EXCERPTS FROM “UNDERSTANDING GRACE AND HOW TO INTERPRET IT IN YOUR LIFE AND CHURCH”

Lee Turner

2002 

Many pastors, [teachers, dad’s, and mom’s] desiring that their [members or son’s and daughter’s] live holy lives, mix law with grace.

Mixing law with grace only produces guilt ridden, defeated Christians and robs them of joy.” (Emphasis added in brackets)

 

It is interesting how the biblical dynamics of Body Life has been copied in modern therapy. Stedman comments, “Modern techniques of group therapy are built on this same basic principle of common sharing that the early church so richly enjoyed.” An atmosphere of grace becomes an incubator for edification. People do not feel uncomfortable and excluded because they have cultural hang–ups, prejudices and different lifestyles. This does not mean that biblical values are disregarded, but that there is a balance of truth and love.

Crabb emphasizes that to be effective, truth should be presented in the proper environment, “When the truth of God is presented well to an encouraged congregation, it will generally promote either real growth or real rebellion. Ironically, a healthy church is full of people who either grow or rebel. And to be healthy, a church must present truth in the context of encouraging relationships.” Crabb also stresses the need of truth applied in the context of relationships to maintain harmony in the church, “The two qualities—relationship and truth—go hand in hand. Relationship without truth leads to shallow sentimentality. Truth without relationship generates pressure, then friction, and eventually disillusionment or pride.” Paul gives us the ultimate motive for this balanced ministry, “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4: 15).

The supernatural divine love placed within the believer by the Holy Spirit will produce an atmosphere of grace. Wilson discusses how this love works in relationships, “This is agape love. It is willing to suffer for others, and it produces what the Scripture calls the ‘attitude of grace.’ That is, when a person is transformed by agape love, he will not have an attitude of criticism. He will not try to discover the faults of another, nor will he try to ‘get the best’ of others. Instead, his attitude will be one of acceptance and forgiveness. He will care for others no matter what the cost. This kind of love is described in 1 Cor. 13 and Eph. 4: 2,32–5: 2. It is the kind of love that understands its liberty in Christ but does not use that liberty if using it will hurt someone else (Gal. 5: 13–17). This kind of agape love must be imparted by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5: 5). This love frees a person to share himself at the deepest level.”

A church that practices this “attitude of grace” will focus on several things:

1) Emphasis will be placed on the person not the church as an institution. Its concern will be, “How can we edify and build up our people?” Not, “What will people think of our church?” Getz comments, “The church must provide an atmosphere where Christians can relate to one another in a non–institutionalized environment. Unfortunately, many local churches have become as institutionalized as the American structures. People who are fed up with an impersonal society often find an impersonal atmosphere in the church as well. People who are tired of being ‘cogs’ in a secular machine find they become ‘cogs’ in a religious machine. The “church gathered” must realize that it can become a haven for lonely and frustrated people. Through providing a place that is a dynamic and loving community, it can counteract the plastic environment in which people live.”

2) Emphasis will be placed on the internal, not the external. The church must be convinced that outward actions will follow an inward surrender to Christ. Foster traces this teaching to Jesus, “Jesus taught that we must go beyond the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees (Mt. 5: 20)… One factor, however, was always central to their righteousness: externalism. Their righteousness consisted in control over externals, often including the manipulation of others. The extent to which we have gone beyond the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees is seen in how much our lives demonstrate the internal work of God upon the heart. It will have external results, but the work will be internal… When the Disciplines degenerate into law, they are used to manipulate and control people. We take explicit commands and use them to imprison others. The result of such deterioration of the Spiritual Disciplines is pride and fear. Pride takes over because we come to believe that we are the right kind of people. Fear takes over because the power of controlling others carries with it the anxiety of losing control, and the anxiety of being controlled by others… If we are to progress in the spiritual walk so that the Disciplines are a blessing and not a curse, we must come to the place in our lives where we lay down the everlasting burden of needing to manage others. This need, more than any other thing will lead us to turn the Spiritual Disciplines into laws. Once we have made a law, we have an ‘externalism’ by which we can judge who is measuring up and who is not. Without laws the Disciplines are primarily an internal work and it is impossible to control an internal work. When we genuinely believe that inner transformation is God’s work and not ours, we can put to rest our passion to set others straight. We must beware of how quickly we can latch onto this word or that word and turn it into a law. The moment we do so we qualify for Jesus’ stern pronouncement against the Pharisees: ‘They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders but they themselves will not move them with their finger’ (Mt. 23: 4). In these matters we need the words of the Apostle Paul embedded in our minds: ‘We deal not in the letter but the Spirit. The letter of the Law leads to the death of the soul; the Spirit of God alone can give life to the soul’ (2 Cor. 3: 6, Phillips)…. Our world is hungry for genuinely changed people. Leo Tolstoy observed, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” Let us be among those who believe that the inner of our lives is a goal worthy of our best effort.” Believers’ hidden problems will eventually cause problems in the church. Stedman points out how externalism leads to friction in the family and church, “It goes against the grain to give an image of oneself that is anything less than perfect, and many Christians imagine that they will be rejected by others if they admit to any faults. But nothing could be more destructive to Christian koinonia than the common practice today of pretending not to have any problems. It is often true that Christian’s homes may be filled with bickering, squabbling, angry tantrums, even bodily attacks of one member of the family against another, and yet not one word of this is breathed to anyone else and the impression is carefully cultivated before other Christians that this is an ideal Christian family with no problems of any serious consequences to be worked out. To make matters worse, this kind of conspiracy of silence is regarded as the Christian thing to do, and the hypocrisy it presents to others (not to mention how it appears to individual members of the family) is considered to be part of the family’s “witness” to the world.”

