Monday, February 18, 2008

No Free Lunch, No Free Grace (Transcript)


You're probably familiar with the phrase, “There's no free lunch”.

Although it's a rather silly debate, you may have argued with that. You may have said, “Of course there is a free lunch. Just the other day my buddy picked up the tab and I had a free lunch.” And of course, you are right that the lunch was free for you. But it wasn't really free. It had to be paid for by your buddy.

“What if I catch a fish and eat it for lunch? That's free.” Not likely. Your fishing rod and reel, your bait or lures, all cost money. Not to mention the car and gasoline you drive to the lake. But even if you walk to the lake and catch the fish with your bare hands, by the time you cook and eat it, it will have cost the fish its life. No free lunch.

“Well, you say, what if I had a lunch of nuts and berries picked in the woods.?”

Boy you sure like to argue! The answer to that one comes directly from Jesus Himself, who said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

You see, for you to have your lunch of nuts and berries, there was the cost, maybe a long time ago, of the lives of some nut and berry seeds.

Okay, why am I belaboring the point about no free lunch?

The reason is that a lot of us talk a lot about grace as though it was given by a nice God who just decided to overlook our sins and be extra nice and forgive us our sins, and be even nicer by taking us to heaven. In other words, we tend to as though God had a fit of mercy, and decided to suspend His justice and just give us a pass, because He was having a good day.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

God Is Always Just

The truth is that God is eternally just. Justice is as much a part of Him as love and mercy is. He would no more suspend His justice then He would stop loving us. He can't be unjust.

Now one might say, “But God DID suspend His justice! Don't we say that we deserve Hell, but He gives us heaven? Don't we say that we don't get what we JUSTLY deserve? If God meted out His justice, then we would be in big trouble. Thank God He gave us mercy and not justice!”

Well, there is some truth to all that. He certainly didn't exercise His justice on us. But we say that God is just. So how do we reconcile that? And of course, you are probably way ahead of me, and see exactly where I'm going with this.

But I want to put it in a way that isn't just a theological statement of truth. I want to put it in a way that causes you to appreciate grace in a way that you may have never appreciated before. I want to put it in such a way that you're not afraid of grace. Not afraid to radically stand on the radical grace of God, in such a way that you cry out like William Wallace at the end of Braveheart, “Free-e-e-e-e-edo-o-o—om!”

And I want you to be able to really understand Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”

Mealy-Mouthed Grace

Too many believers are mealy-mouthed about their freedom in Christ. They're mealy-mouthed about grace. Now some of you may not be familiar with the term mealy-mouthed, so let me elaborate.

The derivation of the word is not agree on, but The American Heritage Dictionary has the view I like the best. They favor the view that it came from Martin Luther, who used the German phrase Mehl im Maule behalten, pardon my pronunciation I'm sure, which means “to carry meal in the mouth, that is, to not be direct in speech”.

Who better than Luther, who never had meal in his mouth, to come up with that? (Of course, some would say Luther could have used a little meal in his mouth sometimes.) Anyway, by the middle to end of the 1500's, it was common in English as “mealmouthed”, and finally “mealy-mouthed”.

But the point is this. Too many believers are timid about grace. They are so afraid of being thought of as condoning sin, or being antinomian, or causing others to stumble, that they have a hard time saying out loud that we are no longer under Law but under grace, even though that is a direct statement from Scripture in Roman 6:14. They can't get the words of the Apostle Paul out of their mealy mouths, when Paul said, “All things are lawful for me.”

Antinomianism

I like what the great English Reformed preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, when he warned preachers that unless they are occasionally accused of antinomianism, they should question whether they are really preaching the gospel at all.

Before I expand on why grace is not free any more than lunch is free, let me say a word about antinomianism, a much-misunderstood concept.

The biblical truth about grace is so radical that it shakes the legalist to their core, and they shout "Antinomian!" (Antinomian literally refers to "no law" or "anti-law"). Or they ask the reasonable question that Paul anticipated from his Roman readers, "Should we sin, so that grace will abound?"

And of course, Paul says "of course not", and explains the new creation, the new heart given to us by God, in which we have died with Christ, been buried with Him, and risen again with Him to a new life. We have died to sin, and been made alive to Christ. "How can you," Paul asks, "who have died to sin, keep living in it?"

So Paul's radical teaching of the grace of God is not antinomianism.

Is there then a true Antinomianism? A wrong heretical Antinomianism? Yes. I know biblically, and from my other readings that such creatures exist. Even though I have to admit I haven't actually met one.

I would take a stab at a definition of true Antinomianism this way:

An Antinomian is one who believes that because our sins are forgiven, past, present and future, there is no biblical call for good works or moral living. And therefore there is really no such thing as "sin".

That kind of Antinomian is rightly criticized. They've taken the grace of God and used it to live like the devil, on purpose. And while I said I never met one who taught that way, I must admit I've seen a few who seem to live that way. These are what the Bible calls hypocrites. I don't mean the born-again believer who fails, sins, gets back up in repentance, and goes on. I mean the one who thinks there is nothing really "wrong". That's the true Antinomian.

Don't let someone label you that, just because you believe the Apostle Paul when he writes that sin shall no longer be master over you because you are no longer under Law but under Grace, or because you don't walk around in misery over your sin all the time. It is forgiven, after all. And you do love the Lord, after all. And He is working in you both to will and to do His good pleasure, after all. Rejoice, no matter what the legalists say.

The Cost Of Grace?

Now what about grace not being free, like lunch is not free?

You know where I'm going with this, don't you? It's not complicated, even though it's profound, and worthy of our meditation for the rest of our lives.

