Boundless Grace Within the Bounds of Penitent Souls


These are two great quotes, thoughts from which might make it into my Sunday School lesson this Sunday. Walker Percy wrote this one a few decades ago.

The Church can indeed change, has changed, might now or in the future change in its encounter with a particular culture, my own included. But I need not warn you, I am sure, of the dangers of overacculturation. We know what happened to some of the mainline Protestant denominations who are attuned to the opinion polls, so to speak, and trim their sails accordingly as the winds of culture shift. Instead of serving as the yeast which leavens the cultural lump, they tend to disappear into the culture.

By remaining faithful to its original commission, by serving its people with love, especially the poor, the lonely, and the dispossessed, and by not surrendering its doctrinal steadfastness, sometimes even the very contradiction of culture by which it serves as a sign, surely the Church serves culture best.

Percy, Walker (2011-03-29). Signposts in a Strange Land (p. 303). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

And then this great bit from C.S. Lewis.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more—food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.

Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (Kindle Locations 1686-1693). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Both of these really draw focus on the whole current church obsession with boundless grace without any bounds. By that, I mean the trite saying that “Jesus loves us as we are.” No. In fact the whole of the Bible shows us Christ does not love us as we are but loves us despite who we are. We are called toward conformity with Christ, i.e. to be more Christ like.

“The law and grace meet at the cross. The law shows us how far we fall, grace shows us that we can still be redeemed despite it.”

We certainly have grace and forgiveness, but we do need a penitent heart. If we’re comfortable in our sin and see no reason to change, we might just have trouble getting through the narrow gate. And it is not a matter of judging. 1 Cor. 5 settles that. Professing Christians in a church can and must be held accountable. We must love one another and that love includes prayerfully hoping and trying to help others avoid damnation. Just as we don’t want ourselves destined to hell, if we truly love our neighbor we should not want them destined for hell either.

Christ offers boundless grace, but He offers that boundless grace within the boundaries of repentance.

I can count on both hands prominent pastors who were very legalistic in their teachings and mighty hell, fire, and brimstone in their approach. Then they fell through scandal. In the process of rebuilding their ministries they all went all in on grace. They run from standards. They don’t want to be accused of legalism. They’re all “Jesus loves you.” Well yes, Jesus loves you, but he always wants you to repent. It’s not judging you to tell you that. It’s not judging to point out Christ and the apostles who, with the prophets, are the foundation of the church, see e.g. Eph. 2:20, set some standards of behavior.

These “all grace and no standards” ministers are exactly what I was referring to when I wrote of Mark Driscoll:

I will pray that when he returns he does not do what so many restored pastors do and go all in on grace, abandoning law. But I pray he finds the proper balance between old and new, law and grace, mercy and justice, and Mark Driscoll and Jesus.

Naturally, a number of liberal Christians and anti-theists both seized on the phrase “go all in on grace” suggesting that Jesus is so full of grace that everybody can make it past the narrow gate. That is simply not true and shows a profound misunderstanding of God’s grace.

The law and grace meet at the cross. The law shows us how far we fall, grace shows us that we can still be redeemed despite it. There are obligations. The cool thing about all of this is how it is Christ working in us who draws us to the “oughts” of our relationship with him. We really do nothing.

As C.S. Lewis wrote

I think every one who has some vague belief in God, until he becomes a Christian, has the idea of an exam. or of a bargain in his mind. The first result of real Christianity is to blow that idea into bits. When they find it blown into bits, some people think this means that Christianity is a failure and give up. They seem to imagine that God is very simple-minded. In fact, of course, He knows all about this. One of the very things Christianity was designed to do was to blow this idea to bits. God has been waiting for the moment at which you discover that there is no question of earning a pass mark in this exam or putting Him in your debt.


It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction. When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. The man is awake now.

Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (Kindle Locations 1792-1795). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

At last, we arrive at the heart of the matter. As we grow in faith, we realize how hard it all is and that even keeping the oughts is a great and often overwhelming task. That then is when we realize we can trust in Jesus and rely on him. No temptation has ever overwhelmed him. He is strong enough to carry the burden and help us through. We are saved through grace alone. No work on our part can earn our salvation. Our good works come from our salvation (yes, I’m a protestant).

Therein lies the rub. Too many preachers who go all in on the law make God inaccessible and unforgiving. But too many preachers who go all in on grace make Christ a patsy. There is boundless grace, but the boundlessness of the grace operate within the bounds of a penitent souls. “We are justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1) and “no human being will be justified in His sight by works of law” (Rom 3:20), Paul wrote. He also wrote, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor. 7:10).

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, writes

Scripture puts repentance and faith together as different aspects of the one act of coming to Christ for salvation. It is not that a person first turns from sin and next trusts in Christ, or first trusts in Christ and then turns from sin, but rather that both occur at the same time. When we turn to Christ for salvation from our sins, we are simultaneously turning away from the sins that we are asking Christ to save us from. If that were not true our turning to Christ for salvation from sin could hardly be a genuine turning to him or trusting in him.

Grudem, Wayne (2009-05-18). Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Kindle Locations 18277-18281). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Grudem further notes that Christ, in Matthew 11, said at verse 28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” but immediately said following that at verse 29, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

In other words

[I]t is clearly contrary to the New Testament evidence to speak about the possibility of having true saving faith without having any repentance for sin. It is also contrary to the New Testament to speak about the possibility of someone accepting Christ “as Savior” but not “as Lord,” if that means simply depending on him for salvation but not committing oneself to forsake sin and to be obedient to Christ from that point on.

Grudem, Wayne (2009-05-18). Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Kindle Locations 18289-18291). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Too many pastors in evangelical churches used to go all in on the law. Nowadays, a great many of them have overcompensated and swung all the way toward grace. They want to be inoffensive. They want to be open to all. They don’t want to be accused of being judgmental. They are willing to bake the cake for a gay wedding. Many of them are willing to be made to care.

But Christ commanded that when we teach of the forgiveness of our sins, we must also teach repentance.

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:45-47)

A saving faith and the grace related thereto comes part and parcel with repentance. It is the obligation of the church to lead people to Christ. Leading requires showing both our depravity and our redemption and what repentance means. We are justified through faith alone, but we should not forget the oughts in our relationship with Christ.