The True Grace of God
Successful politicians become successful politicians because they are adroit at telling people what they want to hear. Unfortunately, sometimes that is also the case for preachers. Churches sometimes grow because they become skillful in finding what people want to hear... and they tell them. What passes as church growth is too often more stealing sheep from other folds rather than saving the lost lambs. Maybe you do that by having building better programs or bigger buildings. Or maybe you do that by convincing people that your church is “the one true church” while others are simply pretenders. Or maybe you convince them that God will make them healthy and wealthy if they listen (and give) to you. Why do so many of the T.V. preachers stress this health-n-wealth, name-it-and-claim-it heresy? Well, it’s not because the promise to make us rich is writ large on every page of the Bible. No, it’s because that message plays well in the mass market! Paul speaks of this market-driven church growth model in 2 Timothy 4:3 (NLT)
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear.
People want to hear about the grace of God, but not necessarily about the true grace of God. Too many see God’s grace as license. Oh, maybe not to the point of some of Paul’s critics who saw grace as excuse to keep on sinning so grace could increase (Rom 3:8, 6:1). But they (maybe we?) see grace as permission not to sweat over the details of faith. All we have to do is get close and grace will male up the difference. All you have to do is make a somewhat honest effort and grace closes the gap. And then when it comes down to making the hard choices of discipleship, we can defer and play the grace “get out of jail card.” Grace means that we don't have to sweat the small stuff and that it's all small stuff.
Peter seems to have a different idea. He calls us to “the true grace of God” in 1 Peter 5:12, and in the verses that precede, he describes this true grace with a hard edge--
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:8-10)
The true grace of God is about standing firm in the face of the opposition to the devil and suffering hardship and persecution as you entrust yourself to His eventual vindication and salvation. That is the true grace of God. That grace comes to us through the cross and that grace calls us to the cross. And that kind of grace doesn't attract huge following on religion television. James Thompson in his marvelous book on 1 Peter entitled The Church in Exile, says this—
Whenever Christians have forgotten that walking in the steps of Jesus is costly, 1 Peter has been a forgotten book. The "true grace of God" hardly seems necessary for communities which are rich in their own resources. Where membership in the family of God is offered at bargain-basement prices, the message of 1 Peter is sure to be irrelevant, for only alien communities will find that this book still speaks a word of encouragement.
Several years ago after one particularly difficult time in getting people to volunteer for church ministry and even having several drop out of church almost-altogether, my wife sighed, "Maybe you've preached too much on grace." I don't think I over-preached grace. But I am afraid that I didn't preach well enough on the true grace of God. The true grace of God is the grace of the cross—not just the cross that Jesus died upon but the cross we are called to die upon along with Him.