Adult Bible Class Myths: Grace is dangerous

TeacherMyth #5. Grace is dangerous. Many years ago, when I first started to really understand the incredible breadth of God’s grace, I started teaching what I was studying. Several people cautioned me that while I may be right in what I was saying, it was a very dangerous subject to teach. After all, my students might be tempted to sin in reliance on God’s grace.

Since then I’ve noticed that we seem to have one doctrine of grace for teenagers (none), another for college students (precious little), and a third for adults (some but it depends on the sermon topic). When we want to stamp out some sin, we teach a narrow doctrine, threatening damnation. But other times we celebrate the scope of grace. (This not a problem at my home congregation, by the way.)

I’m of the opinion that false doctrine is false doctrine, regardless of the audience or the sermon topic. Grace has to be taught because the Bible teaches it. Obviously, when younger people are being taught, the teaching must be at an age-appropriate level, but ignoring or even denying grace when teaching our young people is driving them out of the church. It’s time to start trusting God’s lesson plans.

The fact is that grace is really, really broad, but it has limits. And while it’s not so easy to fall from grace as we have sometimes taught, the danger of falling away is real.

I explain it this way. (The Bible verses and theology may be found at /the-holy-spirit-and-revolutionary-grace/.)

As Christians, we are called to walk the “straight and narrow” path. We stay in the middle of the path while we’re growing in grace, maturing, getting closer to Jesus. To stay in the middle, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, and we continue in our salvation so long as we’re walking towards him. Those who are in this path are in no danger of falling away.

But if we take our eyes off Jesus and start looking longingly at other things, we’ll inevitably walk toward other things–and off the middle. Now, you’re still on the path and still saved–for now–but there’s a great danger here. As we turn away from Jesus, we become less and less concerned about what Jesus’ wants and more and more concerned about our own desires. Hence, the further we walk from the middle, the harder it is to repent and get back.

And here’s the great danger of straying. God forgives and is desperately anxious for our return, but we are less and less interested in returning. The problem is not God’s willingness to forgive–which is absolute–but our willingness to repent. Repentance becomes harder and harder as we stray farther and farther away.

Eventually, there comes a point when we’re in outright rebellion, and the problem is not that God won’t forgive but that we won’t care. And when our hearts are sufficiently darkened, our consciences become seared “as with a hot iron,” and we are lost. Heb. 6:4-6 teaches that we are, in fact, lost forever.

Now, no one reaches this tragic condition in a moment of weakness. It takes time to so grieve the Holy Spirit that he leaves, never to return. However, once anyone embarks on the path of willfully acting contrary to God’s wishes–when we decide to go our own way–we are already on the road to being lost and never returning.

Hence, falling away is much worse than we sometimes think. You can’t just utter a quick prayer or go forward. Your heart has to change. It’s not that hard if you’ve strayed only fleetingly, but the longer you play with sin, the harder it is to turn back.

But repentance is always available, and God will always forgive the penitent believer. Hence, most Christians stay saved their entire lives, from baptism until death, even though they’ve sometimes sinned and sometimes disappointed God.

One last point: if grace is so dangerous, why are the Baptists doing so well? They teach a form of grace that says you can never fall away no matter what, and yet they tithe, go to church, do good works, and show little evidence of wanting to sin in reliance on God’s grace. Now, I disagree with “once saved, always saved,” but the Baptists clearly prove that believers will live righteous lives because of grace, even with no fear at all of damnation.

We in the Churches of Christ severely misapprehend the human heart when we teach that people will only do right for fear of hell. In fact, people will be much more obedient to someone they love than someone they fear. Indeed, “perfect love drives out fear.” Therefore, denying or limiting grace is dangerous. Teaching grace is empowering and motivating.

I’ve seen my own congregation dramatically transformed over the years as our elders, teachers, and ministers have taught grace with more and more conviction. It may not seem logical, but it really works.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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