One of the most discouraging dynamics in evangelical church culture is the prevalent mistrust of grace. As soon I talk or write about the free gift of eternal life given to all who believe in Jesus someone is going to bring up three or four passages–Hebrews 6, Hebrews 10, or James 2–and warn me against easy-believism. There’s a deep fear among Christians that someone is going to get over on God by abusing grace.
Let’s face it. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all abusers of grace. What we really mean is that we don’t want Jesus giving eternal life to anyone who abuses his grace more than we do. There’s some inner spiritual calculator that determines that the sins I do are okay, those are the ones you’d expect of someone who has received eternal life. But the sins those other people who claim to be Christians commit! Well, how can you say they’re a Christian?
I can say they’re a Christian if they have placed their faith in Jesus Christ because Jesus and his apostles said so. That’s it. Period. Salvation is by grace, through faith, plus nothing.
This always raises a legitimate concern in the heart of every sincere believer who takes Jesus at his word:
“What about that person who claims Christ but does not walk with him?”
To answer that question, I need to teach you some theology about what grace means. If you think theology isn’t relevant to your life, let me remind you of the words of C. S. Lewis:
“If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones.”
I believe I’ve received the spiritual gift of teaching and pastoring from the Lord Jesus. Peter says that I need to take that privilege seriously, “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God (1 Peter 4:10).
With that in mind, I want to answer your questions about that person who claims Christ but doesn’t follow the Savior.
Does Grace Mean?
Does grace mean that all who believe in Jesus Christ receive eternal life that can never be taken away?
YES! Salvation is conditioned solely on faith in Jesus Christ. Nearly 200 times faith, or belief is stated as the single condition in the New Testament. (John 1:12; 3:16; 6:47; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5)
All who believe in Jesus are eternally secure. (John 10:28-30, held securely by Father and Son; Jude 24, believers will be presented faultless; 1 Corinthians 12:13, are placed in the body of Christ; Ephesians 4:30, sealed by the Holy Spirit; Romans 8:28-39, and guaranteed that nothing will separate believers from the love of God.)
Assurance is the personal awareness of an eternally secure believer that he or she is indeed secure. This is based on the confidence that faith brings (Ephesians 3:12), even, or especially during hard times (2 Timothy 1:12). John teaches us that loving one another assures our hearts that we have passed from death to life (1 John 3:14). Hebrews 10 warns us that unfaithfulness to Christ causes us to lose this confidence. I believe that grace plus works teaching steals assurance from believers, sometimes even as they are truly trusting in Jesus Christ.
Does grace mean that since I’m going to heaven when I die God doesn’t care about how I live on earth?
NO! God delivered us from our sin to perform works to the glory of God (Ephesians 2:10). Since we have power not to sin we should not let sin reign in our lives because we are under grace (Romans 6:12-14). We are to become God’s blameless and harmless children, shining Christ’s light in this wicked world (Philippians 2:15).
Does grace mean that if I decide to be unfaithful to Christ there are no consequences?
NO! God severely disciplines wayward children (Hebrews 10:26-27; 12:3-11). The church is given responsibility to discipline sins against other believers (Matthew 18:15-17), divisive behaviors (Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 4:19), and prideful sins that dishonor the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
God rewards those who have been faithful to Jesus (Romans 2:10; 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12), but those who have been unfaithful will lose reward (Matthew 6:19-20; 25:14-30; 1 Corinthians 3:15, 16-27; 9:26-27; Hebrews 6:12; 10:19-35; 12:1-17; 2 Peter 1:5-11; 1 John 2:28; 2 John 7-8).
Does grace mean that anyone who says, “I have trusted in Christ” is a true Christian?
NO! Trusting in Christ and saying, “I have trusted in Christ” are two different things. There should be no doubt that anyone who has trusted in Christ has received eternal life and has been made new. However, there is a valid evaluation in community of what one would expect from this changed life. This does not mean that we should change the gospel to require commitment up front. But it does mean that if we see no evidence of the new heart, no evidence of even a desire to follow Christ, and especially no conflict within (Galatians 5:16-26), we should not give that person assurance that he or she is eternally secure.
I respond to that person by first giving them the gospel. Then, I will warn them of the discipline of the Father, if what they’re saying is true. Finally, I will try to get them into a discipling relationship and a small group where we can speak honestly of the problem of their life not being what one would expect from a new creation in Christ.
Does grace mean that I have no role in maturing in my Christian life?
NO! Every exhortation in the New Testament is asking believers to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit who is giving us the desire and the power to follow Christ. We are to access our resources in Christ by trusting Him enough to do what He says. The best verse that presents this balance is Galatians 2:20.
Does grace mean that holiness isn’t important to God?
NO! There are many exhortations to be holy in the New Testament (Romans 6:12-14; Philippians 2:15). What grace means is that for the first time in history we have the capacity to be holy as we trust God (Galatians 2:20) and the Spirit releases Christ in us (Colossians 2:10) to do works prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10) that we’re empowered to do (Galatians 5:16) and will be rewarded for (Hebrews 6:10). It’s all by grace, but we must respond by trusting enough to obey.
You may disagree with me, and that’s okay with me. This isn’t a post for the anti-grace crowd to pick apart. This is a sincere message from my pastor’s heart to help those who love someone who has walked away from Christ. I pray this helps you know what to say to them, what to think about them, and develop a strategy to love them well.
Question: For those of you who love someone like this, how can I help you?