There is a message that is so controversial, so radical, that your ministry could be changed forever. But be careful—things may turn out very different from what you expect or from what you might like.
You see, the message of grace is a powerful and life-changing message. I know we talk about grace all the time. I know there are hundreds of books that supposedly teach about grace. But I am talking about the real message of grace, the one Jesus came to give us.
One church will be lifted up by the message and transformed into a life-giving fellowship. Another will become divided and lose much of its glory. One pastor will be heralded as the bringer of good news, while another will be fired for preaching such a controversial message. If you are interested in preaching the true message of grace, be ready for anything. But, I suppose, you need to be ready most of all for some people to get angry. Mike Yaconelli said it well: “The message of grace makes some people angry.”
Why? Because, if you tell the whole story, you will shake up their religious world in the same way Jesus shook up the world of the Pharisees. They are depending on their formulas, their system. If you tell them the system doesn’t work, that their precious “standards” are worth about as much as filthy rags, they won’t know what to do. They have never heard anything else. Many of them don’t really even know Jesus, so how can they trust Him for their daily life?
Ok, so what are we talking about?
Well, maybe I should explain just what this “grace message” is. It really is simple, so I’ll just keep it that way.
First, Jesus is real. In fact, the whole amazing story is real. Jesus is a real Person who came to give His life so that we could become alive in Him. He isn’t just an idea or a historical figure. Jesus is a real Person in much the same way you and I are persons. He thinks, He cares, and He is active. You’d be surprised how many Christians live their days as though that were not true.
Second, Jesus came to be our life. He didn’t just come to give us life. He came to be our life. Galatians 2:20 makes it very clear that the only life in us is the life of Jesus. We were dead because of our sins and we have been made alive… but we are not alive separate from Him.
Third, Jesus is sufficient for every aspect of the Christian life. I am amazed at how people who will proclaim grace in salvation are so ready to proclaim works for sanctification. They speak of His part versus our part. Like He gets us started, rebuilds our relationship with God, but then it is up to us to walk the straight and narrow from that time on. The problem is that we are no more able to walk that righteous path after salvation than we were before salvation. I don’t know if you noticed, but most of the same temptations and most of the same sins continued after salvation. If sanctification is up to us, we aren’t doing a very good job. To paraphrase an old saying with a twist, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to Him!”
Fourth, those who are in Christ are not going to be judged on their performance. The righteousness in us is the righteousness of Christ and that is fully sufficient. We have nothing of ourselves. Anything we do on our own will be insufficient; anything He does through us will be good. It is all about Him! (Ok, I suppose we could discuss the judgment seat of Christ, the Bema judgment, or any of those things that suggest that there is some type of judgment of the works of believers. But study it carefully and see first if those things really do teach judgment of believers. Even if they do, how could any believer claim ownership or credit for the things he or she has done for the kingdom? If we are only the branches, it is clear that all credit will go to the Vine. At the same time, if the only things that are ours are sin, didn’t He already die for that? The truth is that ultimately we will not be judged for our performance, only for our relationship with Jesus. )
Fifth, it is impossible for us to become more holy or more spiritual. If all our holiness is derived only from Jesus (and just try to find anything else in the Bible) and all our spirituality is from the Holy Spirit within us, then how dare we think that we can add anything to it! Instead, the Christian life is a process of “becoming who we are.” As we draw near to Jesus and walk with Him, we reflect more of Him in our lives. But listen: this is not because we follow the rules; it is because we follow Him.
Finally, if the above are true, then the best thing any believer can do is pursue an intimate relationship with Jesus. The whole of the Christian life is found in our relationship with Jesus. Out of that relationship will come our peace, our guidance, our encouragement, our value, and everything else we need in life. If you want to know what is right, ask Him! If you want to know what to do next, ask Him! If you don’t know how to hear Him, ask Him! It all comes from Him and, as Tozer said, all you need is the “want to”.
So, what does it mean for a pastor to share a “grace message”?