3) Concentrate on what people are, not what people do. As believers fully understand and appropriate who they are in Christ, they will do good works.

4) Emphasize edifying believers in contrast to being critical. The church should major on building up, not tearing down. The Apostle Paul said, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4: 29). Every word a believer utters should edify others. Girard describes the ideal atmosphere for growth and unity. “In the ideal of community, there is freedom to openly expose oneself in a fellowship of people ready to listen (without harsh judgment), love (without hypocrisy), share themselves (without defensiveness) and walk together toward deepening healing and surrender to God (without pretension or pressure). It can happen, if we can agree to let Scripture say what it says, respond to each other as Scripture exhorts, and trust the Holy Spirit in each other—without resorting to legalistic pressures for conformity and self–protective measures for security.”

The ultimate motive for openness is not just to solve personal problems, but growth that will glorify God by manifesting Christ more accurately. It is not a “sensitivity training session” where we center on self, but rather center on Christ living his life through us. Crabb feels that to know Christ more fully there must be openness, “Christian fellowship is not designed to be a forum for revealing personal problems; rather, it is an opportunity to share with others the relevance of Christ’s life to ours. This does require self–disclosure and openness, not as an end in itself, but as a means to the end of knowing Christ more fully. But most of us tend to disguise our concerns behind socially acceptable masks. We keep these masks in place to avoid the criticism and disapproval we fear would follow the exposure of what we really feel. Yet the layers do more than protect, they also isolate. Soon we feel cut off from the relationship our natures desire.”

The victims of legalism are Christians who suffer “burnout” because of “peer pressure” and fear. They have done “forced labor” for the Lord in the energy of flesh and have reached a point of diminishing joy and fruitfulness. A repressive atmosphere in the church can cause emotional problems.

Crabb comments. “Psychologists occasionally talk about something they call ‘ecclesiogenic neurosis,’ an emotional disorder that can be traced to an origin in the church. They believe (with some justification) that evangelical churches generally, and fundamentalist churches especially, use repression as the most acceptable strategy for handling negative emotions. The troubles that follow in the wake of repression are given the label ‘neuroses.’” The angels must weep when the local church, which should be a place of emotional healing, is sometimes part of the problem.

Meier tells of the effect of one legalistic church on a mental patient, “I have had several patients (including one woman) who actually thought they were Jesus Christ. I interviewed one such patient in a locked room, and when I asked him if he knew why he was there in the mental hospital, he told me God had sent him there to take me home to heaven. At that point I began sweating profusely! I was afraid that he might get up right then and there and try to send me home to heaven! He asked me for a sip of my coke, and I told him I didn’t share my cokes for fear of spreading germs. He responded that if I would give him a sip of my coke, he would give me eternal life. So I said, “Here, take the whole thing!” With proper medication, he improved from his acute paranoid schizophrenic episode in a few weeks. I found out later that he had lived a very wicked life, but had accepted the Lord a couple of years prior to this illness and joined a very negativistic local church. He already had an abundance of inferiority and inadequacy feelings because of his past. To make matters worse, this church kept pounding negative and legalistic thoughts into him right and left. His self–worth finally reached such a low ebb that he convinced himself he was Christ, so he could bear the severe pain of his low self concept. I encouraged him when he was sane again to dwell on God’s grace and his importance to God, and God’s total forgiveness for his entire past. I wanted to tell him to quit his church and get into a healthier assembly of believers. In fact I hinted at this to him, although I don’t believe it is my place as a psychiatrist to tell people what church to go to—just what type of churches I think are health–producing.

The local church you choose for your children to grow up in will become one of the major influences in their self–concepts. If you’re in a negativistic, legalistic church that neglects God’s grace, you’re in the wrong boat! It will permanently damage your child’s self–worth.”

