Recently I read an internet discussion on how much “grace” we should preach. You know, as opposed to preaching the life of the kingdom, the demands of discipleship, missional living, that kind of thing. One side said they’d like to see more grace, another side said they’d like to see less.
Perhaps you’re thinking “I know which side Glen would take.” Don’t be so sure. I think they are falling off either side of the wrong horse.
Let’s call one side “the more grace people.” These were keen to argue that none can perform the works of the kingdom without the empowerment of “grace.” The “less grace people” kept saying “Yeah, but, c’mon. Commands are there. Loads of them. Stop sidelining half the Bible!”
And back and forth it went. The more I read, the more I wondered whether I’d stumbled across some intramural Roman Catholic dispute. Whatever differences they thought they had, both sides seemed to assume that grace was a substance. Both spoke of the empowerment and encouragement of ‘grace’, but the real concern of both parties seemed to be our life of discipleship. Thus, it was really a discussion about motivational techniques. Some thought that carrots are better, others reached for the stick.
On this view, “grace” is like the cheese sandwiches which David brought to his brothers at the front line (1 Samuel 17:17-19). Here grace is an encouragement and empowerment from the christ to go out and fight the good fight. The christ gives you strength, victory is down to you.
And if that’s grace, then naturally, some people think David should make some really tasty sandwiches, top quality pickle, mature cheddar, olive focaccia bread and plenty of it. Other’s say, “Don’t stuff the troops, keep ’em lean and mean, teach ’em how to fight!”
Now if that was the dispute then, really, I have no desire to weigh in on the optimum cheese-sandwich / military-briefing balance.
What I want to declare to both sides is the true meaning of grace. Grace is not David’s sandwiches, grace is David’s victory. Grace is David volunteering to fight for his doubting and disdainful brothers. Grace is David delivering the killer-blow for troops who would otherwise be slaughtered. Grace is David himself, the anointed champion, doing everything to win the day. To put it another way – “grace alone” is just another way of saying “Christ alone”.
Once you see that, you, your Champion and the whole battle has been shifted.
Suddenly we’ve been plucked from the front-lines, our lives in the balance, and now we find ourselves caught up in a victory we could never have won. Now we’re shouting with joy and advancing on the Philistines to plunder them.
And yes, at this point, both sandwiches and briefings come in handy. But they must be rightly related to David’s victory. Without it, David’s sandwiches may as well be poison.
And if anyone thinks they can ignore the victory of our Champion and move straight to the ‘battles we must fight’ they’ve completely misunderstood the gospel. Yet I find that both the sandwich people and the pep-talk-people do this. Both the “more grace people” and the “less grace people” carry on as though David’s victory can simply be assumed and the Christian life boiled down to our attempts at plundering.
The real distinction is not between gracious or legal motivations towards our work. The real distinction is between Christ’s work and our work. Which battle do we think we’re in? Are we facing down Goliath or are we victors already? That really is all the difference in the world.
You might say: But Glen, we all know that we’re victors through Christ, let’s get on and tell people how to plunder. I say: Really? We know we’re victors through Christ?! Not even “the more grace people” seem to know it!