Well, like Paul, you should be preaching “Christ and Him crucified”. (Crucified doesn’t mean dead, by the way. It refers to love and sufficiency and accomplished purpose.) If you want to give your people the true gospel, tell them of Jesus!
Here are a few thoughts:
DO: Preach Christ as sufficient for everything a believer needs.
DON’T: Add to the gospel by suggesting that “real Christians” tithe or stay away from TV or keep some other standard you or your denomination decide is important. Let people hear these things from the Lord and follow as He leads.
DO: Teach your people how to listen to Jesus.
DON’T: Let your people sacrifice their brains or hearts to the strongest teacher… even if it’s you! There are some who will tell your people how to live. Do you want those teachers to take the place of Jesus in the lives of your people?
DO: Love people no matter what.
DON’T: Accept sin or make sin the primary focus of your ministry. Both are wrong and are short-sighted. Sin hurts people and Jesus loves people. Of course, Jesus wants His people to avoid those things that hurt them and hurt others around them. Sin is a love issue, not a holiness issue. Remember, our holiness is derivative – it’s from Jesus. It isn’t our own, no matter how much we avoid sin. The only real reason to avoid sin is because of love. Some will avoid one sin only to fall into another. You can remind them of the love of God in Jesus as they stumble through their walk.
DO: Accept people where they are in their walk.
DON’T: Forget that the Christian life is a walk, a journey, and it can be very bumpy and circuitous. Some people are a little off the path. Others have fallen over something. Still others have stopped for a while. Your job, as pastor, is not to push them onward. Your job is to reconnect them to Jesus and let Him lead them. Pray for them, love them, teach them… but always bring them to Jesus.
DO: Trust Jesus for the results of your ministry.
DON’T: Take things personally. If you follow Jesus in your ministry, praying for guidance and trusting that He is leading, then let the results be in His hands. He may send you to do something that appears to have one purpose, but really has another. You may think it was a failure, but He may consider the mission accomplished in full. Trust Him, especially during failure or disappointment. He knew what was going to happen, didn’t He? If He led you into a project, trust that He knows how to accomplish His own work. (If it was your work, and you didn’t seek His leading, then let it fail, and you come back to Him.)
DO: Read good books by those who understand.
DON’T: Read junk! By junk I mean books that offer how to’s for spirituality. “If you do these seven easy steps you will find these guaranteed results!” That’s junk. “How you can accomplish more for the Lord by feeling more guilty!” That’s junk too. You’d be much better off reading popular novels! Instead, look over the books we have reviewed and pick up some of them. You don’t have to get them through us. Find them used somewhere and highlight them. You will be encouraged by the things others have learned.
What to expect…
Let your own life be transformed by the amazing message of God’s grace in Jesus and then take that message to your people. They need it and it will transform their lives as well.
But I have to remind you of what I said in the beginning. Not everyone will like this message. When I took it to my church, one of the men told me I was teaching a “dangerous” doctrine. He meant that people might hear my message and be more open to sin. He actually told me that people who just follow Jesus will be more apt to sin! Like following Jesus would lead a person into sin! Good grief!
Some people will leave your church, and you will probably be accused of becoming soft on sin. You will be told that your messages need balance, that you should be preaching against sin instead of for Jesus. You may even be blamed for sins that happen after you started preaching this message. All of these have happened to me, and they have happened through the centuries to those who proclaim the grace of God. (Check out the great quote by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones on our “Articles” page. You may appreciate his thoughts.
But whatever difficulty comes your way, you will find that some will hear and understand… and their lives will never be the same. You may also find that others come to your church because you are more accepting and loving than you were before. You will probably find that the young people are more receptive to the Lord and more fulfilled in the church when some of the petty judgment is gone. Jesus is the answer people need for their marriages, their addictions, their hopelessness. The rules have not worked. If you give them Jesus, you will be doing the right thing.
Send me an email. I’d be happy to help.