Max Lucado Goes Overboard on Grace
Protestant churches almost by definition are grounded on the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. Yet many of these very same churches fall into legalism or self-righteousness. Why does that happen, especially when grace is such good news?
This is exactly the reason Paul wrote the book of Galatians, and what he was trying to counterbalance in Rome—this tendency we have to fall back into legalism though we have been saved by grace. There are a few reasons for this.
First, everything else in the world is based on legalism. If I have to pay money to buy bread, then surely at some point I have to pay for my eternal bread with some type of work.
Second, down deep within us, we believe grace is too good to be true, and we feel better if we make some kind of contribution.
Third, teachers fear what people will do with grace: "If I really teach grace, is that couple in the fourth pew who are living together—are they really going to get out of that relationship and get married?"
We have several people in our church who practice a homosexual lifestyle. If I get up and say, "God loves you just where you are, and he's going to help you change," will they really get it as quickly as I want them to? I think there's a desire in us to control the time and way in which people grow in God. Grace is like opening a rainbow in the church and letting people see it, trusting that God is going to use all those colors and all that miracle to work out his will as he wants.
What are some signs that a church is really living in grace and not by law?
The spontaneous worship level of the church. Are people genuinely happy when they're there? I have a friend who says, "You can measure a husband by the face of his wife." And I think you can measure the amount of grace by the face of the church, just by their joy level. There's an energy. There's a simple contagious happiness there.
I think another outgrowth of grace is generosity. Jesus tells the parable of the man who was forgiven much and then demanded that the guy who owed him just a couple hundred bucks pay up. I think that's a picture of when grace did not work. This man thought he had worked the system instead of receiving grace. You counter that with the story of Zacchaeus; Jesus walked in his front door and greed walked out the back door; he wanted to give away half of what he owned. There's a picture of grace. It may be idealistic, but I really think that if we made grace a regular part of the church diet, we'd have happier people who are cheerful givers—and we wouldn't have to have so many campaigns on giving money.
Have you ever seen a church that's gone overboard on grace?
I never have. I've seen churches that have gone overboard on legalism. I think grace has this mystical ability to self correct. The people I know who really walk with Christ, who live a life of grace, who believe they're saved, who believe that God loves them, who believe they've been adopted into the family—they just seem to self correct. They're sensitive to the Holy Spirit. They don't beat themselves up when they fall, and they don't fall on purpose to take advantage of grace. But it's the other folks, the folks who teach salvation by works, who live in fear of death, who seem somewhat limited in their joy.