Abusing Grace

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”—–Ephesians 2:8-10

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”—–1 John 1:6-7

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Grace itself is critical to our faith as Christians.  Our faith wholly depends upon God’s grace in order to save us from our sins.  We have done nothing to ever deserve God’s grace, but out of His great love, He has offered His grace to those that recognize they are sinners in need of a Savior in Jesus. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So it is with great importance to start this post by stating clearly what is true.  Salvation is through Jesus alone, through faith alone, and by God’s grace alone.  Not by works or by anything we could ever do to actually earn salvation.  Salvation is only through believing in Jesus, through His death and resurrection, by Him paying the penalty of eternal separation from God in Hell that we each deserve for our sins.

That being said, there are those that are abusing God’s grace by purposely shying away from talking about a type of “faith” without true repentance and obedience to the Lord.  Because of the misconception that they feel they may be falling into a works-based salvation, there are those that have now swung the pendulum so far to the opposite extreme of focusing so much upon a false “grace”.  This false “grace” is without the further implications of bearing fruit in keeping with repentance in ones life as evidence of one truly believing the Gospel. (Luke 3:8)  It is commonly said that any change in a person’s life is ultimately brought about if we simply “let go and let God” to bring us to become more Christlike.

The problem with this type of theology and thinking is that in itself it denies any personal responsibility for how we are to live.  At the core it gives a person a license to live however they desire, even if it is a lifestyle of sin and contrary to God.  A person is seen merely as a “work in progress”, but because of “grace” they are made fully right before God despite what their actions may or may not show.  Just as long as they believe in “Jesus” they are good to go.

But time and time again and throughout all of Scripture we are told that even though God’s grace covers our sins, we must not continue to live a life of sin.  In Romans 6:1-2 it tells us that we cannot continue to sin that grace might increase.  Later in Romans 8:12-13 it says, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  In other words, we cannot abuse the grace that God has given to us and continue to live lives of sin when we have the clear responsibility to repent of sin and actually do what God has told us in the Bible.

Some today give false assurance to people by saying things like “stop trying so hard” or “there is nothing more or less you can do to please God”.  People looking to justify their own sin and lifestyles find great comfort in these words because there is no demand to repent and live according to God’s Word.  They end up blindly believing that it is only God’s responsibility to bring them to be more Christlike while neglecting God’s clear commands that are right before them in the Bible.  So instead of calling people to “repent and believe the Gospel” like it says in Mark 1:15, people are often left encouraged and not challenged to live in greater holiness; thus taking advantage of God’s grace and offer of forgiveness of sin.  At the very best, people are left as immature believers and at the worst they have believed a false “gospel”.

Without a balance of grace that leads to living in obedience to God, it is nothing more than a “gospel” devoid of the core truths.  If our faith in Jesus doesn’t lead us to greater obedience, then we have to ask the question, “Why, then, did Jesus die on the cross??”  If Jesus died only to atone for our sins so that we could live however we wish, then what difference does it make to live any different than the rest of the world or simply in the way I want to live.  It is when we recognize our need for a Savior because of our sins and seek to live in obedience to God that we are truly walking according to Biblical faith.

Does this mean that we are perfect in living in complete obedience and holiness??  No.  But there is no excuse for us to continue to walk in sin.  By pursuing and embracing anything contrary to what God has said in Scripture is to flat out deny true faith in Jesus.  It is because of what Jesus did through His death and resurrection that we seek to live in complete obedience to Him and that must accompany true faith.  Without seeking true obedience to God, one cannot have true faith.

In James 2 it makes it clear that it is not by our “works” that we are saved, but that our “works” do point to our faith.  Some misinterpret “works” as only the external things we “do” for others, but it seems true “works” throughout Scripture encompass more of a complete change from walking in sin to living in obedience; not just seeking to improve the lives of others.  In other words, our growing in obedience to the Lord and turning away from all sin is evidence of true faith.

It is critical that we understand the Gospel according the Bible.  With so many inside and outside the Church all seeking our attention, it is easy to end up believing a false gospel because it may affirm or empathize with what we want to believe and how we choose to live rather than believing in the Truth itself.  People are yearning for assurance of eternal life, but to abuse God’s grace by not boldly proclaiming the implications of the Gospel lived out is unacceptable.  To also be fearful of talking about obedience to God because people may misunderstand that they can have salvation by being a “good” person is not an excuse either.  We must proclaim the full and complete Gospel that each of us is a sinner in need of God’s grace and that through Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins and His resurrection we then in turn live out our faith in Him through our repentance and obedience to Him and His Word.

Theological And Sin Issue Preaching

“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.  For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”—–Jude 1:3-4

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After my last blog on, “Topical Preaching And Sermon Series’”, I had a lot of good conversations and feedback.  If you missed reading the last blog, you can find it here.  It has been amazing to hear how rampant these “styles” of preaching have become in churches.  Therefore it is necessary to continue to make bold stands as the focus of these man-centered perversions continue to increase at an alarming rate.

