I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. – Jude 1.4
I think if you are a pastor today, or if you go to church today (I know that’s becoming unpopular among some grace people, but church is still God’s plan to change the world), then you will know that this Scripture is true. People are worming their way into strong, healthy churches, and teaching that God’s grace allows us to live immoral lives.
As a pastor of a grace church, as someone who loves grace, and who has been changed beyond recognition by the truths of God’s grace, I know from bitter experience that people do still think that grace lets you live immoral lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. And as pastors, as good shepherds, we need to notice these people as they will infect your church and rip it apart. I’m not posting this post because I am anti-grace, but because I am pro-grace! A little yeast will spoil the whole bunch.
Here are three ways in which you can identify that people think that grace gives us a licence to sin:
- They think that grace means that they never have to say “sorry”. There was a film in the 70s which said “Love means never having to say you are sorry” but that simply isn’t true. If you care about and love people, and your actions hurt them – if your behaviour is rude, selfish, critical and abusive then you should apologize. You should let that person know that you care about them, that you regret causing them pain and that you value their relationship. Jesus had a lot to say about making amends with your family, and people who just dismiss the hurt they have caused others with their negative, selfish behaviour really do not understand grace, no matter what their doctrine on the subject.What is ironic here is that you will find out that the people who insist grace means they don’t have to apologize, will be the most thin-skinned when other people are mean or unkind to them. A pastor who does not realize this will end up with a church full of offended people, sulking people, and hurt people. Love means you should apologize when you offend and hurt someone due to your selfish behaviour. 2 Tim. 2.24 says the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to all. Matthew 5.23-24 says So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Jesus thinks that reconciliation with others is more important than worship – so be very wary in dealing with people who never think they need to apologize or make amends for their behaviour. They will destroy your community.
- People use grace as a licence to sin when they believe there should be no consequences to their sin. Now the most beautiful precious truth of grace is that there is no more penalty for sin. Jesus is the propitiation (the one who takes the penalty) for sin – not just our sin, but the sins of the whole world (1 John 2.2). There is no more penalty for sin. You will never be punished for God for your sin. But sin is still a seed, and seeds will produce harvests. I had to speak to a young man recently whose girlfriend is pregnant. He told me “I prayed and prayed that she wouldn’t…” I had to point out that sex is sowing seeds, and seeds produce harvests – in this case, human seeds produce a harvest of a human! It’s like if you plant apple seeds, don’t bother praying for an orange harvest – it won’t happen. Sin is sowing seeds of death and they only produce a death harvest. People who think God’s grace is a licence to sin will always be vocally upset at consequences to sin. Their marriage is in a mess because they go out get drunk and flirt. That’s not God judging them, that’s just the consequences to sin. If you are rude and mean, people will avoid you. They won’t share their hearts with you. That’s not God judging you, that’s just the consequences to sin. People who think grace is a licence to sin will try and avoid the consequences to their sin. They will never own their sin and own the consequences. Speeding and parking tickets will be thrown in the bin and ignored, they will never turn up for marriage counselling or debt counselling – they would prefer to moan about their wives and post on Facebook how much money they desperately need. People who cannot face the consequences to their actions are immature – help them, but don’t build on them and don’t take the consequences for them!
- People who think there should be no consequences for sin generally think that means that they should not have to endure the consequences for their sin. You having to put up with the consequences of their sin does not bother them at all. Them having to put up with the consequences of sin is all that gets them upset. So these people will never respect your personal space or fences (if you need some teaching on setting boundaries or fences in your life – or dealing with people like this, http://www.treeoflifeguildford.com/building-fences.html will help you no end), and will invade your life with their problems.They can’t handle being a couple of hundred pounds out of pocket because of their greediness and overspending and lack of self-control, but if they can “borrow” the money off you, then they will not mind you being out of pocket. And as for saying sorry when they can’t pay you back, see point 1! If you put up a fence to these people, and refuse to enable them (to use psychological language, refuse to be their co-dependent) then expect a barrage of verbal abuse telling you that you don’t understand grace, that you are legalistic, that you are harsh, mean, selfish. Grace to these people means that there should be no consequences to their sin; and that people should not put healthy boundaries in their life to protect them from abusive people and anyone who does put a boundary up is accused of being unloving and ungracious.
That is when grace is perverted in my mind, and when I see those three things: an inability to apologize and own wrong doing, an inability to take responsibility for the consequences of actions, and a lack of respect for other people’s personal space and life – then I see an immaturity, a mis-understanding of grace, and I see problems ahead.
Jude’s response to this is to remember that people like this will exist (vv. 18-19). You should not be surprised at the way some so-called grace Christians can and will act, and how they will try and take advantage of you.
His second piece of advice is “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” (vv. 20-21). In other words, that’s how they behave but you – but you behave in a different way: praying in the Holy Spirit which is speaking in tongues (just as another issue: people who turn the grace of God into a licence to sin often never pray in the Holy Spirit unless they are facing personal dilemmas). You should pray in tongues. You might be tempted to get annoyed at how other people have treated you: pray in tongues. You see a so-called mature Christian tell you that apologizing for messing up and losing your temper at someone is the devil: pray in tongues. Someone comes to you and calls you names, insisting you forgive because you are a grace person, but they never do anything to contribute to the relationship or help you in any way: praying in tongues. Someone is disrespecting your personal life and invading your territory because it is easier on them: pray in tongues. Pray in tongues!
Secondly: keep yourself in the love of God. Remember: other people may misuse you, may worm their way into the church and cause trouble. But you are still loved by God. Forget that and your response to these grace-twisters may be less than stellar. You might be the one being rude. No – remember GOD LOVES YOU. He adores you. He loves you. He cares about you. He dotes on you. Keep focused on Him. Ministry is hard – but Jesus said “Don’t rejoice you have authority over demons, but rejoice that your name is in the Lamb’s book of life”. In other words, if you rejoice in your effectiveness as a minister – you will have ups and downs. If you rejoice in God’s love – it’s all up.
Let the people get on with it, set healthy boundaries, speak in tongues loads – build yourself up and discipline yourself to pray in the Spirit, not just when you have a need but because it’s good discipline, training and growth, and don’t treat God’s grace as a licence to sin, but keep yourself in it. You see the people that take God’s grace and use it as a licence to sin have heard some ideas about God’s grace, some sermons on God’s grace, maybe even gone to a grace church or even a grace Bible College, but they are not keeping themselves in the love, in the grace. (Mental assent to the doctrines of grace without actually having grace may be the greatest danger to the entire grace movement but that’s another post).
You though – keep yourselves in the love of God. Meditate on the love, confess and declare the love, memorize Scriptures on the love, act in love, walk in love, love one another. And pastors and leaders, watch out for people who think grace is a licence to sin and restrict their influence because they will choke the church to death.