Recently a friend said, “Christ came to earth to give us the Gospel so we could show grace to the world.” My friend, who loves God with his whole heart, is a “grace-centered” individual.
He likes to make grace great. Grace is what he talks about. Grace is what he appreciates. He loves God’s amazing grace or unmerited favor, as well he should. I do too.
On the surface there is nothing seemingly wrong with his grace-centered approach to life. We should be excited about grace, thankful for God’s grace, and glad He would give us the favor we need to live a life which puts His Son on display.
Even with that said, there is a slight problem with his language, his affection, and his theology as it pertains to God’s favor. What he is unaware of is how his grace-centric mindset communicates something deeper, something slightly off-center.
The real problem for the non-discerning listener is how a grace-centered world view is so close to the truth that it is hard to discern how off it is from the truth and the problems it can lead to if not addressed.
It’s like two ships sitting side by side in the harbor with only a two degree difference in their trajectories. A person on the dock would never discern how their destinations will be thousands of miles off because of the imperceptible differences of the ships sitting in the harbor.
It is only when one docks in England and the other in Africa you realize they were pointing to different destinations. This is the difference between being grace-centered and Gospel-centered.
The Gospel is Jesus Christ and grace is the means by which we put Jesus Christ on display. Jesus did not come to give us grace, but to give us Himself–the good news or the Gospel.
While a right understanding of the Gospel and grace is essential and good, they have to be understood, interpreted, and administrated according to how the Bible uses them. If not, the Christian will drift from the Bible’s intended course. This book is about those differences.
Christ is the Gospel
Grace is not the goal, but Jesus is always the goal.Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! Revelation 5:12 (ESV)
The way my friend stated his position and how he lives his life is this way: Christ came to earth to give us the Gospel so we could magnify grace to the world. It is imperative you understand what he believes.
Think of it this way: if he had a flashlight, he would direct its beam toward grace because he wants you to see grace. If he had a magnifying glass along with his flashlight, he would place it over grace so it would be magnified.
The problem with this is how his understanding of grace and the Gospel is backwards. According to his understanding and what he said, he sees the Gospel as the means and grace as the end or the goal. The Gospel, then, become the means to magnify grace.
The Gospel is Jesus Christ. He is the Good News predicted (Genesis 3:15). The entire Bible was written for one singular purpose–for the Gospel (Christ) to be manifest so men and women could be saved. The purpose of the Bible is not grace most of all, but the Gospel most of all.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! – John 1:29 (ESV)
My friend was making the Savior’s purpose for living and dying to point to grace–He came to give us grace and, therefore, we should magnify grace. This kind of thinking is another Gospel. It demagnifies the Son of God while pointing to the wonderfulness of God’s favor or kindness.
No doubt grace is a wonderful concept, but it is not the Gospel. Paul did not hold back his criticism for anyone who magnified anything as more important than the Son of God. The integrity of the Gospel must be defended at all times, even if the concept of grace is its competitor.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. – Galatians 1:8-9 (ESV)
My friend made more than a mental mistake or a theological faux pas. It was heresy. Nothing trumps Christ. Nothing is greater than Christ. If magnification is placed on anything, it must always be the person and work of Jesus Christ–the Gospel.
What he should have said and, more importantly, what he should understand and seek to apply to his life and to his teaching is something like this:
Christ came to earth because of grace, to give us the Gospel, which is Himself. Grace is the means or the attitude by which we receive, enjoy, and magnify the Gospel. Grace is not the thing He wants us to show the world. Grace is God’s favor, which allows us to magnify the Gospel–the person and the work of Jesus Christ.
Means to an end
In theology you will occasionally hear the term instrumentation. This is a word which talks about a means in which something is accomplished. It’s like the phrase, a means to an end.
Through the instrumentation of grace, the Gospel transforms. Grace, then, becomes a means to the end, the end being Christ. Grace was never meant to be the end. Let me illustrate.
