I believe in the free grace of God. I don’t think we earn our salvation. I know that it is a gift. But often my teaching – though never denying grace – does not stress grace enough. I sometimes leave it out of my lessons. I talk about all the ways that we fail to live radical Christian lives. But, sometimes, when reflecting on my lessons, I realize that grace is at best a short detour from my main point.
But stressing holiness or radical discipleship without stressing grace is dangerous and sometimes discouraging to the hearers. I realized my mistake while reading an old blog post by Tim Keller. Keller discusses the means of revival in the history of the church. He stresses that teachings on grace has been a major means of revival in church history.
Like most ministers, I hope and pray for a spiritual revival in my ministry and the campus that I serve. But I’ve been underemphasizing one of the greatest means of revival – grace.
But why would a minister be tempted to sideline grace? I’ve been reflecting upon this, and I thought I would list some of the pressures that keep me from stressing grace like I should. Once we understand the temptations to leave out the gospel, it is easier to counteract those temptations and keep our ministries grace-centered.
Five Temptations Not to Teach Grace
1. A fear of teaching cheap grace. Bonhoeffer defines “cheap grace” as the “preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance….grace without discipleship.” I am a campus minister, so I minister to people on the edge of adulthood. I want them to leave college knowing what being a disciple of Christ means. I do not want to churn out “non-practicing Christians.” I worry that teaching on grace will be interpreted by my listeners as cheap grace. When they hear that they can and will be forgiven freely by God, they think that being sanctified is optional as a Christian.
2. A fear that grace will be understood as a license to sin. This one is obvious, and it is closely related to the first point. If immature Christians are constantly reminded that God’s grace is free and infinite, then will they not see this as a license to sin? If they can be forgiven for sexual sins, then what compelling reason prevents them from doing so when they are in a tempting situation.
3. A fear that grace sound elementary and repetitious to most Christians. When teaching to the same people each week, it is always tempting to think that the basics of Christianity are too simple or well-known to mention frequently. One feels constant pressure to teach new and innovative things, not old and well-known things.
4. A fear that grace undercuts a costly discipleship. Jesus said his disciples would bear crosses daily, and they would count the costs of such a life. I want to create disciples of Christ who are fully committed. But sometimes I feel that teaching grace undercuts the message about cost of discipleship. If people hear about grace, they won’t think that Jesus’s disciples are called to a costly discipleship.
5. A fear that teaching grace will not change people. I desire to shape my ministry in a direct way (“Do this.” “Don’t do that.” “Why would you ever think about doing that?” “I know a lot of you are doing such and such, and it’s wrong.”) Teaching grace, though powerful, often feels like an indirect way to change people. When I use the gospel to change people, I am not relying on my persuasive abilities to change them. The gospel is God’s power to change people. It is not mine. But I want the power to change people, because that seems .
I know that all these reasons come from both spiritual immaturity and inexperience in ministering the gospel to people. I want my ministry, though, to become more gospel-centered and grace-centered. It is the power of God for salvation. It is the power of God for my ministry.
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