Whatever Happened to Grace?
Three stories that illustrate the crisis of grace today.
I was visiting a Texas megachurch that was baptizing 200 people one Sunday morning. A few of the candidates for baptism were interviewed by the pastor on stage, and the script went like this: after the candidate's testimony of new life in Christ, the pastor asked if the candidate believed that baptism saves us. The prompted answer was, of course, no. Then he asked the candidate what does save us, and this time the prompted answer was our faith in Jesus as God incarnate and/or our trust in his sufficient death on the cross. The answers were formally correct, but "faith," it seems, had become a new work. We weren't so much saved by Christ as by our mental assent to a few theological propositions.
I was at another church where the message was grounded in those astounding and miraculous verses that culminate in "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20, ESV). Things were going well until we got to the end, when the preacher said, "Have you experienced grace?" His tone, and the background music that swelled as he prayed, suggested we were not saved by faith in what Christ accomplished but by a certain type of religious feeling we might have.
Third: I was speaking with a professor at a Christian university, and we were talking about the relationship of grace and good works. At one point he said, "We are saved by grace, yes, but after that, the Christian life is mostly about our effort to live a Christlike life."
I pick these three anecdotes for three reasons: First, they are typical of messages I hear in my travels as CT's editor. Second, these were taught by pastors and teachers of the faith, who one would hope would have a deeper appreciation of grace. And third, they represent what have ...