If a child was in a ditch and could not get out he would need to benefit from the kindness or favor of another. If I came along and saw him in the ditch, I would have two choices–be kind or not be kind.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—
among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—
by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:1-7 (ESV)
We were in a ditch. The Bible says we were dead in our trespasses and sins and had no way of getting out of the ditch by ourselves. God decided to be kind to us. He extended grace to us because He wanted to help us and because He is rich in mercy.
Let’s say I decide to be nice to the child in the ditch and reach down and pull him out. Did grace save him? No, grace was a means to an end. It was my power which saved him from his peril.
He will probably tell others about the kindness I extended to him. That would be good and right, but he should not stop there. He should tell about what I did, not just the fact I showed him favor. It is what I did which saved him. My kindness was a lesser thing to the main thing. It’s subordinate to the main thing.
Through the instrumentation of kindness, the child was able to be rescued by the power of another. Through the instrumentation of grace–or God’s unmerited favor, the Gospel (Jesus Christ) transforms lives.
This is more than a disagreement in semantics. This is the difference between idolatry and true biblical worship. You either make much of the means or you make much of Christ.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. – John 12:32 (ESV)
Jesus was not interested in lifting up grace, but in lifting up Himself (John 3:14-15). We are to give the world clear pictures of who Jesus is, not grace. Grace does not transform you. That is the work of the Gospel.
Are you making the grace mistake? What is your life centered on? You can easily assess yourself by asking what is most important to you. What do you talk about most of all? What is the thing which defines you? What do you like the most?
- A man who likes sports the most, will talk about sports–he is sports-centered.
- A man who likes politics the most, will talk about politics–he is politically centered.
- A person who likes movies the most, will talk about movies–he is movie-centered.
- A lady who likes shopping the most, will talk about shopping–she is shopping-centered.
- The man who likes grace the most, will talk about grace–he is grace-centered.
- The man who likes Christ the most, will talk about the Gospel–he is Christ-centered.
As you are assessing yourself, it may be profitable to compare yourself to God the Father. What does the Father like to talk about or put on display. If He could magnify anything, what would it be?
You therefore must be perfect (mature), as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:48 (ESV)
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. – Ephesians 5:1 (ESV)
Assuredly He does not put grace on display. There is no text in the Bible which would support His fascination with the means as being more important to Him than the end–His Son. The Father is pleased with His Son (Mark 1:11).
See Genesis 3:15; John 1:1-14; Acts 2:14-36; Romans 1:1
We preach Christ. – Paul (1 Corinthians 1:23)
Magnifying grace – Marginalizing Christ
There are scores of Scriptures which would support the Father’s affection for His dear Son and how He sent Him to be put on display. This does not negate the place or importance of grace. Because we were dead in our sins He had to show us favor if we were going to be saved.
And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:11 (ESV)
There is no question in Whom the Father is pleased. Don’t you think it would be odd for the Father to urge us to put grace on display in our world? Doesn’t it ring a bit untrue to want to make grace the main thing? The Father does not do this. When we get to heaven, we will not do this either.
Carefully read this passage in Revelation 5:5-14 and note the attitude, the mind, and the passion of the worshippers. Also note what they are worshipping–or better said, Who they are worshipping.
The only reason a person would talk about grace in this passage is because grace will be the instrumentation which allows us to do the most important thing we’ll ever do–worship the Lamb. Read and enjoy:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, And they sang a new song, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
Now I ask you, “Which is more important? The Lamb of God Who sits on the throne or the grace of God which allows you to see and behold Him Who sits on the throne?”
- What would you rather talk about?
- What would you rather put on display in your life?
- What would you rather extend to people: grace or the Gospel?
- What do you want to center your life on and give your attention?
When John thought about these things, he wanted to make sure his readers knew who the Gospel was and how they could know and experience Him. John called Him eternal life in his book.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life
—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us
—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us. – 1 John 1:1-2 (ESV)
- When you have nothing else to think about, what controls your thoughts?
- If you could magnify only one thing, what would you choose?
- What do you treasure the most?
- How would your friends, spouse, or children answer question three? Ask them.
- What changes do you need to make in order to be more effectively centered on the Gospel–Jesus Christ?