Its critics denounce it as heretical and a gateway to licentiousness. Its manipulators indeed use it as a license to do what they please. Is there a balanced understanding of this revolution?
It is going around the globe in churches of all kinds, mainly through Christian television. It’s burning up social media.
I am definitely sympathetic to it, but only as explained here because it merely updates the 500-year-old Reformation, though some twisted that older version too.
The modern Grace Revolutionaries say their movement all begins with the Apostle Paul. To understand why this global movement is gaining popularity, we have to dig into the Scriptures as they interpret it.
Paul writes three startling verses that the revolutionaries seize on.
First, he turns the Law of Moses and the Christian’s relationship to it on its head in this most key verse of all.
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6:14)
Every time I read that verse, I marvel at it. If you or I, uninspired as we are, had written it, we would have said, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under cheap and sloppy grace, but follow the Ten Commandments.” But that’s not what Paul says.
Second, Paul delivers the coup de grace (pun intended) in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians.
And you [Corinthians] show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:3)
Tablets of stone? There is no doubt that Paul is referring to the mighty Ten Commandments, which were written on tablets of stone (Exod. 24:12 and 31:18; Deut 5:22 and 9:10). One point not to miss in that verse: the Spirit is set in distinction to the law (more on that below).
The third is in Rom. 13:8-10, where Paul quotes some of the Ten Commandments—and any other command, he is careful to add, in blanket coverage—and proclaims that love fulfills the law, implying that Christian communities that love don’t need the old law.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Why would Paul reach this startling conclusion about the holy Law of Moses? After all, hadn’t he been a Pharisee about keeping it, and blameless in achieving righteousness that comes from observing it (Phil. 3:4-6; cf. Deut. 6:25)?
For the Grace Revolutionaries, the problem with the law boils down to a three-letter word found at the very beginning of humanity in Genesis and the Ten Commandments: Not.
In Genesis 2, God’s grace told our First Parents that they could eat of any tree in the luscious garden. But God through his law commanded them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (v. 17). So what do they promptly do? They disobeyed the restriction, the not.
Further, the Grace Revolutionaries distinguish life for the ancient Hebrews before and after the law was given on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19. The Ten Commandments, except one, has the negation not attached to them (the exception is to honor your father and your mother; cf. Eph. 6:2-3). I give only two examples here (go here for more examples in the section titled “Before and After Exodus 19”).
First, one prominent Grace Revolutionary says it is startling to observe that all during the time the children of Israel journeyed from the Red Sea to Sinai, there are no recorded deaths. In contrast, as soon as the law comes down on Sinai, the children of Israel immediately violate the first two commandments (have no other gods and don’t make an image) and make a golden calf. Three thousand people were judged and executed by God’s wrath (Exod. 32). (The same revolutionary insightfully points out that near Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, at Pentecost 1500 years later, which ushered in the New Covenant and life in the Spirit, three thousand people were saved; Acts 2:41; cf. Heb. 12:18-24.)
Second, before the law was given on Sinai, people worked on the Sabbath. Moses simply rebuked them, and they did it right next time (Exod. 16:23-30). After the law was given, a man worked on the Sabbath, and he was stoned to death (Num. 15:32-26).
These (and other) passages lead to another overlooked insight from Paul: “The law brings wrath” (Rom. 4:15). It is clear that the children of Israel were living under grace before the law was given on Sinai, but they lived under a mixture of grace and the law after Sinai. As a result, all sorts of judgment and wrath descended on them for their failure to live up to the law’s exacting standards and the restrictions embodied in not.
Even the positive commands—do this!—also resulted in epic failure for the entire nation as the centuries rolled on. God allowed them to be exiled twice, as punishment.
What lessons do the Grace Revolutionaries learn from this? How do they deal with the mixture of law and grace? Critics say that law and grace must be mixed or at least placed side-by-side. Yet manipulators say the law is done away with, completely.
What does Paul say, since the Grace Revolutionaries believe they follow his teaching more closely than the others do?
The main point of Paul’s theology of law and grace—so often overlooked by the critics—is that New Covenant believers now enjoy life in the Spirit to lead them to freedom from the law and also from their sin and selfish desires. The most succinct passage is this one:
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. … The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:18, 22-23; cf. Rom. 8 and 2 Cor. 3)
So are Christians who live in the Spirit obligated to keep the Ten Commandments? Grace Revolutionaries say no; and the ones who fully understand Paul’s theology quickly add: but only if believers really are walking in the Spirit. The old law was merely a guardian or babysitter to lead the believers to a mature walk with Christ (Gal. 3:24-26 and 4:1-7). Living in the Spirit, they no longer need the babysitter.
At this point the legalistic critics (hypernomians) shout their denunciation, while the sloppy manipulators (antinomians) celebrate, but the Grace Revolutionaries tell both sides to calm down.
Paul is clear that in daily church life Christians get confused. They may no longer mix grace and the old law, but they mix up their own desires with the Spirit’s leading, so they get into all sorts of moral problems. Paul calls the babysitter back, as he references the old law for correction and clarity, here for example: 1 Cor. 5:12-13, 6:14-17, 9:7-12, and 10:1-10; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1, 8:13-15, and 13:1-3; Eph. 6:1-4; 1 Tim. 5:17-18. In all of those passages, which quote the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and which represent many verses that quote from the entire the Old Testament, Paul corrects deficient behavior and clarifies good behavior. As the legalistic critics are baffled, even scared, of life in the Spirit, so the manipulators conveniently ignore those old law passages.
So for the Grace Revolutionaries, if they were to put the law-grace interaction in modern word processing, “grace” would be written in 72 size font, while “law” would be written in 8 size font (but not deleted). Thus in the New Covenant law and grace are neither equal nor mixed. Grace take top priority.
The best news of all: for the mature who don’t need the old law and for the immature and deceived who temporarily need the old law until they receive correction—neither group is under the curses and wrath that are built into the Old Covenant (Deut. 28:15-68); Christ has ushered in the New Covenant and set them free from the punishments of the old law (Heb. 8 and 12:18-24; Rom. 5:9; Gal. 3:10-14).
In the vernacular, the Old Covenant comes with too much baggage that New Covenant believers don’t have to carry anymore.
The Grace Revolutionaries believe that when all ministries focus on grace as much as Paul did (and as much as they try to do), their grace message can be a blessing to the worldwide multitudes plagued by guilt and shame and in need of salvation.