Preaching the Grace of God
A brother made the following comment: “Grace is one subject one hears very little about in conservative Churches of Christ except it be prefaced by a stern warning of what grace is not.”
I wonder if that statement has been true of my preaching. I personally know it has not, but could someone perceive that of me? I suppose someone could perceive that I do not preach enough about the grace of God, but let us think clearly and fairly about our perception. It seems to me that Paul taught both about what grace is and what it is not. Romans 1-2 is why we need grace (we have all sinned), Romans 3-5 is about what grace provides for the remedy of sin, and Romans 6 is about what it is not. It is not license to sin. When a majority around us pervert the grace of God and talk as if it is “unconditional”, then a good minister will evaluate what needs to be said. I judge that we need to both understand what it is and what it is not. Paul made that same judgment. Jude felt a need to point out that some “turned the grace of God into licentiousness (license to sin)”(Jude 5). He felt a need to declare what grace is not.
But, let us consider something else about preaching the grace of God. There are broad topics within the preaching of grace. Notice what Paul says that grace teaches:
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
"Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you. "
Notice that when preachers are teaching you to “deny ungodliness”, they are preaching the true grace of God. So, don’t dismiss his teaching as not enough about the specific topic of the nature of God’s love. He is only teaching you to deny ungodliness because that is part of preaching true grace. When some of the sermons center on denying “worldly lusts”, you need to remember that this is what graceteaches. When a preacher is preaching about “living soberly” and making good judgments, he is preaching grace. When he tells you what the New Testament teaches about morals and righteous principles of living for Christ, he is preaching true grace. When he is preaching that you should avoid “every lawless deed” he is preaching true grace. Would you look at the nature and content of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and accuse him of not preaching enough about grace? Wouldn’t that be a bit unfair?
When we preach God’s word, we are preaching true grace. Now, like each of the books and letters of the New Testament, we will mention a variety of things. We will cover the love of God and the mercy of God, and we will illustrate it like Jesus did in the parable of the prodigal son. We will also preach the kingdom, because that is where grace is enjoyed. We will preach the kingdom and church of Christ, because that is where grace is enjoyed, and that too was illustrated in much of the teaching of Jesus and His apostles.
When we examine Jesus’ teaching, it was not all about the gracious nature of God specifically, but it was all part of the grace of God generally. Would it be fair to examine Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and charge that Jesus did not preach enough about the grace of God specifically? Examine Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. Would it be fair to charge that Peter did not preach enough about the gracious nature of God’s grace specifically? Yet, the entire sermon with the opportunity to call on the Lord and be saved, was all generally part of preaching true grace. When we preach against any and all error, we are basically exhorting the brethren to “continue in His grace” and not get side-tracked away from true grace.
We should and do preach about what Jesus did for us on the cross, and we should and do preach about the gracious nature of God, but we should know enough to recognize that our range of topics should be as broad as the topics found in the New Testament or against any topic that competes with or challenges the truths of the New Testament (II Corinthians 10:3-5). Part of preaching grace is to preach the truth about how to enter His grace and how to continue in His grace.
Paul wrote a whole book on law versus grace through faith (Galatians). Would it be fair to judge that he did not write enough to the Galatians about the specific topic of God’s amazing love? Was he spending too much time telling what grace was not? It was not adding the Law of Moses or circumcision to the liberty given in Christ. Did Paul say too many negative things in this book? Some at Corinth charged him with preaching too much in a rebuking manner. Well, sometimes that is what brethren need in order to get back on track with the grace of God.
"When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord."
What did Paul see? He saw how people had repented and had entered Christ, were joyful about their blessings in Christ, and were continuing in the activity that faith in Jesus demanded.
"Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God."
What would it take to “continue in the grace of God”? It would be “continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, in fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). What the 3,000 brethren were doing by “continuing in the apostle’s doctrine” was the very same thing as “continuing in the grace of God”.
"Strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God."
Continuing in the faith (that body of teaching expressed in the New Testament) is the same thing as continuing in His grace. Teaching brethren to be faithful and true to the “faith once delivered” to the saints, is teaching grace and how to continue in it. Would it be fair to say that Jude wasted a letter and did not say enough, specifically, about the positive nature of God’s gracious nature? Did he spend too much time warning about apostasy? When we think fairly and soberly, we would have to check ourselves before we accused gospel preachers of not preaching enough about a certain topic. It may be that we were not paying close attention. It may also be that we have a distorted view of how much time should be spent on one topic as opposed to another. It may also be that the time we were not present, or the times we were not paying attention was when those topics were indeed preached on. But, anytime a man preaches the kingdom, the parables of Jesus, the books of the New Testament, we do not skip over the grace of God. We are teaching and preaching it. Sometimes a church needs a series of topics like Paul delivered in his first letter to Corinth. Brethren, that is preaching the grace of God. Be fair in your assessment.
"If indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister."
I Timothy 4:15-16
"Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you."
Can we read the two letters to Timothy and get the idea that he should only preach about the God’s gracious nature? Can we save people if we do not defend the truth on all fronts of attack? Timothy will be preaching the saving truth if he defends it against those trying to bind the Law of Moses on Christians. If brethren start trying to make Genealogies after Jesus came to have some importance, Timothy can defend true grace against such talk. Preaching grace is much broader than simply dwelling on the gracious nature of God. It is preaching “the whole counsel of God”. It is preaching a wide range of topics like we find in 1 Corinthians.
I do not believe that I have neglected the grace of God. I do not believe that there is another preacher who appreciates the grace of God more than I do. I don’t believe that such preachers as make comments like the above opening comment have a better grasp of the topic or understand it better. I think many who make such comments are not thinking correctly about the topic specifically and generically. I am not saying that we all do not have room to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, but I am saying that the opening comment of the brother is not true of my experience in conservative churches of Christ in general or of my preaching specifically. I would think that the comment is indicative of someone who is simply not satisfied with his own experience and who has surmised that it was the fault of others who were preaching rather than problems with his own perceptions due to his own spiritual problems and lack of personal study. At any rate, let us be sure we understand and appreciate the nature of God and His amazing grace, while realizing that there is far more to preaching the true grace of God than merely dwelling on that specific aspect of it to the neglect of what grace teaches and demands. Let us be careful to enjoy and preach the whole counsel of God.