Problems With Unbalanced Grace

Some people claim they love grace, but …

  1. “Grace is great, but don’t go overboard.”
  2. “God’s grace has to be balanced with God’s law.”
  3. “People can rely too much on God’s grace.”
  4. “If you aren’t careful with your ideas about grace, you’ll end up committing the same old sins.”

Nonsense.

First, God doesn’t need me to go overboard with his grace. He does that himself already:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. … For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.(Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9.)

God goes so far overboard with his grace that he makes us alive and saves us in his grace even when we were dead in our transgressions – the kind of dead that comes because of our sins. His grace is richer than we can imagine.

Richer than Queen Elizabeth

Richer than Queen Elizabeth

Second, grace can’t be balanced with the law because the law does nothing for Christians. Nothing at all.

The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Galatians 2:20-21.)

There is no righteousness to be found in following the law.* Righteous living comes solely from faith in Jesus.

Third, while no one can rely too much on God’s grace it is quite possible to rely on it too little.

Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3.)

Moses with the Ten Commandments, Rembrandt

Moses with the Ten Commandments, Rembrandt

God does not give us life so that we can then follow the law. No, we start and finish our lives in him through faith by his grace. Simply put, it is faith that allows us to do what is right.

Which leads to the fourth point: going overboard with grace doesn’t lead to sin but rather it leads to obedience.

Jesus Christ our Lord: Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. (Romans 1:4-5.)

Obedience comes from faith. And faith, as we saw above, is not a product of our efforts but is a gift given by God from the riches of his grace.

A Life of Obedience

Obedience is not produced by our efforts but through our faith. Allow me to repeat that.

Obedience does not come from your efforts.

You can’t try hard enough, or resolve often enough, or practice long enough to create one ounce of obedience to God. It comes from faith, which is Christ in you.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13.)

Don’t stop with the first part of that passage. The work of obedience isn’t our work; it’s God’s work in us.

Still, people like to have some way of measuring whether they are obeying God or not, even if they understand it is obedience produced by faith and not by our own work or will. The Bible gives us the way to measure our walk with God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23.)

Mailoica Basket of Fruit, Fede Galizia

Mailoica Basket of Fruit, Fede Galizia

The Holy Spirit carries out his work in us, and we know that we are being worked on and through when we see the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Even when we fall short, the mere fact that we recognize that and desire to obey in faith is a sign that the Spirit continues to work in us.

That’s where obedience comes from, the Holy Spirit. It is a product of our life of faith given us through God’s extravagant, going-overboard, unbalanced grace.

***

*The law – including the 10 Commandments – not only cannot produce obedience but actually brings death according to 2 Corinthians 3:7 and Galatians 3:10.

***

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50 Responses to Problems With Unbalanced Grace

  1. Laura Droege says:

    Any tips on how to explain this concept to children/tweens/teens?

    • Tim says:

      I’d start with the fact that God lives in those who belong to him. His presence in us is overwhelming in itself, and is something we don’t at all deserve but we are blessed. So it’s an example of God’s grace too.

        • Grace Administrator says:

          Actually, my “OUTSTANDING” comment was meant to be of a more general nature–but there is it, under Laura’s comment! Laura, I’ve been down this road with the kids–we raised our first two with a very performance-based, rule-driven understanding of the Christian family. (This was doubtlessly a result of our own understanding of God, and of belonging to a very performance-based, rule-driven, abusive church!) With our third daughter, 10 years younger than her sisters, we’ve related more from a basis of grace and acceptance. Here’s my point: the time and place where we, as parents, “taught” and demonstrated the gospel of grace alone was almost always in the context of our own failures, or of her failures. It’s when our kids fail (sin, disobey, go off the rails, etc.) that we flawed by loving parents have the greatest opportunities to teach grace. They won’t admit the lesson, but they will definitely remember it, and will have a better chance of understanding the grace of God when they encounter it in the future. I hope that relates–sometimes preachers make more sense on Monday mornings than Sunday mornings, sometimes not! Blessings!

    • Grace Administrator says:

      OUTSTANDING, Tim! With you all the way! I was introduced to the gospel of the free grace of God 17 years ago, became a pastor, and have done my best to preach it consistently ever since. Have not, repeat NOT, found any of the proposed defects of free grace to be reality in the life of the congregation, but have found that this gospel liberates, draws people to Christ, and encourages an obedient Christian life in those who embrace it. Saved by grace, living by grace! Again, thanks Tim!

      • Laura Droege says:

        Hey, I couldn’t find a way to reply to your message about raising kids in performance-based versus grace-based homes, so I’m replying to your more general message. 🙂 Thanks a bunch for the advice! I appreciate it.

