Tag Archives: legalism

Unconditional Love and Grace Are Not Dirty Words

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A few weeks ago I heard a preacher talk about God’s unconditional love as if it was a dirty word. On another occasion, an old friend spoke of grace with equal disdain. I understand where they were coming from. One was coming from an attitude of legalism, while the other was grieving over grace being taken for granted and used as a license to sin. I am grateful that the pastors and teachers at the church I attend preach about God’s unconditional love and grace in a balanced way and without contempt.

 My daughter and I were discussing how people see truths differently depending on where they are in life and through which lens they are looking. For example, a person who truly recognizes his or her own utter depravity and the amazing grace and unconditional love of God, tends to really understand grace and is able to be gracious toward others. They see grace in a very positive way. Those who tend toward legalism and feel justified because they are able to keep certain commandments or live what they consider to be a good Christian life, tend to view unconditional love and grace with less value and speak contemptuously about churches that emphasize God’s love and grace. It is reminiscent of what Jesus said to Simon, the Pharisee, when he scorned Jesus for allowing a prostitute to wipe His feet with her hair. Jesus said:

“Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gave me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but his woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (Luke 7:36-50)

The preacher I heard also mentioned visiting a fellow Christian, and upon finding out he had beer in his refrigerator, condemned him and questioned whether or not the man was a true Christian. Even if the man was an alcoholic, it does not mean he is not a Christian. What if he is addicted but wants to quit? What if he agrees with God that his drunkenness is sin? Didn’t the Apostle Paul himself say in the very same letter to the Romans concerning there being “therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, that he himself does what he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do what he wants to do? Didn’t Paul call himself a wretched man and thank God for Jesus Christ his Lord? (Romans 7 :14-25)

The attitude of the preacher reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the Pharisee and the publican (with modern claims added in italics and parentheses for emphasis):

And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. (Alcohol has never touched my lips, nor my feet entered a movie theater. I am in church every time the doors are open, and I go out soul-winning every week.)” And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. —Luke 18:9-14

Another preacher, who is full of grace, has never condemned his crack addict friend. He does not question his love for the Lord just because his friend is in church for a time and then falls back into his crack addiction. This preacher loves his friend unconditionally and encourages him to never, ever, ever give up. Which one would you say is more like Jesus?

Unconditional love and grace are, indeed, not to be used as a license to do whatever we want. If we do that, then it is fair that our love for God would be put in question. But if we hate when we sin, if we agree with God and try to turn away from doing it again…

and again…

and again,

He forgives us 70 x 7, because He is full of grace and a love that does not put conditions on us, like doing penance, before He will love us again. His love is unconditional. A person who simply dismisses sin and makes light of it because of grace and unconditional love, may need to consider the seriousness of sin, the purpose of obedience, and his/her own love for God. Likewise, people who speak of unconditional love and grace with disdain, may need to consider their own depravity and remember from what they themselves have been saved.

If I err, I would rather err on the side of love and grace.


If you liked this, you might also like… Love Sometimes Comes in Waves

Tickle My Ears, Tell Me What I Like to Hear

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.  —2 Tim. 4:3

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. —2 Tim. 4:3

Oftentimes when someone talks about people going to certain churches to have their ears tickled or who have ‘itching ears’, they describe them as people who want to hear only ‘feel good’ messages, teachings and sermons that lack Biblical doctrine. While that may be true, those who love hard messages can also be guilty of having itching ears.

A careful reading of both 2 Timothy 3 and 4 reveals it is not merely talking about soft and fluffy feel good messages, but any teaching that is unsound, especially concerning salvation, and that includes teaching man-made rules, also known as the traditions of men or traditions of the elders, as though they were commandments from God. Fluffy teachings can tickle our ears if we don’t like being told what to do. Hard messages can tickle our ears if we, not only like to live by a strict set of rules that make us feel like elite Christians, but like telling others how they should live, too. Oh sure, both fluffy messages and hard ones may contain some truth, but as a Yiddish proverb says, “A half truth is a whole lie,” and can lead people astray. Either way, if we tend to heap unto ourselves teachers who tickle our ears so we feel better about ourselves, we may want to consider if what we’re listening to and who we follow are sound in doctrine.

Cookie-Cutter Christian

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This is in response to a few things that have come up recently in different conversations, one of which was a friend’s recent post on Facebook about how we should dress.  He posed a few questions and gave his own opinion.  Another friend commented by saying, “Jesus doesn’t seem to care about your fashion sense.”  If that’s true then why do some Christians make such a big deal about trying to get others to look just like them?

You can be a clean-shaven man with a short haircut and a suit and tie; a woman with long hair, no makeup, no jewelry, and wear a prairie dress; or a preacher with pomaded hair, jeans and a button-down shirt, but if the goal is to become more righteous based on what you wear or don’t wear, what happened to the heart or God’s mercy and grace as expressed through Jesus’ atoning work on the cross?  Don’t those things matter more?  If we’re trying to get people to be more like us, isn’t our focus in the wrong place?

When Hudson Taylor, the great Christian missionary, moved to China to share the Gospel with them, he didn’t teach them to become like him.  Instead, he grew his hair and braided it into a Chinese cue and wore Chinese clothes.  Unlike Hudson Taylor, many early American sects forced African slaves and Native Americans to dress like them.  They even destroyed everything having to do with their culture, and the very people they were trying to convert learned to hate the white man and his Jesus.  God never commanded people to get rid of their culture.  He commanded them to turn away from and stop worshiping idols.

Please don’t let someone mold you into their image and into becoming a cookie-cutter Christian.  If they don’t accept you without the clean-shaven face, short hair and a suit and tie, then they aren’t following Christ’s example, and you should be careful about following them.  And please don’t be a cookie cutter who tries to mold someone else.  You know what Jesus said about the scribes and Pharisees, right?

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.  Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”  (Matthew 23:27, 28)

Photo credit:  S. Schleicher

Edited August 19, 2013 to add that I should have included that I used to be both a cookie-cutter Christian and a cookie cutter.  See the comment below.  I plan to do a follow-up post soon, one I’ve been planning to do, tentatively called I Used to Be a Pharisee.

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