JOHN PEARRELL: Our understanding of grace should move us closer to Jesus every day

A few years ago the working definition of tolerance changed.

Tolerance was at one time understood as being able to get along with and act with civility towards those who disagreed with us. Today, this understanding is referred to as "negative tolerance" and the new definition carries the caveat that tolerance involves accepting the opposing view as an equally valid view.

Truth is out the window with this new working view of tolerance.

A similar thing is happening in Christendom with a new, non-Scriptural view of grace. It seems that proponents of this new view are quick to reject the church, disparage the Bride of Christ, condemning her while claiming to be living in grace.

Seems to me that those who embrace this new understanding of grace often act toward others in a very ungracious way. They accuse the church in general of a failure to understand and extend grace, but they turn right around and do the very thing they are condemning.

In the forward to "Dirty God: Jesus in the Trenches," written by Johnnie Moore, Rick Warren is right when he writes, "The sooner we quit pretending that the church needs to be perfect in order to love it, the sooner we quit pretending and admit that we are all imperfect and in need of grace."

It is a wonderful thing to realize that God's acceptance of us is based upon who He is and not who we are; it is a foolish thing to think that because God extends grace toward us we have no obligation to Him. When I find a person who is not living in gratitude for the gift of grace, I find a person who does not understand grace at all. For them grace simply means they are free not to do what they don't want to do, and free to do what they do want to do.

When one studies Paul's classic work on grace, the Book of Galatians, two things stand out: first, the believer does not function under rules and regulations but that does not mean he or she is out of control; and second, Paul makes it perfectly clear that the Christian is never out of control but under the control of the Holy Spirit.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:1, 13 NIV84).

The reformers had a marvelous phrase: sola gratia, it was one of the five solas (alone) that the reformers used to define their faith. This one, sola gratia means "grace alone."

The English word we get from gratia is gratitude. A person who truly understands what grace is always responds with gratitude. If there is not gratitude, you've not really understood grace.

A former president of one of our prestigious Ivy League schools put it well when he said, "I accepted Christ as my Savior at an early age, and the rest of my life has been lived as a P.S. saying thank you to God for His marvelous gift."

Since the first century, there has, unfortunately, arisen in every generation groups of people who tend to turn grace into license. That is, they view grace as a means to do anything they happen to like doing (ignoring vast portions of Scripture in the name of their pseudo-freedom). They resist stubbornly anything they don't feel like doing, again all in the name of there perverted grace.

Space has gotten away, so let me conclude by saying, if your understanding of grace is not moving you to become more like Jesus every day, you have not rightly understood the biblical concept of grace.

John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.