This is a topic very close to my heart… and one that I pray about often.
Randy Alcorn shares about his own experience in seeing his own 84 year old Dad come to Christ in the midst of a painful battle against cancer. He says his Dad was one of the most resistant people to the gospel he had ever met.
I’m encouraged by his testimony… and by his commitment to stick to the truth of scripture, instead of giving in to his temptation to water down the truth for the sake of his own feelings and comfort.
Randy Alcorn - Truth, Grace and My Father’s Conversion at age 84
What do I mean by cheap forgiveness? I’m glad you asked…
Cheap forgiveness is the belief that people/Christians are obligated to give forgiveness to those who trespass against them, even when the offender (the one who needs to be forgiven) has not repented of their sin/crime/offense.
I believe THAT kind of forgiveness is not really forgiveness at all. Furthermore, I don’t think that concept or practice is found anywhere in the Bible – not even in Jesus’ teaching or actions.
Why is this important?
The wrong, cheap forgiveness view on a human level leads directly to a wrong view of forgiveness on a divine level… and that’s not something we can afford to get wrong. Eternity is at stake.
Here’s one way the “cheap forgiveness” cycle works:
- If we think that we are to “just forgive,” no matter the presence or absence of repentance, then we begin to assume that if it’s what we should do, then it’s what God does.
- In fact, we eventually turn the whole thing around and assume that we should “forgive” like that BECAUSE God does.
- The natural implication is that our sin really isn’t that big of a deal… which leads us to subtly or unconsciously downplay the need for redemption through Christ.
The problem with that chain of events is that God does NOT forgive along those lines.
God forgives on the basis of Jesus’ atoning death in our place. Said another way, our sin was such a big deal that it required the death of the holy Son of God to atone for it. You see, if we don’t understand the severity of our sin, we won’t understand that a holy God is bound by His character to mete out justice toward our sin… which means we don’t understand the need for the cross, and therefore are unable to have faith in it.
This really IS a huge issue.
This past week I came across a brother (on the internet) who has written on the issue of cheap forgiveness with a similar slant to mine. It was quite refreshing. I was glad to see someone else affirming what I’ve come to believe from my study of the scriptures… mainly because it helps me to stand my ground a bit more firmly.
The brother I mentioned is Chris Brauns, and he’s written a book on the subject called, “Unpacking Forgiveness.” (affiliate link). The conversation on this issue, over at his blog is quite interesting & helpful. I’d suggest you hop over there and do some reading. He’s doing a good job of stating the position according to what scripture really teaches about forgiveness.
One thing is pretty clear… forgiveness is anything BUT cheap.
Why do you think this subject pushes so many buttons?
Over the past few years I’ve heard a lot of confusion going around about the terms “grace” and “mercy.” Oh, people don’t say they are confused, but you can hear it in the things they say (and I’m guilty of it too).
One of the most common examples goes like this: ”I think you should extend grace to him.” TRANSLATION: “Go easy on him. Let him off the hook.” But that’s not grace, that’s mercy. If that’s what we mean, we should say, “I think you should be merciful to him.” And if that’s what we mean, why do we think it’s “right” to give mercy, especially if a real wrong has been done?
Part of it has to do with our culture. Culturally, we’ve slipped over the precipice of “tolerance” to such a degree that people aren’t willing to say that much of anything is “wrong” or “right.” Adultery has become an “affair.” Sin has become “mistakes.” We’ve gutted our thinking of any real conviction, any lasting moral foundation. As a result, we all feel like the “right” thing to do is to be merciful.
But mercy left to itself makes a mockery of justice. Tell a mother whose child has been abducted, raped, and murdered that she is to “be merciful” to her child’s killer and see how that works out for you. You may be the next murder victim. Why? Because something in that mom tells her, justice should be done.
