impossible, but it is NOT the ONLY thing at work and God’s grace does not nullify His character or His word, or the standards He requires of His creation

Some theological views not only claim that God’s grace makes “works” unnecessary for salvation, they also portray works as being counterproductive, being tantamount to attempting to earn what is given freely with no strings attached.

Other theologies speak of justification by faith alone (sola fide), with a similar insistence on the counterproductivity of works, but James in scripture not only tells us differently, but actually the complete opposite, (“a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone“).

Clearly, the fact that salvation is provided through the grace of God by faith, does not nullify the  requirement of fulfilling God-given conditions to receive and maintain our salvation.

As with my experience of WoF teaching, any teaching that focuses primarily, and exclusively, on grace (or faith), will inevitably detour into error.

Grace is not the be all and end all of salvation – it is more like the starting point. God through His grace has made the way to salvation possible and accessible through faith. Both grace and faith are each important, but they are only PART of the whole gospel reality.
Neither should be given prominence in isolation, and neither should be defined or practiced in ways contrary to the revelation of scripture – the WHOLE of scripture.

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Overemphasis: Faith

Can there be an overemphasis on grace? On love? On prophecy? On faith?

From personal experience I suggest there can be.

Back in the 1980s I was caught up in Word of Faith teaching – in particular that of Kenneth Copeland.

It wasn’t the confess and possess (blab it and grab it) aspect that seduced me – my involvement started quite innocently and probably for legitimate reasons. As my friends continued to rave about Copeland’s teaching, and as I resisted their recommendations, out of the blue I suddenly had an understanding of faith that I’d never had before.

To that point I probably had no real clue what “faith” meant. It was an airy-fairy word. Faith was what made us believe something for which we had no proof, or had no logical reason to accept. It was a bridge between the provable and something we could not prove.
In experience it was tantamount to wishful thinking.

As I resisted the proselytizing of my WoF friends, something broke through. I saw faith in God as believing Him and His Word, no matter what other evidence may suggest. If God said it – THAT was truth, THAT was reality.

At the very basic level, I didn’t need to FEEL saved in order to be confident I was saved. As long as I met the requirements of salvation revealed through the Bible, it didn’t matter what I felt.

If God had promised something, and the conditions of the promise were met, then I could believe in that promise no matter how long it seemed to be unfulfilled, or how unlikely eventual fulfillment seemed to be.

But WoF teaching moved far beyond the initial understanding (revelation) that I’d received one night in the early 1980s. I made the mistake of filling my time with a lot of teaching that veered in dangerous  directions. I was hooked, thinking these people were teaching worthwhile things that would expand upon that new understanding. They seemed to offer the kind of answers I longed for – to bring my experience of  Christianity closer to what I was reading in the Bible. My church seemed to fall short in practice, of a lot of things they claimed to believe.

Over time, however, I found that WoF was just a different version of what had already disappointed me. Big on talk, small on results. How could something that had excited me so much become such a let down? Clearly something was wrong.

I eventually suspected that a major problem with WoF teaching was it’s constant focus on “faith”. Where does a “faith” teacher go once the basic aspects of faith have been covered?
He or she starts to push the boundaries – and it doesn’t take long to push beyond the very thing that is allegedly the foundation for their belief: the WORD part of the Word of Faith label.

Definitions and characteristics were given to “faith” that were less and less biblical. Faith became a “force” that anyone could use, either positively or negatively, especially through speech. Hence the phrase “confess and possess”, with positive confession bringing about good results, and negative confession bringing about bad results. Faith being a force put the power within the individual using it, instead of in God.

Having faith in God was altered to having the faith OF God – that believers could have the “God kind of faith” that brought things into being. It was no longer a matter of believing God or having faith in Him. It was taught that we needed to have faith in our faith. Faith was the active ingredient that worked (for good or bad) separate from God.

So many things that were promoted in WoF teaching, even though it was supposed to be based on scripture, were in reality based on parts of scripture ripped out of their context. Scripture phrases were cast around like magician’s spells, spoken (confessed) out loud to release the power of the word, just like God spoke creation into existence.

Scripture was being made to mean things it was never intended to mean. Individual verses were viewed  as universal promises, even if their context made it clear they were intended for a specific person or specific people. The justification for that was another out of context (partial) verse – ” God is no respecter of persons” – so, according to WoF teaching, what He gives to one, He makes available to all, not to do so would mean God was favouring one person above another.