        • Grace Administrator says:

          Thanks, Laura! When we were in the throes of parenting our first two teens–and were NOT sailing through the experience smoothly–a wonderful older lady in our (new, gracious church!) gave us some magnificent advice: “Just get through it. Period.” She was so right!

      • Tim says:

        Thanks, GA. Any time someone says that grace can’t be this good because then it leads Christians into sin I wonder if they’ve ever read Romans 6-9. Paul answered those accusations, and in that letter and others showed that our obedience is not because we have the law to guide us but because we have the Spirit living in us.

  2. I think anyone who utters the sentiments at the beginning of this blog post has little genuine understanding of what grace actually is, which is sad. I love Ann Voskamp’s phrase – “all is grace.”

    • Tim says:

      It is sad, yet I read articles and hear speakers who say that we need to make sure we don’t go so far overboard with grace that we forget to follow God’s “moral law”. God’s law is God’s law, whether moral or ceremonial or whatever, and trying to be a lawkeeper is a rejection of grace. We pursue righteousness by focusing on Jesus and living in his Spirit who dwells in us, not by trying to follow the law.

      • Shalini says:

        True Tim! But that said, in the new covenant, His moral law is written in our hearts just as He promised! And His indwelling Spirit in us gives us both the impetus and the ability to obey Him! Incidentally (and on a tangential note), God has ALWAYS been a God of Grace. In some of our churches here, there is a tendency to think that the God of the OT was devoid of grace (was harsh and a rigid hard-to-please deity who slapped a list of dos and don’ts to make people toe His line) and that we saw grace revealed ONLY in Jesus. Marcion fragmented God into two.- sometimes we subconsciously end up doing the same. I love the fact that God revealed Himself as ‘gracious’ when Moses wanted to ‘see’ him! Also love that God recorded it in scripture that “Abraham (clearly, an OT guy!) BELIEVED Him and it was credited to him as righteousness. ” I guess being right with God has always been a matter of faith, never of merely keeping the law (which is impossible to do anyway). And obedience – whether for an OT or an NT believer- has always been a response to His extravagant grace. And for that, we also choose to let Him have His way with us. As you so rightly summed it up – the fruit of the Spirit is the evidence of our growing in Him!

        • Tim says:

          I agree with you that his law is written on our hearts but it is not the moral law but rather the law of royal love, as James puts it. Following that law of love is what happens as the Spirit lives in us.

        • Shalini says:

          I always thought that the law of love (towards God and man) was the essence of the moral law. And yes, agree it is He who enables us to follow Him!

  3. janehinrichs says:

    amen! amen! amen! amen! God definitely went overboard on grace — all of us humans would probably agree. But thank you God that you did!!!! Thank you Jesus for your great gift of Grace!!!

  4. trishamugo says:

    Yes. Yes. Yes. 100 times yes. Grace is scandalous. Apostle Paul preached radical grace and offended so many. We must present the Gospel the same way he did. The same way Jesus did.

    • Tim says:

      Exactly, Trisha. When Paul said we are to live by grace not law, he meant not law. People still find it hard to do without rules and rely instead on the work of the Spirit in them/ Yet the Bible tells us that life in Christ really is that gracious.

  5. trishamugo says:

    Curious about your thoughts on “hyper grace?”

  6. Erica M. says:

    I think part of this comes from miscommunication/bad wording and part from plain human stubbornness. It’s so hard for our minds to grasp the concept that God will forgive us and love us no matter what we do. We keep making it harder on ourselves!

    P.S. I hear music blaring out grace! Listening to Ancient Faith Radio. 😛

    • Tim says:

      Not only does he love his children at all times, his forgiveness is ours already for every sin in the past, at the present, and yet to be committed. Grace like that is hard to conceive, but it’s what the Bible says we have as a free gift from God.

      • Shalini says:

