It has been said, many many times, that a “Grace only” message is dangerous and that Grace needs to balanced with appropriate use of Law and/or Truth. If we say we need to balance Grace with Law, for example, what Law do we balance it with? Do we balance Grace with the Ten Commandments? What part(s) of Law do we omit in our balancing of Grace? Let’s explore…
The simple answer is that we cannot ‘balance’ Grace. How can we possibly “balance” the empowering presence of God?
The whole point of the gospel message is that salvation is totally a gift from God. Grace is therefore a gift from God. Anything we add to His plan of salvation, or anything we add to Grace means that is no longer a gift.
Our answer to this question depends entirely on our frame of reference and how we understand the gospel.
If Grace is only “unmerited favor”, in other words a “free ticket to heaven” without the presence of the Holy Spirit, then we will be looking for so-called “balancing” rules, regulations, and other forms of guidance to help the Christian on his way. Having said all that, it is hard to imagine a believer who does not have the Holy Spirit living within him. The presence of the Holy Spirit is a “marker” in the life of an individual who is saved. The Holy Spirit, more importantly, is God’s empowering presence in the life of a believer Who helps him (or her) live a life of righteousness.
If, on the other hand, Grace is more than “unmerited favor”, and is defined as “God’s empowering presence” (which includes unmerited favour) we are then dealing with an enhanced and empowered version of Grace. Grace in the New Testament (New Covenant) is an entirely different thing to the limited grace found in the Old Covenant where there was no presence of the Spirit, everybody was under Law, and Grace was indeed unmerited favour or mercy.
Everything depends on our understanding of the Gospel.
There is a statement made by the apostle Paul which radically changed the direction of my life after I seriously took notice of it. It wasn’t until I had read through Galatians several times whewn I returned several times to Galatians 1:6-10. In light of Paul’s statement there, I came to the conclusion that my view of the gospel was relatively mixed and not as straightforward as Paul was presenting.
I chose then to re-examine my own view of what constituted the gospel in light of Paul’s teaching and decided that it was indeed necessary to radically change my belief system.
Paul’s experience with the Galatians
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert that the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, or let them be under God’s curse!” – Apostle Paul, Galatians 1:6-10 (NIV)
According to Paul the Galatian believers had been radically saved, had begun joyfully serving the Lord and each other, were experiencing signs and wonders, and were a vibrant and growing church. They had been saved and empowered purely by believing Paul’s message about Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit. Pure and simple. They only had Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That’s all!
Then some law-insisting Jewish folk came along with the intent of “balancing” the Holy Spirit and Grace gospel held by the Galatian believers. They were told, in essence, that their faith and belief was not good enough and That the Holy Spirit and grace was also inadequate. They needed to “balance” their grace beliefs and their grace behaviours with a good dose of Mosaic Law. Unless you are circumcised according to Law of Moses you cannot be genuine children of Abraham. The Galatian church fell for it, and as Paul observed they lost their joy, their love, their unity, their power, and were tripped up running their race.
Paul gets highly upset and rebukes the Galatians for losing their way with the Spirit
“You stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: did you receive the Spirit by works of law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” – Apostle Paul, Galatians 3:1-10 (NIV)
It was clear from Paul’s point of view that the Galatians were entirely and adequately equipped through their faith in Jesus and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to live very successful and transformed lives as Christian believers. Paul was incensed that anyone should suggest that the grace they lived in and the faith in Jesus they have expressed was inadequate and needed law as a balance.
It was also clear, in the case of the Galatians, that the addition of Law actually imbalanced them and tipped them toward much less righteous living. Not only were they manifesting more sinfulness, they had lost the power for righteousness.
“It is for freedom that Christ are set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by yoke of slavery. 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 For you who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcised and has any value. The whole thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” – Apostle Paul, Galatians 5:1-6 (NIV)
“Anything added to Grace cancels Grace.” – Dr. Gordon Fee