Overemphasis: Love

Can there be an overemphasis of “love”?

I suppose that depends on what the emphasis may be and what defines our understanding and application of love?

Is the biblical definition of love the same as our own understanding of what love is? How much has that understanding been coloured by popular culture and its often romanticised ideas?

Do we believe that all we need is love?
Or should we be more informed by the Bible than by The Beatles?

Have our expectations of love become sentimentalised? And to what extent might that have shaped our expectations of God’s love?

Only a week or two ago I saw letters to the editor in national news papers, in which a significant ignorance of God was demonstrated.  The writers had the all too common understanding that the message of Jesus was all about love and nothing but love, and therefore He was no longer concerned with sin and unrighteousness, that His love makes Him blind to man’s moral short-comings.

I’d suggest that any idea about God’s love somehow nullifying everything else about Him is an idea that overemphasises love.

God’s ultimate act of love – the extraordinarily costly gift of His Son, should show us how seriously God considers mankind’s’ sin. The price for forgiveness and cleansing from sin was not cheap.

Sin is not something that can be brushed aside in the name of some kind of lovey-dovey romanticized sentimentality.

God’s love bled.

Painfully.

 

sacrifice

 

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.

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.