1. When our view of God is too small . . . I covered this in my other blog last week. Perhaps we see God as having a split personality with his loving side held in tension by his justice side, or perhaps we see God as a powerful benefactor/butler who needs convincing to serve us, or perhaps we see God as essentially selfish. Whatever the version, if our picture of God falls short of the biblical revelation, then our gospel will always be a weakened version of the real thing. (For the post on this, click here.)
2. When our view of humanity is too elevated . . . again, already written (click here to go there). Perhaps we view humans as being like the god that isn’t actually the God of the Bible – so we see people as autonomous, thinking, choosing, ruling beings. This is not the extent of the image of God in humanity. Along with that we can think of people too individually, with life defined by individually collected capacities, or we think humans are essentially good, or even neutral. This kind of thinking undermines the gospel massively.
3. When our view of sin is too shallow . . . (click here to see this in full). Perhaps our view of sin is that we just fall short, or we only see sin as being naughty, or we think sin is a hindrance, rather than the state of total death in our hearts that are utterly helpless to fix. Whatever the inadequacy in our view of sin, it will change the gospel we proclaim from the full picture presented in the Bible.
So those are the first three dimensions we need to chase biblically and grasp as fully as possible. But what is the answer to the problem? When our view of grace is too weak we will be offering a pale reflection of the real gospel. So how do we mis-measure grace? Here are some of the ways I think I have fallen into mis-measuring grace:
First, when grace is seen as an aid to our performance. This is the idea that we are trying our hardest, but we aren’t quite able to perform to God’s standard. Thankfully His grace is like a super-charged battery that can lift our performance to the right level. I remember chatting to a couple of Mormon missionaries on my doorstep years ago. I remember them stating that we have to do our part, and then Jesus’ death covers the remaining three percent, or whatever we can’t quite manage. I remember shaking my head at that view of God’s goodness toward us. How much more saddening is it to find people in evangelical churches with similar notions? God is not primarily our judge who is concerned only with legality. God wants to be our Father. A good father is not primarily concerned with the performance levels of his child. He will deal with sin out of love for the child, but the primary concern should be the state of the child’s heart. God’s grace does empower us, but if we see grace as the power for us to perform for the celestial evaluation panel, then we are missing the abundant wonder of God’s grace.
Second, when grace is seen as requiring something from us. This is the other side of the same coin. There is amazing grace, but . . . not the lyrics we are used to in our hymn singing, but a common refrain in church conversation. “Yes, God is gracious, but He is also just. . . God is gracious, but that grace has its demands . . . God’s grace becomes our responsibility.” I think this comes from a lack of trust in God’s plan. For instance, we easily turn back from the full provision of the New Covenant and instead offer only forgiveness and combine it with pressure to perform according to an external churchy standard. This shows a lack of faith in the full provision of the New Covenant. After all, what God has done in Christ is not simply to offer us forgiveness, but also to do a work in our hearts and to move in for ongoing fellowship. Yet we can easily offer grace with conditions, lest we abuse it in our supposedly untouched state of selfishness.
Third, when grace is seen as separated from God. If grace is something God throws to us from a distance, then grace is just a commodity, a battery, a coin, a heavenly favour. But what does it mean to see grace as a who, rather than a what? God does not just give benefits in his nice-ness, He gives us Himself in His Son by His Spirit. This is the indwelling back-up-the-moving-van-and-move-in kind of wonder to be found in the gospel. Real fellowship, true union, personal participation in the very life of the loving Trinity. And what about the heart part of the New Covenant?
Fourth, when grace is seen as just a status changer. Grace is more than a status changer. Grace is a heart and life transformer. God makes dead hearts alive in Christ. This means that grace is not just about getting us saved, it is also about the ongoing growth process as we live the Christian life. We look to Him and He continues to work in us to transform and cleanse and purify.
I am out of words, but feel like I have barely scratched the surface! Is there a measuring tape that can measure the extent and wonder of God’s grace? Of course not, but we’ll get eternity to try!