As a follow-up and to answer some of the discussions that I have been having, I wanted to write about some preaching outside of what should be a normal book-by-book, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse preaching.  Two of which I would call, “Theological Preaching” and “Sin Issue Preaching”.  Both of these continue to focus solely on the Lord Himself as well as contending for all us to be walking according to righteousness and holiness before Him.

Theological Preaching differs greatly from Topical Preaching/Sermon Series’ in that it is a study of God, who He is, and His character rather than a focus on people and what they want to hear.  Theological Preaching begins and ends with what the Bible tells us about the Lord and His commands for us while Topical Preaching focuses on man-centered objectives starting outside the Bible and working backward by peppering in verses to support the overall agenda.  Examples of Theological Preaching may be: the Trinity, characteristics of the Holy Spirit, Salvation (Sin/Repentance/Faith), and others.  Theological Preaching often takes much more work on behalf of the pastor and teacher in that it is easy to get off track and end up falling into the ditch of focusing on people rather than God as well as other people’s views about God rather than the Bible being the source itself.  Therefore it is critical to do much more exhaustive work from the Bible when preparing for Theological Preaching for Biblical clarity rather than just a popcorn message jumping from verse to verse seeking to proof-text about God.  So Theological Preaching must be approached with great concern and care.

Often times Topical Preaching/Sermon Series’ can be mistaken as Theological Preaching because it may appear that the Bible is being preached and the Truth about God is being proclaimed.  A good litmus test can be if the speaker spends more time diving into the Bible or on tangents telling illustrations, stories, and the like leading the listeners through their rabbit trails touching on the Bible here or there rather than carefully unpacking the Word alone.  With careful discernment and paying close attention to the context of Scripture, it is easier to understand if the sermon focuses on God and our relationship with Him or if it is just another pop-psychology, live a better life sermon.

Sin Issues are another area that may be necessary to preach on from time to time.  Sin Issue Preaching also greatly differs from Topical Preaching/Sermon Series’ because it addresses corporate sins that affect the church as a whole rather than chasing after issues that may only impact a few individuals.  Paul also addressed major sin issues that affected the churches when he wrote in the New Testament.  The main focus was to call attention to the sin(s) that had crept into a church, usually unnoticed, and was becoming embraced and practiced by the church.  It was critical that Paul dealt with the sin(s) being overlooked and point them in the way of righteousness.

Sin Issue Preaching may need to happen when a pastor, elders, deacons, or those part of a church recognize a growing sin taking hold within those in a church.  All sin needs to be taken serious among a church, and therefore when sin creeps in among the whole, it needs to be addressed as a whole.  Much of the time as individuals when we face sin issues they can be dealt with by individuals or those close to the individuals.  But when sin issues arise with many in a church, they need to be addressed as a church.  My personal take is that if the majority of the time we are preaching and teaching through all of God’s Word, we are more likely as a whole to gain better understanding of truth vs. sin and living out the truth in our lives without having to constantly need to always be preaching from one sin issue to the next.

Both Theological Preaching and Sin Issue Preaching are areas which point us to a greater understanding of God and what it means to follow Him.  They can also be greatly abused and easily turn into Topical Preaching/Sermon Series’ if they become the normal preaching within the church.  I find that with great care and preparation Theological Preaching and Sin Issue Preaching can greatly benefit a church as a whole and lead to greater sanctification and living out what it means to be a follower of the Lord if used in the proper context and not as a replacement for going through all of Scripture.  I also find that it is with great caution and accountability that churches use Theological Preaching and Sin Issue Preaching to guard against falling into a pattern that takes our attention from going through all of God’s Word by picking and choosing what appeals to the masses and ultimately our focus off of the Lord.

If as the Church we would spend the proper time reading, studying, and applying all of the Bible, we would do far better in living out what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  Many errors of churches today stem from their lack of respect, focus, authority, and reverence for God’s Word being at the center of the Church.  With such clever sermon preparation, illustrations, and charisma that many church pastors and leaders have today, much of what is being preached is cloaked to sound biblical.  However, if people were more willing to check out the content of what is actually said with what the Bible truly says, then most, if not all, of these pastors and leaders would be run out of the Church.  Let us all continue to strive for the Truth and hold those accountable over us as our pastors and leaders to properly be preaching and teaching all of God’s Word.  If they refuse and compromise for the way of the world, let us make bold steps to separate from them and surround ourselves with pastors, leaders, and other believers that desire to hold to the Truth.

Topical Preaching And Sermon Series’

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season to reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”—–2 Timothy 4:1-2 (emphasis mine)

“Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.”—–1 Timothy 4:13 (emphasis mine)

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A while back a buddy of mine and I were meeting quite often for lunch to talk about about the things that were going on in the world and more importantly the things we had been noticing going on within the Christian world and the Church.  One lunch was particularly interesting when we ended up talking about how it seemed that many churches had or were shifting away from true Biblical preaching and embracing topical and sermon series’ type preaching.  It was an amazing realization to try and think if we knew of any churches who haven’t gone to this style of preaching.

