Shame And Grace Part 1 - What Grace Is Not

Nov 29

Shame And Grace Part 1 - What Grace Is Not

Tue, 11/29/2011 - 06:27 — Thabo Mokete

Grace is a keyword to Christianity. Having said that, I may even be so bold as to say that grace opens the door to successful living, and lasting happiness. But what is grace? If God says that He saves us by His grace1, then we’d better understand2 what He means.

O I know it’s easy to rush for your dictionary to check the meaning, but you’ll soon discover that there is more than one meaning to grace. For example, I consulted the Merriam-Webster Dictionary on the World Wide Web and it offered me eight different meanings of the G-word. Which one is the Gospel using when it says: “saved by grace”.

As if that were not hard enough, there are other meanings of grace that are not in the dictionary. You know what I mean. Some people have gone and developed their own concepts of grace. Even so, I find that there are three most prominent definitions prevailing in our society. I’ll mention each one and then discuss them in detail.

1. a: Grace Unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification b: a virtue coming from God c: a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace.
      You may check any good English dictionary to find this definition.

2. The abolishment of the law of God, the ten commandments included.
      Strange as it may seem, this definition originated within Christian circles.      

3. The willingness of a divine king and father to forgive over and over again the
      foolishness and weakness of his subjects and children3.
      I can imagine that this one is popular among “liberals”.

As you can see, grace is a loaded word, but it is hard to find a word to replace it4. What shall we do, we cannot afford to depend on our opinions, for this is a matter of life and destiny. We ‘ve got to know for sure.

From our list of definitions, meaning number three is widely accepted, even among professed Christians:

The willingness of a divine king and father to forgive over and over again the
    foolishness and weakness of his subjects and children3.

Those who feel that living a good life is just not possible in this world. We cannot accept this concept of grace, which glorifies foolishness and weakness; for “it is merely childish destruction of human dignity”3.

It can only lead to certain (everlasting) death5. For sin has a way of persisting and becoming a slave-driver, and then utterly destroying a life. Further, this concept ignores the fact that the problem of the world is the state of sin, which is a state of estrangement4, and not sins, which are the fruit of sin6.

This concept is graphically described in Eric Berne’s classic, “Games People Play”. He describes a game he calls “Religious Schlemiel”. This is a game wherein the sinner goes through the week, foreclosing his tenants, underpaying his employees, belittling his wife, yelling at his children, spreading gossip about his competitors, and then on Sunday, says a sing-song “I’m sorry” to God, thereupon leaving the church with the assumed assurance that ’12 o’ clock and all’s well’4.

Indeed, a confession without repentance is a game7.It scares me to think who their playing partner is, for we know that God cannot be fooled8. This is not grace!

The second definition on our list originated some time after Martin Luther and his contemporaries left the scene. This is a direct abuse of the reformation work by some Christians. They say the law of God was nailed to the cross. Many of them will read to you Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Colossians 2:14 to be specific.

The verse reads (in the Amplified Bible): ”Having cancelled and blotted out and wiped away the handwriting of the note (bond) with its legal decrees and demands which was in force and stood against us (hostile to us). This [note with its regulations, decrees and demands] He set aside and cleared completely out of our way by nailing it to [His] cross9.

To be sure, something was nailed to the cross, but was it the law? Paul calls it ‘the note’ – cheirographon. When you read the immediate context (before and after) of the verse, substituting the word law for note causes a serious dischord to Paul’s discourse. Samuele Bacchiocchi, a Bible scholar, puts it this way:
“Recent studies have shed light on the meaning of cheirographon, which occurs only once in the scripture (Colossians 2:14). Its usage in apocalyptic literature indicates the cheirographon is the ‘record-book of sins’ or a ‘certificate of sin-indebtedness’, but not the moral or ceremonial law.”10

This verse, then means that when God forgave us, He destroyed the evidence of our sins. He cancelled our sins such that anyone who dares accuse His children is sure to lose the case. The Bible teaches that when Jesus was on earth, God was personally present in Him, reconciling and restoring the world to His favor, canceling all our sins (past, present and future). You can go to heaven, search both high and low or sail the seven seas if you wish, but you’ll never find a list of our sins on God’s records. Isn’t that Good News?

But our definition number two gives a contrary version of “good news”. It says we must be happy because the ‘law that stood against us’ is dead, and thus our sin is of no consequence. To a simple mind, this may sound like good news, but when you begin to think about it, it is bad news. It’s the worst news you’ve ever heard!

Imagine the world without the law of God. A world where your neighbor has a God-given right to sleep with your wife or husband, cheat and steal all your life’s savings in the bank. A world where lies are equally accepted as truth. A world where anyone can coerce you to worship at his feet, not at the feet of God.

And o, imagine a place where you work for seven days a week like a clock ticking with no Sabbath rest and no repose. What a dreadful thought! Thank heavens the law of God  will stand for all time.12 Guilt is not removed by destroying law codes, and equally, without a strong concept of the law there can be no Gospel.10

1Ephesians 2:5.
2Colossians 1:6.
3Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations.
4Thomas Harris, I’m OK-You’re OK.
5Romans 6:20, 21.
6Romans 3:23.
7Luke 3:8.
8Galatians 6:7.
9Amplified Bible, Expanded Edition 1987.
10Samuele Bacchiocchi, The Sabbath in the New Testament.
112 Corinthians 5:19.
12Matthew 5:17, 18.