Faith that Works: The Paradox of Grace; Lazy Christians

Reflections on the Paradox of Grace

So let’s be honest. Paul gives us a very good reason not to fall away by becoming transgressors — fear of damnation. But when it comes to why not be lazy? why not do the least possible? why not take it easy and rely on grace? Well, Paul doesn’t make any real threats.

I think there are actually really good things to fear with that attitude, but that’s not Paul’s approach. He just keeps teaching grace. And to legalistic ears, that’s nonsense and so we look for ways to fix Paul — such as by inserting a passage from James or refusing to teach salvation by faith without including a long litany of warnings that severely erode grace.

But Paul is smarter than us. He was much closer to God than us. And so here’s where we mess up –

Unlike Paul, we don’t teach the story of the Scriptures. We don’t see God’s long redemption history leading toward our salvation.

Unlike Paul, we radically decouple getting saved from life as saved people. We urge baptism to achieve a change in “state” — from lost to saved — but not from “serving the flesh” to “following Jesus.” We promise salvation but say nothing of the cost of following Jesus.

Unlike Paul, the doctrine of suffering and sacrifice as typical — even essential — to the Christian life is entirely missing from our preaching.

Unlike Paul, we only hold Jesus up as Redeemer. We don’t hold him up as Example, as Image. We’re not that big on Jesus as Lord. We don’t teach God’s purpose of transforming us into the image of Christ.

Unlike Paul, we ignore the Spirit, both in our initial salvation and in how we live our lives. We don’t teach transformation by the Spirit. We don’t teach God writing his laws on our hearts and leading us.

Unlike Paul, we don’t teach following Jesus, doing good works, and being servants of God as the fulfillment of God’s cosmic purposes, indeed the very reason Jesus died on the cross. No, we pretend that getting saved is the end of all Christianity, leaving the rest of our lives with Jesus as about earning salvation (again and again) and quibbling over rules.

Paul’s theory seems to be that if our members will be brought to a true understanding of grace — not just how free grace is but how costly following Jesus is — if we learn to live within the paradox — then our members will get it. They’ll be more open to God’s transforming power. They’ll be more grateful. They’ll feel the love of God and respond accordingly.

An example from adoption

I think of friends of mine who recently adopted an older child from an abusive situation. The child was very disobedient and needed discipline — but they realized that the child needed to feel loved far more than discipline. And the child, having been repeatedly abandoned, had to learn that their love was unconditional — that they’d never, ever abandon him.

He misbehaved just to see whether his new parents would still love him — and they did, and so he stopped misbehaving. After all, once he finally gets it and trusts his heart to them, he’d far rather feel their love and approval than their love and disappointment.

For every scolding or time out, there were dozens and dozens of hugs. They made sure one parent or the other was with him at all times — so he’d never feel left behind. And the child responded by becoming very nearly a new person.

An unconditional love that offers far more grace and affection than threats and punishment, that promises never to abandon the object of its love, that kind of love changes heart. We were created — designed — to be loved, and in the absence of love, our hearts wither and die.

But when those of us who’ve been abused receive unconditional love, we have trouble believing it. Indeed, just as the adopted child did, we test it. We might feel obligated to do the things we were always afraid to do — to be lazy, to miss services, to be a little bad — just to see whether a church that teaches grace will still love us.

Now, sometimes we never get out of the adolescent, rebellious phase of our Christian walk, but most will soon grow up and become far more obedient after learning about grace than before. Indeed, in my experience, it’s those who understand this the best who are the most dedicated servants of God.

You see, decades of teaching grace have taught me that there is nothing to fear in grace properly taught, because students who get this become powerful servants of God. Their hearts change and grow and soften — as they allow the Spirit to have his way. It works.

The fear that we might create a church filled with licentious, sinful people by teaching grace is absolutely groundless. Experience proves it false. We can only ask why — not whether.

Lazy Christians

But there are, of course, lazy Christians. There’s no sense pretending otherwise. How do we help them become more worthy servants? Well –

* We absolutely do not change theology to meet the need. We don’t start preaching hellfire and brimstone. We teach the same grace we teach to the mature.

* We teach Jesus as Example and Image. We hold him up as the example of what God expects from us. Some of our members have just never heard this!

* We cover all the points above that we’ve missed and trust God’s Spirit to help the members see the connections.

* We warn our members, just as Paul does, that grace can be forfeited. We can fall away. The danger isn’t that a bad weekend or slip of the tongue will damn us. But the reality is that sin is a drug, and any sin — especially laziness — can deaden our senses and make it easier to sin even more, to slip further away from God. Hence, laziness risks following a path away from God in which we are deceived into thinking we’re safe when we’re not.

(Heb 3:13 ESV) 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

You see, sin’s deception leads to hardening of the heart. The further we are from God, the less effectively the Spirit works on our hearts — and our hearts become harder and less responsive.