Let’s carry that out as it relates to God. If God were only merciful (not giving us what we deserve), He’d be nothing but a heavenly softy, and all of us errant “children” (from you to Hitler) would be getting off the hook scott free. Nothing would ever be corrected, justice would never be done. All the sin throughout all of history would be swept under the rug and eternally ignored. Everyone gets amnesty. There is never any “reckoning.” In my thinking, that would be “mercy gone wild,” and it wouldn’t be good.
You might feel the revulsion that idea provokes right now. Wrong needs to be made right, or at least clearly labeled AS wrong and punished as such. Heinous things as child abuse, extortion, kidnapping, genocide, and rape should never go unanswered. Neither should what we might consider “lesser” sins – lying, gossip, manipulation, selfishness, lust. The reason you and I instinctively feel that way is because we are made in God’s image, and God is just. He must make the wrong right. He must call the guilty to account.
That means that all of us deserve His judgment. We have sinned. We are guilty… and justice must be done. There is no way around it… EXCEPT for God’s grace. His grace makes a way when there is no way. Not by practicing mercy gone wild, but by giving to us when we don’t deserve it. In Jesus, God gave us a substitute, to take our place beneath the fiery and punitive gaze of His holy judgment. That is what the cross was all about. Jesus took our punishment, so we don’t have to be punished. God gave us grace, so that we could receive mercy, without doing any violence to His just nature.
When we understand the relationship between grace and mercy, we see the giving nature of God more clearly; we see the great lengths to which He has gone to make a way for us to be forgiven for our sins; we see the miraculous gift it is that He’s done even more in giving us His Holy Spirit to empower us to live above sin’s domination. And when we see all of that, we can revel in the grace of God that brings us the mercy of God.
So here’s how I think of it:
Grace gives – mercy withholds
- Grace is God giving to us who don’t deserve it
- Mercy is God withholding the wrath our sins do deserve
- Grace is God giving us a means of forgiveness in Christ
- Mercy is God withholding condemnation
- Grace helps us to obey God, it is empowering
- Mercy refrains from punishing us because we don’t obey God
- Grace is receiving something you don’t deserve
- Mercy is not getting what you do deserve
Join the conversation: How do YOU see grace & mercy being different?
Books from the PF Journal..
My lopsided upbringing
The religious tradition I grew up in was a contradiction at best.
On one side of the pendulum, sermons were typically all about the grace of God that saves sinners. It’s glorious news, to be sure – and for my church it seemed like the only news. ”Soul winning” was huge… and everyone was, ummm, “expected” to be a soul-winner. I attended the same church for my first 18 years, and don’t remember ever hearing a sermon about the importance of prayer, how to biblically deal with conflict, how to live in a healthy Christian marriage, or the reality of “Christ in me.” It was all the grace of God, that saves sinners through faith. Wonderful – for as far as it went.
On the other side of the pendulum, things weren’t so wonderful, because there wasn’t much talk about grace once you moved beyond the topic of salvation. Then it became the infamous lists – women can’t wear pants, nobody should attend movies, alcohol is evil and should never be touched, and smoking will not only give you cancer but could also cause God to hold you at arm’s length. Even as a kid something about that attitude smelled… I mean, beyond the nicotine smell on the music minister’s fingers and breath.
In short, though my church majored on grace for salvation, it was not one that most people would say was characterized by grace regarding the Christian life.
An extreme reaction
From what I’ve observed since then, I wasn’t the only one who was raised in that kind of religious culture. Many people saw the error of such “legalism” and began looking for something more, something different, something a little less… well… legal. As a result, the overall Christian culture reacted quite strongly to those imbalances. Instead of making everything into a list of do’s and don’t's, Christian leaders began talking almost exclusively about “being under grace” and not “under law.” Biblical terms, to be sure – and powerful concepts when understood and applied rightly. But the meaning poured into those phrases over time became as imbalanced and dangerous as the mindset it was trying to correct.
When lovingly confronted about potentially unwise or ungodly choices in movies, or music, or speech, or (fill in the blank), Christians could routinely be heard to say, ”Oh, but I’m under grace!” Or another common one, “I am free in Christ.”