You may be asking what is so wrong with having topical or sermon series??  At the core of this style is a great difference of where one begins as they prepare for a sermon.  True Biblical preaching begins by going to the Bible wanting to be taught about who God is and what He desires for His people without trying to add our own personal insights.  Topical and sermon series’ preaching begins with the speaker’s perceived ideas, opinions, and illustrations and then seeks to find passages of Scripture to support their agenda.  In essence topical/sermon series’ preaching is simply working backward and opposite from true Biblical preaching.

Another way to look at it is that topical/sermon series’ preaching starts with a concept people may face today, maybe something along the lines of “Struggles parents have with their kids and the strains it puts on their marriage”.  The pastor or leader comes up some catchy title for the series and how many messages they want or think they can preach on the topic.  Most tend to be somewhere in the 4-8 week range.  They get their staff, or if they are really cutting edge their “Creative Pastor”, to put together the artwork, videos, interviews, etc. for this set of messages.  The pastor or leader meanwhile works to formulate their set of messages around a nicely packaged set of sermon titles to fit with the overall theme and tries to find some Biblical lessons that fit what they want to say each week.  After thinking of some Biblical lessons, the pastor or leader next tries to find the exact verses or passages of Scripture they want to use and peppers them within their messages; not leading with Scripture, but using Scripture for their purpose.  Finally in anticipation of the launch, the pastors and leaders try to create a buzz with flyers, encouraging everyone to bring all people they know, and trying to get everyone on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what is to come.

This all sounds really nice and appealing, but this is a great perversion of what we really should be focusing on; reading and studying the Bible to know God and His Way without the need to create a self-help gospel that we think is more attractive to the masses.  Much topical preaching and sermon series’ may end up sounding like Biblical preaching because, hey, “they use Scripture” so it has to be right.  And although it may be true that some of what they say may be in accordance with God’s Word, isn’t what is being done at best a gross undermining of God and His Word to think that what we have to say is more important and that we ourselves can “do better”??

We can also look at the stark contrast between true Biblical preaching and topical/sermon series’ preaching in this way; is the focus on God or upon self??  If the focus on God, then we must be willing and teachable in that we hunger for all of what the Bible has to say and what it truly means to be a follower of Him.  If the focus is on self, then I will seek out those that merely seek to inspire me and tell me how to have a better life.  I will seek out those that tend to only talk about God’s love and forgiveness, but rarely if ever talk about how I must repent of my sin and adjust my life to be in obedience to Christ.  I will also seek out those that give me tips on issues that I face like how to parent my kids, handle my finances, and what real “agape” love looks like in my life.

Don’t get me wrong, God does care about the struggles and the issues we face in this life.  Scripture does address those things at times.  But why must we compromise in order to only focus on the things and issues that people want to hear and ditch the rest??  That gives no clear place or authority of Scripture in our individual lives; rather a picked apart made up version of Christianity which is truly not Christianity at all, but a pure form of self idolatry.  It reminds me of 2 Timothy 4:3-4 where it says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

Isn’t that much of what we are seeing today??  In this age of seeker sensitive/attractional movement running rampant through the Church today, many have given in to compromise that in order to have an growing audience and seemingly impact the world, we must replace the Word of God preached with anything that will grab people’s attention and get them involved with impacting the real social issues of our day.  It is no wonder that so-called Christians today can’t even agree how to define the Gospel or sin for that matter.  The Bible is being replaced and is in danger of extinction in the Church if we don’t give it the proper place in our lives.  When people care more about how it makes them “feel”, what “spiritual experience” they have, or how they have “taken part in helping the social issues of our day”, we are quickly turning to the myths that Paul wrote about in 2 Timothy.

There is much more to say about the clear differences between true Biblical preaching and topical/sermon series’ preaching, but I challenge all of us to reflect on what we have been or are currently pursuing.  Are we earnestly seeking after the Truth of God and His Word while surrounding ourselves with pastors and churches which are proclaiming the Truth within the real context of Scripture??  Or are we finding a worldly comfort which we are seeking out pastors and churches that spend more time talking about their own thoughts, ideas, opinions, illustrations, and object lessons that make me feel good and captivate my senses than on God’s Word??

If the you are in the fewer and fewer churches wrestling through all of Scripture and seeking to know and worship God in spirit and truth while departing from sin and living a lifestyle of repentance toward God, be encouraged and remain strong.  Know that even as many are compromising to gain approval of the world, God is still on the throne and takes notice of your pursuit of Him in Truth.  Continue to persevere despite what others may be proclaiming at Christianity today.  Remain faithful to God and His Word.

If you are in one of the many churches continuing to gain approval of men by believing the best way to reach people is to try and one-up God through crafty sermons and by embracing that the gospel is to “live as Jesus did” through secular humanitarian work, don’t buy the lies.  Acknowledge that you have fallen into the seductive charm of what many churches have become and are becoming.  Repent and turn toward the Lord and surround yourself other true believers that give God and His Word full place in their lives, seeking not their own desires and agendas, but God and His will found in the Bible alone.