It's the Cross. We preach Christ and Him crucified, because that is how God remains just, and yet shows us His mercy. It's true, He didn't exercise His justice on us. He exercised His justice on His Son.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life, eternal life.” John 3:16.

The cost of the grace that God provides for us, was the greatest price paid by anyone at any time in history.

Its cost makes the wealth of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet combined pale by comparison.

Its cost is infinitely greater than all the millions of deaths of all the soldiers, marines and airmen in all the world from the beginning of time.

Its cost is so great that actually we can't really understand it. Who can understand when Jesus said “Eli, eli, lama sabachthani...My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We ponder it, and write about it, and preach it, and we can't understand it any more than my Dachschund can understand when my wife says, “We're going to church, now. You be a good dog. We'll be back soon.” And the dog cocks his head as if to say, “I see your lips moving, but what's your point? Got any doggie biscuits?”

We can only scratch the surface on the cost of the grace God has shown us. But it's worth scratching. Because the more we can comprehend the cost, the better we can grasp that the radical grace of God is real. It's complete.

God's Radical Grace

It's something we can stand on, because it has become a promise from God that nothing can separate us from His love.

It's something we can stand on because it has become a promise from God that He will never leave us nor forsake us.

It's something we can stand on because it has become a promise that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

It's something we can stand on because it has become a promise that no one can pluck us out of His hand, because we have been engraved on His hands just as the marks of the nails are on the hands of our Savior.

And it's something we can stand on because it has become a promise that He is working ALL things together for good to us who love Him, INCLUDING OUR OWN SINS!

Did you think that He works all things together for our good, except that now our sins block Him from His quest?

Did you really think that when you sin now that God's plans for you are thwarted? That He sits by like some weak Roman god, wrenching His hands and worrying that you just can't get it right? And that He WANTS to work all things for your good, but you keep getting in His way, and He's frustrated?

No! No! May it never be!

The God who created the heavens and the earth, and threw billions of galaxies out into space with the words “Let there be”, is not bound.

“You thought that I was such a one as you!” God cries. “I'm not limited like you. I'm God. I have no limits, except for my very character. I AM Who I AM! I know the end from the beginning, no, I AM the end and the beginning, the Alpha and Omega! Nothing shall separate you from my love. Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing!”

When Jesus said on the Cross, “It is finished”, He meant that the price for Grace was paid completely. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Why Many Don't Preach Radical Grace

In conclusion, you may ask, "If this Grace stuff is really true...if God really does love me and accept me in Christ, apart from my performance...if there is nothing I could do to make Him love me more, and nothing I could do to make Him love me less...if He really has forgiven me of all my sins, past, present and future, so there is no condemnation for me...then why don't more preachers preach that, Terry?"

Here's why. Actually one of two possibilities, in my experience:

1. They have been so brainwashed with legalism and performance-based Christianity themselves, that their own eyes haven't been opened to the radical nature of Grace after salvation.

Ask them about Christ "living His Life through me", and they will jump to remind you about your duty to buckle down and discipline yourself with self-control. If you remind them that self-control ironically is a fruit of the Spirit, and it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives through you [Galatians 2:20]...they will look at you as if you were some alien from another world.

And if they are biblically knowledgeable, they will begin to quote you rule after rule, duty after duty, sin after sin, to beat down your "grace" once and for all, you...you...Antinomian! (They love that word, because it keeps them from having to examine the biblical nature of Grace after salvation).

or...

2. They pretty much see the radical nature of New Covenant grace, but they are scared. Scared that if they preach it in all it's glory...if they truly preach "it is finished"... if they preach it without a mixture of the Law...then the sheep will run wild!

Actually, the opposite is true. Real born-again Christians are new creations. Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new. We love Jesus, in our heart of hearts. We hate sin in our heart of hearts. When we hear how radically He has saved us, when we hear of His love that no sin or failure on our part will diminish, then the love of Christ constrains us to follow Him, to desire His ways, to fellowship with Him, to be filled with His Spirit.

The sheep don't run wild under grace. They run wild under Law, which quenches the Holy Spirit and inflames sin.

Pop Quiz

Here's a little test...complete this verse (I've already mentioned it):

"For sin shall not be master over you, for _______" (Rom. 6:14)

Pretty important verse, wouldn't you say? A verse that explains why sin shall no longer be master over us? Important, no? Give up? Here's the whole verse:

"For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace."

When's the last time you heard that verse preached?

Maybe never. Why?

Ask around. See if your friends, preachers, teachers, can complete the verse. You might be surprised. And there's a good chance that either they don't believe it (watch them try to twist such an elegantly simple verse to mean something else), or they don't want it spread around. The sheep will run wild.

Grace is not free. It cost Christ an infinite cost. But like the lunch your friend bought you, it's paid for now. It's free to you, and so you are free.

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Gal. 5:1

3 comments:

dec said...

They pretty much see the radical nature of New Covenant grace, but they are scared. Scared that if they preach it in all it's glory...if they truly preach "it is finished"... if they preach it without a mixture of the Law...then the sheep will run wild!

Yep, and we think that if we get back under law we'll speed up our sanctification. One reason that the gospel needs to be always in our minds and churches is that it fights back against our desire to earn our own righteousness. Thanks for your continual encouragement to live free in Christ.

BTW, there's an interesting discussion on gospel and law at Pulpit Magazine .

Amy Hester said...

This was a wonderful article and so well written. It is nice to have another source for this teaching.

Terry Rayburn said...

dec,

Thanks for your comments and the reference.

Amy,

Thank you so much.