In contrast to legalism, grace, which operates in the energy of the Holy Spirit, causes a person to have joy and enthusiasm in the Lord’s work with a minimum of weariness. Grace is the antithesis of legalism. There are subtle, yet far reaching results of legalism that impact a believer’s life and the local church.

Compare the sharp contrasts between law and grace; The Old Covenant the New Covenant. “Do,” Gal. 3: 10-11, vs. “Be,” Eph. 1: 3–5 “Our weakness,” Gal. 5: 17,19; 6: 8, vs. “His power:” Eph. 3: 16; Rom. 8: 4. Motivated by the flesh, we “try,” Rom. 7: 18–20, vs. Motivated by the Spirit, we “trust:” Rom. 8: 4; Gal. 5: 16. Energized by the flesh we “work hard,” Phil. 3: 4-6, vs. Energized by Chris, t we “rest:” Gal. 5: 16; Phil. 2: 13. Works of the flesh vs. the fruit of the Spirit. “Live the life,” Gal. 5: 19-21, vs. “Enjoy His life,” Gal. 5: 22-23. Controlled by peer pressure, “Fear,” Gal. 2: 11–13, vs. Controlled by Christ, “Faith:” Phil. 1: 6; 1 Thess. 5: 24. Internal vs. internal. “Working for God,” Gal. 5: 1, vs. “God working in us:” Gal. 4: 19; Phil. 2: 13. Fear of the Law and afraid of punishment, Rom. 8: 15, vs. Love for Christ and motivated by love:” Rom. 8: 15; Gal. 5: 13-14. Self righteous and proud of our performance, Phil. 3: 4; Gal. 6: 3,13, vs. Humility and humbled by His grace:” Gal. 6: 1,3; Phil. 3: 12,13 Hypocritical and self righteous, Gal. 6: 3, vs. Transparent and teachable, Gal. 6: 4. Self centered, “I’m religious,” Phil. 3: 4. vs. Christ centered, “I’m righteous in Christ, 1 Cor. 1: 30. Critical and judgmental, “I can’t believe he did that!” Rom. 14: 10,13; Gal. 5: 15, vs. Edifying, warm and able to “restore gently,” Gal. 6: 1-2. Stifles growth, “Observing the law,” Gal. 5: 1-7, vs. Encourages growth, “Conformed to Christ:” Gal. 4: 19; 2 Cor. 3: 18. Bondage and a “slave to fear: Gal. 4: 3,9;5: 1; Rom. 8: 15, vs. Liberty and enjoying the “Spirit of sonship:” Rom. 8: 15; Gal. 5: 1,13. “Have to,” James 2: 10-11, vs. “Want to,” Phil. 2: 13. “The letter kills,” 2 Cor. 3: 6, vs. “The Spirit gives life,” 2 Cor. 3: 6. “The Law makes us sin,” Rom. 7: 8, vs. “Grace makes us godly,” Titus 2: 12. “The Law curses,” Gal. 3: 10, vs. “Grace blesses,” Eph. 1: 3. The Law makes us wretched,” Rom. 7: 24, vs. Grace gives us joy, 1 Pet. 1: 8. “Live by rules,” James 2: 10-11, vs. “Enjoy a relationship,” John 15.

An atmosphere of grace creates a love relationship between pastor and people that is a benediction to Christ.

After experiencing a church split I implemented this philosophy in my church. For nine years, until my retirement from the church, there was a joyous love relationship between pastor and people. We never experienced even a hint of division or strife. One Sunday evening in February (for no special reason) my associate and I were invited over to the fellowship hall. The congregation had a “Thank you” party for us, complete with decorations, cake, a gift certificate for a night in a five–star resort and envelopes with “fun money.” We were given framed “Certificates of Appreciation.” Grace works!

The principles taught in this book are not theories, they have been proven in a local church ministry.

Summary: For a church to have power in the body, it must observe the following principles:

Understand what legalism is and avoid it. A definition of legalism could be, “Trying to live a righteous life in the energy of the flesh, rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Realize that Christians are to be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Only the internal control of the Holy Spirit in the life of each believer will guarantee harmony in the local church.

Know that grace frees the believer from the law and legalism. The believer is now indwelled with the Holy Spirit who exercises supervision over him and lifts him to a higher plane of holy living.

Realize that the purpose of the law was to condemn, not empower the believer to live a righteous life. The law was given to bring death, not life.

Understand that love is the fulfillment of the law. The believer acting on the principle of love will fulfill all the moral standards of the law.

Be convinced that only the Holy Spirit can produce spiritual fruit. The works of the flesh produce disharmony. The fruit produced by the Spirit produces harmony in the church.

Know that only grace produces an atmosphere for harmony in the church.

Legalism produces fear and stifles growth. An atmosphere of love, acceptance and help encourages openness and spiritual growth.