Grace is for life

One specific errant concept has done inestimable harm to the church and God’s purposes with us—and that is the concept that has restricted the Christian idea of salvation to mere forgiveness of sins. Yet it is so much more. Salvation as conceived today is far removed from what it was in the beginnings of Christianity and only by correcting it can God’s grace in salvation be returned to the concrete, embodied existence of our human personalities walking with Jesus in his easy yoke.

If salvation is to affect our lives, it can do so only by affecting our bodies. If we are to participate in the reign of God, it can only be by our actions. —Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines

I am a professional computer geek. I make my living not merely by understanding computers, but by acting on what I know. Bob’s hard drive is giving error messages, so I rescue his data and move it to a new drive. Jill’s email doesn’t work, so I repair her mail program. Bart’s computer has a virus, so I slay the bug and teach him how to practice safe-surfing.

Mark uses a Mac; he works in a computer parallel universe where never is heard a discouraging word and the sky is not cloudy all day!

Anyway, back to reality.

My shelves sag under a load of heavy tomes on networking protocols and operating system hacks, and though they are written in a dark and mysterious language, they make sense to me. I’m a walking encyclopedia of computer spells and incantations.

So if you spotted me one Saturday morning at a yard sale plunking down $500 for a rusty, barnacle-encrusted 1988 IBM-PC that had been fished from the bottom of Lake Erie, you might justifiably wonder if, despite my vast knowledge about computers, I really had any common sense about computers.

In other words, if my knowledge has no discernible impact on my actions, something is dreadfully wrong.

Which is exactly Dallas Willard’s point. Christianity is much more than salvation. Christianity is about new life; it is about becoming a disciple of Jesus.

In a recent interview in Relevant Magazine, Dallas Willard criticizes the postmodern church because “discipleship is not essential, and people are not invited to become disciples.” We understand the doctrine of salvation by faith through grace, but we have stopped there—we have not allowed grace to permeate our daily lives.

This misunderstanding of grace as a mere transfer of credit just totally destroys the teaching of grace in the New Testament. Grace, as it’s taught in the New Testament, is God acting in your life and that’s why, for example the great passages like 2 Peter 3:18, ‘Grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’ … you can’t do that if grace is just for guilt. …this misunderstanding of grace simply shuts off God’s activity through His kingdom presence in the lives of individuals. That’s one reason why the statistics on Christians generally don’t differ from the statistics on non-Christians. We’re not living a different life. —Dallas Willard

When Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him, they were already engaged in a successful occupation as commercial fishermen. He promised to teach them how to fish for people, and they responded; they abandoned their boats to became his disciples. The Greek word for disciple, mathetes, means pupil: someone who is engaged in learning. Our own word mathematics comes from the same Greek root.

Throughout their three-year trek across the length and breadth of Israel, Jesus continually taught his disciples the art of kingdomhood. He corrected their doctrine, he questioned their attitudes, he instructed them in prayer, he taught them to heal and teach, he showed them how to live on the edge by trusting God daily for food, clothing and shelter. Jesus challenged his disciples to surrender themselves to God, to live as his servants, to do his work in the world.

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. —Luke 9:23,24, NLT

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. —Romans 12:1,2, The Message

JB Phillips translates the second verse of that passage this way:

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within…

Life is always putting the squeeze on us. If Christians fail to look and think and act like Jesus, it’s because we’ve let our culture shape us and mold us into some hideous caricature of a human being.

Jesus is still calling men and women to follow him. The Master Teacher is still looking for disciples.

Jesus of Nazareth wants to get out of your head and into your life.

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  1. Charlie – I found you through the Christian Carnival – thanks for entering this week. This post hits on a vital subject and it goes much broader than just the post-modern church. Another angle on this subject is to reflect on the interaction of grace and legalism. Too often, we come to Christ by faith (justification by faith)then we seek to grow by our own efforts (sanctification by works). In truth, grace justifies us and sanctifies us. My only point is that your point is well taken and the problem of misunderstanding grace goes far beyond just the postmodern church.

  2. David: Thanks for your comments. I couldn’t agree more—your point about grace and legalism is all too true. And you’re right to say that it isn’t just a post-modern problem. In fact, the return to legalism was one of the very earliest difficulties in the 2nd century church. With the apostles dead and leadership in the hands of a new generation, grace in life began to be replaced by a growing list of rules and laws. I guess we find it hard to shake the sense that we have to earn our way into God’s favor. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. Messy Christian says

    Hello Charlie – a good post that got me thinking. Particularly the questions: How does one become a disciple of Christ? How does one live as a disciple of Christ? I have yet to wrap my mind around that concept and am wondering if I’m being a disciple right now. I’ve always thought that being a disciple meant reading the bible, pray, fellowship – but perhaps what I’ve understood all this while as discipleship was not really discipleship.

    Does discipleship meaning attending seminars, functions, church services?

  4. What Jesus called the disciples to was a relationship with himself and a challenge to let themselves be transformed by that relationship. In modern terms, he mentored them, but it was more than just passing along knowledge. I’m a knowledge junkie. I read everything. I’ve studied the Bible and I pray and I fellowship and I go to church, but those things sometimes nibble all around the edges of discipleship without getting to the heart of it. It’s maybe losing ourselves in Jesus, in the person of Jesus, and discerning and following his call in my life, as opposed to studying theology and being faithful to church meetings.

    Jeremiah 29:13 says “if you seek me you will find me when you seek me with all of your heart.” Seeking God with every fiber of our beings. Having no identity except as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s a whole-hearted commitment to know God, walk with God and to be known by God.

    The disciples weren’t perfect, but they were faithful to Jesus, they paid attention to what he was doing and saying, they took him to heart, and they let him soak into their lives and, gradually, were transformed by him. I think that’s a big chunk of what is meant by discipleship.

    What do you think? Am I close?

  5. Brother Charlie:

    Your article on “Grace is for Life” is well thought out & on the mark with the Scriptures!

    You might enjoy considering the info available on additional teachings emphasizing the essential significance of “GRACE”:






    found at the Association of Exchanged Life Ministries ©

    Let me know what ya think?

    In His Grace & Grip.

    bruce >

  6. Stumbled on your blog while doing some research on Dallas Willard. It seems you must like his writings so, if I may, let me ask you about something that I have wondered about. I’m not sure of Willard’s view of when does salvation occur. He is easy to condemn the casual christian who stands up one day confesses his belief in Jesus but is back to being a poser the next day. I do understand that Willard’s focus is on becoming a disciple for living but while he spotlights christians who are not living the life he does not talk about the Christians who are actually not saved. Any thoughts?

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