TRANSLATION: “My actions don’t really matter, because I’m forgiven by God’s grace.”
or with a little more tongue in cheek:
“I’m free of any obligation toward obedience, because God’s given me a ‘get out of sin free’ card.
What’s wrong with this picture
To be clear:
- Yes, we are forgiven (past, present, & future) by the grace of God, through faith in Christ.
- Yes, it’s a wonderful thing, and we should wallow in it like a pig in a mud-bath, until grace soaks into the pores of our souls.
- But it doesn’t mean that we are to think, act, speak, or do anything we want, and think that it’s O.K.
Sin still matters.
Obedience still matters.
The holiness of God, expressed through the imputed righteousness and indwelling Spirit of Christ still matters.
The reason we are still alive
God saves us, entirely by His grace. We do nothing to deserve it, and nothing to keep it. That’s all Him.
But that wonderful, matchless grace of Jesus is not impotent. It has an effect (outcome), because it affects our inner being. When Jesus saves us by His grace, we are made into something we weren’t before – saints. We are literally, not figuratively, temples for the divine Person of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).
He lives in us. He desires to live through us. Ponder that colossal truth for a while… and your mind will go “tilt!”
You – Mr. or Miss “saved-by-grace-Christian,” are still on the planet to be a testimony, a proof, a witness to the saving grace of God. You are here to give Him glory by your new life that He has given to you. To use a modern phrase from the online world, your changed life is God’s “social proof.” As others see Him making changes in you, from your attitudes to your actions, they begin to believe that there just might be something to this “Christian” thing.
You are not very effective “social proof” for God when you live by an “I’m free to do what I want” attitude – because your life says that God is impotent, and Jesus came into your life to no avail.
Here’s a challenge for you, and for me: Daily strive to submit your entire mind, will, and emotion (your soul), to Jesus’ use and leadership.
- That means sin does matter… because it is a contradiction to who Jesus has created us to be (Ephesians 2:8-10).
- That means that obedience does matter… because Spirit-empowered obedience demonstrates that God’s grace to us was not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:10)
QUESTION: How have YOU seen the word “grace” misused or misapplied? What difference do you see that making?
Books from the PF Journal..
I’m on sabbatical (translation: I’m resting),
so this is a pre-scheduled post for your encouragement, education and enjoyment!
I really enjoy the teaching ministry of Mark Driscoll. He’s one of those guys who will simply say it like it is, and let the chips fall…
Anyway… here’s a clip from one of his sermons from the book of Luke – a GREAT point for our day!
I’m on sabbatical (translation: I’m resting). So this is a
pre-scheduled post for your edification!
Yes, I know. The title of the post is provocative. Intentionally so. Yes… I know it is.
Why would I imply that God hates sinners?
Because the Bible says He does.
If you want to know what I mean… David Platt says it better than anyone…
But if you’re gonna’ watch this… take the time to watch the entire thing – so you don’t misunderstand!
As part of my preparation for my upcoming Sunday message, I took some time to look through some older stuff I had prepared on the same topic. As part of that, I just finished listening to a sermon I preached in 2006.
…not because the delivery was especially bad, but because the theology was. Man, that’s the worst kind of embarrassing. To quote Tigger, I got it “all twisty-taled around!”
It makes me shudder to think that at any given time in my life, I could, with the greatest conviction and certainty, say or write something absolutely wrong – and be confident it is right.
“Oh God… help me to humbly speak Your truth… and only Your truth. I ask You to cover even my preaching with the precious, forgiving blood of Your Son, Jesus”
NO – you cannot have a copy of the sermon… it will self-destruct in 10 seconds…
You can find, “What A Difference A Day Makes!” our Easter sermon audio by hovering your mouse HERE
If you would like to listen to sermon audio for the sermon “Is Jesus REALLY the Only Way?” then you can find it by hovering your mouse HERE
You can find audio for the sermon “Lost and Found” (Luke chapter 15 – the parable of the prodigal son) by the following link… (click to download, hover to play immediately)