That’s seriously dangerous, because the combination of deception and hardening makes it very hard  to rescue yourself from sin. Safety is found in striving to stay as close to God as possible — and in friends who are close enough to see your failings and to call you to account.

Avatar of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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10 Responses to Faith that Works: The Paradox of Grace; Lazy Christians

  1. Alan says:

    * We absolutely do not change theology to meet the need. We don’t start preaching hellfire and brimstone. We teach the same grace we teach to the mature.

    Well… True theology includes a message for lazy and for those who dabble in sin. (Rom 8:13; 1 Th 5:14; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:5-6) Note that all these warnings I’ve cited are from Paul, and that they are provided as warnings to the church.

  2. Price says:

    The message to the church at Ephesus was that they had “abandoned their first love.” Not their first rule book… It is indeed a relationship that we must preach.

  3. Here is a corollary that might be worth considering. The rules allow us to judge others and compare another’s compliance with the rules to our own compliance. Relying upon God’s grace deprives us of that right of comparison.

    Too often, we seek assurance of our salvation by comparison with others, rather than by relying upon God’s promise to us. And that promise is his gracious love and forgiveness … something we have no control or influence over.

    Doing good is the result of us simply trying to follow Jesus example of how to live in this world.

    It’s simple conceptually, but difficult in practice.

  4. Here is a corollary that might be worth considering. The rules allow us to judge others and compare another’s compliance with the rules to our own compliance. Relying upon God’s grace deprives us of that right of comparison.

    Too often, we seek assurance of our salvation by comparison with others, rather than by relying upon God’s promise to us. And that promise is his gracious love and forgiveness … something we have no control or influence over.

    Doing good is the result of us simply trying to follow Jesus example of how to live in this world.

    It’s simple conceptually, but difficult practically.

  5. Jerry says:

    We urge baptism to achieve a change in “state” — from lost to saved — but not from “serving the flesh” to “following Jesus.”

    My MA thesis was on The Use of Baptism in Exhorting Christians. My conclusion, drawn primarily from the epistles where when baptism is mentioned it is always in contexts of exhortation, was that there are three basic exhortations repeated in various ways. Baptism, properly understood as our response to grace and God’s gift to us, should lead us into unity within the church, home, and heart as we maintain the unity of the Spirit; into purity of life through the leadership and help of the Spirit; and into surity of hope due to the Spirit within us as a seal.

    There is so much more involved in baptism than changing our “state” – even though that was one of Alexander Campbells primary beliefs about baptism.

  6. jay’s advice centers around what we teach one another as believers. If by “teach”, we mean “lecture about from the pulpit or in Sunday School”, then we will continue to be pretty ineffective in helping in the transformation of our brothers and sisters. If by “teach”, we instead mean “walk with in close personal relationship, modeling the life of a disciple and explaining the model after the fact”, then we have a better opportunity to help.

    If we really expect sermons to be the primary source of revelation and transformation in the life of the believers, I think that’s more a romantic notion than a reasonable expectation.

  7. Larry Cheek says:

    Imagine, as you studied the Bible as we were admonished to do and found that what was being taught at your congregation was not correct with the scriptures. You then begin to show others in the congregation the problems that you have documented, because you have now shown that you are not in full agreement with the teachings of the Church. The leaders instead of attempting to study with you to be sure of what the scriptures teach, they just band together and disfellowship you condemning you as a false teacher, and notify nearby congregations that you have been marked as a false teacher and they should treat you as such. Can any of you suggest a plan of action that could allow you, the individual, to retain contact with brothers in Christ, that may not be under the influence of the (we’ll say the denomination that refuses to be called one) that will allow you to feel and be useful in your service to Christ? These studies are a good place to plan for a situation like this, because some of you because of the lessons that you may learn in this blog, could find the same circumstances in your life.

  8. Alabama John says:

    Larry,
    Our experience has been that most just leave and join with a denomination, community church or even simply quit attending any church. Some will meet in homes.
    Once a church becomes available that is knocked by all the conservatives and preached against regularly, it will grow and prosper.
    Those that have left or been run off for believing as you stated above will flock to it.

  9. I object to the term “lazy Christian.” Will they live on a sidewalk instead of a house in heaven or something? Are there second-class Christians? I don’t recall reading about that in the Bible.

    Please help me with this.

  10. aBasnar says:

    Tit 1:12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”
    Tit 1:13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,

    Paul addresses omething that lies in the nature of the Cretans, let’s say it’s the Cretan “menatlity”, and it certainly is not limited to Cretans. Paul’s reply is a sharp rebuke of such an attitude. So, I don’t think we can vildly object to the term “lazy Christians” – there are such people. And I have to add that some aspects of Reformed theology are rather an encouragement than a rebuke for such people.

    Christians who are sound in faith will not be lazy, but rather be diligent, serious-minded, pressing onward and pursuing the way of life.

    2Pe 1:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
    2Pe 1:4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
    2Pe 1:5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,
    2Pe 1:6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,
    2Pe 1:7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

    Alexander

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