        Hi Tim. I love your blog but disagree on a point or two. One being – ” his forgiveness is ours already for every sin in the past, at the present, and yet to be committed.” Coincidentally, had just penned down my thoughts on grace, when I came across your post. I don’t know how it is in the States, but back home, we have a huge movement towards ‘hyper grace’ – which essentially says that because God’s grace is extravagant you are insulting Him if you confess any sins to Him as a believer when he has already forgiven your past, present and future sins.” Yes, the PROVISION (for forgiveness) is already there, IN FULL. Jesus paid the price for all our sins, forever. When we got saved, we responded to His grace by asking Him to forgive us. And so it is with the rest of our walk with Him – we appropriate it by faith. Was reading a book called “Hyper Grace’ and the author puts it across well – “We had a massive debt in God’s sight, a tremendous record of guilt that we could never remove in a 1000 lifetimes, yet the Lord in His mercy canceled that debt and wiped away our guilt in a moment of time, making us white as snow. That is amazing grace! so, Jesus died for our sins on the cross, but forgiveness for our sins was not transacted until the day we repented and believed. And what sins were forgiven at that point of time? The sins we has committed, not the sins we had not yet committed’. How could it be otherwise? That was the debt we owed – The sins we had committed, not the sins we had not yet committed… If God already forgave all our sins, past, present, and future, why is Jesus talking about being forgiven on an ongoing basis? Its clear that our present sins need forgiveness, NOT for the purpose of salvation, but as part of our relationship with the Father. Again, this is pre-supposed throughout the New testament. ”

        Which brings us to another related question – should believers confess their sins to God? When we become conscious of engaging with any sin, and the Lord convicts us, we still get right with Him by confessing it – not in a self-flagellating, ‘oh-i’m-a-worm way – we just don’t wallow in self-condemnation and throw pity parties. We simply confess our sins because He has promised us that when we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will cleanse us. That doesn’t mean I stay up all night anxiously introspecting on what sins I may have committed during the day! But just that if the Lord convicts me of anything, I just say sorry and get on with enjoying Him! The ‘hyper-grace ‘ camp says this amounts to insulting the Spirit of grace, because it is all forgiven! I’d say brazenly proceeding with a sinful act deliberately and callously is what insults Him, not my confessing it to Him. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on whether repentance insults His grace. Because that is what the preachers/teachers of the modern Grace reformation/revolution believe. Given that none of us are sinless wonders this side of eternity, what are believers to do when they are conscious of deliberate sin in their lives? Yes, He has broken the hold of sin in our lives and we are a new creation, but we reach sinless perfection when we see Him face-to-face, in our glorified, transformed bodies, not in the here and now. Till then what? Sorry for putting most of my post here, but that is the price you pay for having fans 😛

        • Tim says:

          I certainly do not think we are not to confess and repent of sins we commit. Confession and repentance are part of learning to be in fellowship with God. Forgiveness is a different aspect of that relationship, of course, and one he has given us completely already.

        • Shalini says:

          True, unfortunately, repentance and confession are seen as legalism by many. And I guess what I am trying to say (at the risk of appearing to split hairs!) is that the provision for the forgiveness of our sins has already been made by His atoning death once and for all. The price has already been paid for ALL our sins, present, past, future. It is up to us to respond to it (at salvation) and in our ongoing walk with Him! Peace!

  7. Jeannie says:

    I think the comments with which you started your post stem from the idea that grace is equivalent to letting people off the hook, being lax and lenient, etc. But it’s so much more. I think that grace encompasses everything we attribute to God: mercy, justice, love, truth — it’s ALL grace. God can’t NOT show grace. As the hymn-writer so wisely put it, “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”

    I also really like the saying, “There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there’s nothing you can do to make God love you less.”

  8. “Even when we fall short, the mere fact that we recognize that and desire to obey in faith is a sign that the Spirit continues to work in us.”
    Thanks for this encouragement, Tim!

  9. nmcdonal says:

    I think Paul was accused of having an unbalanced view of grace…which makes me think those who advocate the crazy, unbalanced view like yourself, Tim, sit in the same seat (umm…I don’t mean that in a Roman Catholic sense). I don’t agree that the law is useless, being a Calvin devotee I’d say the law now serves a “third use” of painting a portrait of obedience for Christians today. But you’re right – there’s no such thing as “balancing” grace and law for our salvation. That’s like saying I’m eating a 90% real avocado. No, you’re eating a 100% real avocado, and 10% something else. Okay, that was a really weird metaphor. Probably flowing from my just having eaten guacamole that claimed it contained 100% real avocado (and then I realized the only alternative would be a 0% real avocado, so pretty much, it doesn’t mean anything).

    Sorry to blaspheme your blog with this comment graffiti.

    • Tim says:

      You’re talking food, so you’re speaking my language, Nick!

      The third use is a great way to look at it. I agree that the law is not completely useless for us in the New Covenant. What I mean by it’s lack of utility is that trying to use the law as a guide for behavior misses the grace we have in the work of the Holy Spirit moving us into righteousness, rather than the law being the one moving us in that direction.

  10. Did you love enough may very well be the question the Judge asks us one day.

  11. Pastor Bob says:

    I like this, well, really appreciate it greatly. I have been dealing with people from two paths, the first is stressing that willful repetitive sin can overwhelm grace, the second, truly walking in him will not let one sin in areas of weakness. This second group wobbles through life’s challenges believing that disobedience is the reason for the “earthly problems.”