Returning to my opening questions, I have seen that even the most central realities of the Christian faith can become exaggerated beyond the truth.

My personal experience relates to “faith”, but I’ve seen others fall for equally distorted beliefs through an exclusive focus on other things. I would even consider that ALL theological error has its roots in that kind of unbalanced emphasis.

Weather Victim

We’ve had very changeable weather recently.

After post winter temperatures rose into the mid 20s (C) again for several days, a cold change turned things around and nearby areas had snow. Then there were the winds and dust storms.

One of the victims of the wind was our Grevillea bush.
A self sown plant that arrived soon after we moved into the house, it had grown to about 2 metres high and wide, flowering from the end of winter through spring, and providing morning and evening meals for visiting honey eaters: mostly Red Wattle birds.

But no more.

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Gloria found it sprawled across the path way between our front garden and the house, not long after I’d left for work, and set about cutting it up. It took two or three days to remove all of it, disposing of the remains in our green-waste bin, to be taken away and composted by the local council.

It’s taken the bird population a couple of weeks to realise it’s gone for ever, and they’ve now stopped making their puzzled observations from the vantage point of the house guttering.

While one abundant supply of nectar has been lost, we have some smaller Grevillia’s in a nearby garden that have recently come into flower, and the birds are frequently seen and heard flapping among them.

 

Assurance of Salvation.

How can we be sure that we are saved?

How can we be sure of eternal life?

Some seem to think all we need to do is start a walk with Christ – that as long as we believe in Him at some time, then we’re okay. We’ll make it. No matter what we do after that initial faith experience, that one time belief is sufficient to guarantee our eternal security.

Recently I saw a quote in a book review expressing that view: “The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand” [cited as from “A Review of Charles Stanley’s Book, Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure?“],

I have to wonder what kind of value that writer places on “salvation” or “eternal life” if they can be gained and retained so cheaply. I can’t see it is anything close to that kind of cheap gospel in the Bible.

In the Bible I don’t see a God so desperate for company that he’ll continue to accept those who have turned their back on Him, those who “walk away from the faith”.

In scripture we are told of people who will claim to serve Jesus who will be told He never knew them.

He compares those who don’t remain in Him to unfruitful branches that will be cut off and burned.

Paul writes to the Colossians about being  presented “holy, and blameless, and above reproach” to God, but ONLY those who “continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel

And to the Romans he writes of a promise that  God will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, but to those that go astray, “God will pour out his great anger on them”

How can we be assured of our salvation?

By continuing IN HIM.

By remaining on the narrow road to life.

If I want to get home at the end of a work day, how can I be assured of getting there?

Firstly I have to get on the right road, then I have to maintain my course, staying on the required route until I arrive. If I do that, avoiding all obstacles and distractions that would hinder or put a halt to my journey I’m assured to get home.

It’s not enough to start the journey home, I have to ensure I continue until I arrive.

It’s not enough to start a life with Christ, we have to ensure we continue it.

 

Lost the Plot!

How the culture warriors have lost the plot by Julia Baird (Sydney Morning Herald

This fortnight, one powerful bloke insulted the religion of more than two billion people on the planet, effectively calling the Virgin Mary a lying slut. And one small teenager sat in front of a crowd in New York, wrought with grief and anger, and called for immediate, expansive action on climate change to protect the earth for her, and future, generations.

So guess which one was mercilessly trolled, denigrated and abused by our most prominent commentators?

The whole article can be found here:
https://www.smh.com.au/national/how-the-culture-warriors-have-lost-the-plot-on-kyle-and-greta-20190927-p52vir.html

[Caution – the statement from the “powerful bloke”, is quoted in the article and is offensive.]

The article writer points out that some of those responsible for the “denigration” of Greta Thunberg identify as Christian.

One of the names listed is Lyle Shelton who was managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby from 2013 to 2018.

Considering their clear willingness to condemn a young girl whose message they find offensive – where has been their condemnation of someone who basically described the mother of Jesus as “a lying slut”? [The actual statement is quoted in the article].

Why is it that professing believers in Jesus seem more interested in opposing climate change, and attacking those who recognise it’s validity, than in defending one of the most foundational truths of their claimed religion – namely the virgin conception of Jesus, the Son of God?

