The Parable of the Pendulum (Part 2)

Recently I used a pendulum to illustrate the dan-ger of over-reacting to false teaching, thus unin-tentionally creating our own, despite good inten-tions. It could also be well illustrated by a driver who begins to swerve off the road, and then ends up in the opposite ditch due to his over-reaction. 

As promised, I intend to provide some specific examples of such issues of which we need to be aware. Not much more needs to be said to intro-duce our first example than what was said by our recent guest speaker. In one of his latter lessons he spoke of not even wanting to mention grace because of how it has been abused. Sadly, I know what he means; I wish I didn’t. I wish that I could say that I was appalled by that statement, but I’m not. Imagine it, a Christian (much less a preacher of the good news) being afraid to mention grace! What sort of culture must we have created for one another to have arrived at such a feeling? I won-der, do we feel the same hesitation when talking about the need for good works and obedience, as we do when talking about grace? Why does it only swing one way? If there is a pendulum effect too far to the right, what would that look like? 

Have we forgotten that it is through the grace of God that we shall be saved (Acts 15:11; Eph. 2:5, 8; 2 Tim. 1:9). It is by grace that we stand (Rom. 5:2; 1 Pet. 5:12). God has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope through grace. (2 Thes. 2:16). We are justified by God’s grace (Titus 3:7). Our hope fully rests upon the expectation of grace to be brought with Jesus’ return (1 Pet. 1:13). 

Which one of these passages is your favorite on “grace?” Maybe none of them, that’s okay. But, if Jude 4 or Titus 2:11-12 are your favorites, then you may be illustrating the point I am trying to make. 

A studious over-reactionary will hasten to point out that the Gentiles being saved by grace (Acts 15:11) were still obligated to abstain from sin (15:20); that our salvation by grace (Eph. 2:8) does not negate that we were created “for good works.” (2:10) That our being “saved and called with a holy call-ing” (2 Tim. 1:9) does not release us from having to “hold fast the pattern of sound words” (1:13). That being made to stand in grace (Rom. 5:2) also entails not letting sin reign in the flesh (Rom. 6). That the everlasting comfort and good hope that God’s grace gives (2 Thes. 2:16) still requires that we “stand fast and hold the traditions.” (2:15) Having been justified by His grace and becoming heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:7), we are still bound to “be careful to maintain good works.” (3:8) Likewise, resting ones hope fully on the grace that Jesus will bring for us at His return (1 Pet. 1:13) still necessitates our being “as obedient children.” (1:14) 

I can’t tell you how easy it was for me to find all of these “disclaimers.” I have been trained all my preaching life to seek for them in the text. You don’t men-tion grace without balancing it with a counter-point on the need for works. Well meaning brethren offered that feedback early on. Candidly, I don’t disa-gree with any of the above points about the relationship between grace and works; they are all clearly in the text. What I object to is the necessitative practice of pitting these two concepts against one another, as if one of them needs to modify the other. Or worse yet, completely negating the truth about grace in order to protect against false doctrine such as: “once saved always saved.” I just recently heard this done with Ephesians 2:8 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, not as a result of works lest any should boast.” As is typical, the speaker robbed the text of its power by making the point of emphasis the fact that “faith without works is dead” (James 2) and therefore we are “saved by grace through [an obedient] faith. In other words, it might as well read: “For by grace you have been saved through obedience, not as a result of works lest any should boast. (through obedience, not as a result of works...huh?) What was originally intended to teach us that none of us have deserved the kindness God has shown, has become instead a call to obedi-ence that we might be saved. 

Disclaimers are given in scripture (James 2 / Romans 6:1), but they are the exception, not the rule. Paul did not feel the need every time he spoke about grace to counter it or modify it. Is it possible that in our determination not to sound like the denominations we have somewhat muted the force of the gos-pel of the grace of God by our constant qualifications? With Calvinists swinging so far to the left teaching “once saved always saved,” and that sin cannot affect a believer, are we ever concerned about swinging too far to the right in our emphasis of doing good in order to be saved? I recently read a chapter in a book entitled: “Will One Sin Condemn?” in which the author stated: “God re-gards sin with such disdain that one instance will be sufficient to damn us (context bears out that he’s speaking of Christians) to eternal hell.” Couple that with an earlier chapter which teaches that one must specifically mention every sin in order to be forgiven because “one simply cannot either repent of nor confess sins and receive forgiveness without knowing what they are.” Does this instruction sound like something the apostle Paul would have said in Romans or the Hebrew writer as he spoke of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross? Or, does it sound like some have swung too far in response to false doctrine, thus creating their own? 

In light of such teaching, would you be surprised to learn that members in our fellowship have doubts about their salvation in spite of loving God and being repentant over their sins because they just don’t feel “good enough?” They exist; I’ve spoken with a few, and there are likely many more than we realize. Is it possible that this could be a sign that we have been somewhat imbalanced in our messaging? Has the tenor of our preaching emphasized “good works” so that we might be saved, rather than, good works because God has saved us? Do you even know how you feel about such a distinction? Which one is right? 

This is just one issue of many which could be cited as evidentiary of our tenden-cy to over-correct concerning false doctrine. This is a danger which can cause us to place undue emphasis in the wrong places which in turn causes us to miss the true meaning of scripture, and our messaging to be imbalanced. It cannot be denied that there is something amiss when too much talk of grace makes us nervous. We have often decried “checklist Christianity” for its obvious failure to capture the heart of true Christianity and what it means to be a disciple. Is it possible that an imbalance in the areas we have discussed in this article could in any way have contributed to that poor concept when you consider that being overwhelmed by God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness is what compels obe-dience (Ezek. 36:26-27)? We can harp about “duty” all we want, but if it is not properly motivated, it will amount to little. (1 Cor. 13:1-3). -