    I have some info for both groups. Care to weigh in on this headache?
    (When the day job gets weird, I often think of the fact that I can get over 100 screaming children under control within a few minutes. MUCH easier than the stubborn silliness of adults and “procedures.”

    • Tim says:

      What I would tell people in each of those camps is to take Jesus at his word. Come to him and they will find rest, true rest from the struggles. He didnt’ say the struggles go away; he just said we would find our rest – from those struggles and in midst of them, I think – in him

  12. Chris says:

    Shouldn’t we also take Jesus at his word to “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Mat. 28:20
    A command is a law and is by no stretch of the imagination a suggestion. And therefore we must obey the whole law as remedied by the New Testament. For example, we cannot receive salvation by sacrificing a lamb as was the case for the Old Covenant Hebrews. That’s been remedied by Christ’s New Covenant.
    Salvation is now the free gift of the indwelling Christ in our spirit. We can’t work for that. We receive it free by faith. However, the reason Jesus gives Himself to us as a gift is for the express purpose of making us like Him, a doer of good works and a conqueror.
    So, His job in us is to quicken our spirit, mind and body into all righteousness. In other words, it is to help us follow His laws and do the things that we need to do.
    “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Eph. 2:10

    • Tim says:

      Good questions, Chris. One thing I find different between the Old Covenant and the New covenant is that being “created … for good works” (which we do because the spirit lives in us) is different from trying to “follow his laws.”

      There is right behavior under the New Covenant, of course, and it is found in the commands Jesus mentioned before his ascension. But the scope of those commands is not found in the Sermon on the Mount but in the “new command I give you” as Jesus put it in the Upper Room Discourse.

  13. Adriana says:

    Tim, I’d love to know your (or Nick’s, or anyone’s) take on John Bunyan’s allegory for how grace works in the heart. This is from The Pilgrim’s Progress:

    “Then I saw in my Dream, that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and led him into a place, where was a Fire burning against a Wall, and one standing by it always, casting much Water upon it to quench it: Yet did the Fire burn higher and hotter.

    “Then said Christian, ‘What means this?’

    “The Interpreter answered, ‘This fire is the work of Grace that is wrought in the heart; he that casts Water upon it, to extinguish and put it out, is the Devil: but in that thou seest the fire, notwithstanding, burn higher and hotter, thou shalt also see the reason of that: So he had him about to the back side of the Wall, where he saw a Man with a Vessel of Oyl in his hand, of the which he did also continually cast, but secretly, into the fire. Then said Christian, What means this? The Interpreter answered, This is Christ, who continually with the Oyl of his Grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the Devil can do, the souls of his people prove gracious still. And in that thou sawest, that the Man stood behind the Wall to maintain the fire; this is to teach thee, that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of Grace is maintained in the soul.”

    • Tim says:

      Beautiful excerpt, Adriana. When he says that Christ whose grace maintains the work already begun in the heart we see the truth of Paul’s statement that it is the Spirit who woks in us (and certainly not us who work toward the Spirit!).

  14. Amy says:

    I’m really struggling with this concept. I have been married to a man who has been abusive, addicted to pornography, and has repeatedly cheated. Yet, whenever he is caught, he pulls the grace card. You know, the Jesus forgives me for this so why can’t you card? And then he goes right on continuing the behavior after a short break. I love God’s grace, but have trouble with someone continuing in their sin while waving that grace card. And if I seek help from men in the church, they just rally around him waving their grace cards. But no change occurs and it’s right back to the same old, same old. Porn and adultery with a side of “Jesus Loves Me, This I know.” Any insight you can give would be appreciated.

    • Tim says:

      I don’t know if I can help with advice for your marriage in particular, Amy. In general, I know that grace and truth go hand in hand and sometimes people need to hear God’s truth in a grace-filled way. I don’t read grace discussed in the Bible as saying that because Jesus loves us others have too as well and they can’t hold us accountable for our actions.

      But as I said, I don’t know how this would apply in your own situation. I am praying for you, though.

      Blessings on you,
      Tim

  15. Don Johnson says:

    I think you misunderstand some terms in the NT, terms that are commonly misunderstood. That is all I will say unless you indicate you want to discuss, possibly offline.

  16. Don Johnson says:

    Since you reposted on FB, my offer still stands.

    • Tim says:

      You should blog your thoughts and share the link here, Don. That would give everyone a chance to join the discussion at your place if they like.

  17. billderham says:

    Thank you Tim. Very clear.

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