I’d also like to know what drives so many professing Christians to antagonism against the evidence showing the reality of climate change.

It’s not as if a changing climate, and mankind’s role in it, is somehow contradicting the Bible. The Bible makes it clear that God gave dominion over the earth to man – and that man’s sin resulted in the perfection of creation being marred, and suffering “the bondage of corruption”. However the reality of that bondage should not lead to an abrogation of Christian concern for God’s creation.

Opposing the clear signs, the science and the observable experience of obvious change to the climate is at best foolishness, and at worst inspires further contempt from the world upon believers – putting followers of Jesus into the same category as flat earth proponents (who, sadly, are also often professing Christians).

Those driving the climate change denial message are those with the most to lose from the changes needed to address the climate problem: namely those profiting from the industries that have caused it: fossil fuel billionaires, and the politicians whose careers those billionaires have financed.

So what is the motivation for Christians to align with climate change denial, if not the misguided marriage between those Christians and political opportunism, if not that unholy hybrid that has become the “religious right”: a blend of conservatism and the prosperity “gospel”?

There has been a political yoking of “Christians” to the pursuit of wealth as a sign of God’s blessing, in which the wealthy are lauded and the needy are trampled – a complete contrast to the attitude of the early church described in Acts 2:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Apart from the different attitude to caring for those in need, that last sentence should also scream out to us – that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” The added number being referred to clearly wasn’t a number of dollars and the saving wasn’t something associated with bank accounts.

So I’ll ask again, if its not about money, if its not about political ideology, if it’s not about theological truth – what is the reason for climate change denial among Christians?

Truth or Favoured Teachings?

Following is a reply I wrote to a commenter on another blog.

That person has spent some time arguing against a series of articles written by the blog owner, in which the blog owner was addressing the errors of “Once Save Always Saved” (OSAS).

The commenter includes links to a site promoting “Free Grace” theology – which basically says that once a decision has been made for Christ, then no matter what comes afterwards, that decision ensures eternal security.

As an example of this belief system, in one article posted by that commenter it was stated:

 “The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand (my emphasis in bold type – onesimus)”

Such a statement is the worst kind of false teaching because the Bible does not teach anything of the kind, clearly or otherwise.

The “foundation” to this belief seems to be a single phrase “by grace you are saved” found in Ephesians.

In one of their replies to me the commenter said:

I told you not to bother answering me and to go back and study things…….didn’t think you would…….

 

This was my reply:

I have spent a life time studying, from my late teens.
The first years I studied what men said about scripture and what they said scripture meant, and I could quote verse upon verse to prove what they had taught me.

And then a lot of what I’d learned came crashing down when I found I could no longer push aside my increasing questions about why some of their teachings didn’t add up; that the parts of scripture they ignored tended to contradict some of the things they were teaching.

During the last couple of decades, I have let scripture itself be the authority and found it was much easier to understand than I expected.
I learned that proof-texting, or relying on individual bible statements to “prove” a point was not only counterproductive, it was destructive.
ANYONE can quote verses to “prove” whatever they want to believe. It’s often more enlightening to note which parts of scripture are avoided instead of the parts being quoted as “proof”.

The Bible is NOT a collection of countless individual theological points encapsulated in convenient quotable texts. The Bible, as a whole, is a developing revelation of God and His relationship with His creation, (in particular mankind) from the very beginning of this current creation, through to the establishment of a new heaven and earth.

It is impossible to grasp the truth by fixating on parts of scripture while ignoring the rest.
It is impossible to grasp the truth by fixating on individual words in scripture, while ignoring the rest.

Instead of fixating on a word like “grace” from one verse of scripture to establish an all-over doctrine of salvation – try getting an understanding through the whole of scripture, seeing God’s grace AT WORK through His ongoing relationship with mankind.
See God’s grace in action rather than applying man’s artificial definitions of what grace means.

It would be a worthless exercise for me to attempt to counteract the proof texts of others with proof texts of my own – I long ago recognised that proof text duelling is a fruitless exercise.

The truth will only be discovered and accepted by those who have a desire for the truth, who are willing to search the scriptures (the WHOLE of scripture) to find it.
It will not be discovered in out of context, cherry-picked parts of scripture.