While the liberal church talks much about grace, they know little about it. They meet at stately structures that point to a Biblical past. Within, are cultured, educated, well-mannered, respectable and highly refined people. But they seldom carry a Bible and even more seldom do they spontaneously share a verse from it. They “say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing,’” (Rev. 3:17), but they no longer believe much of the Gospel, the parts that are uncomfortable – the judgment and righteousness of God and the depravity of humanity.
In contrast, the believing church meets in store fronts, rented halls, and even in new, shiny buildings. Generally speaking, the people within are not refined and respectable. Nor are they highly educated or cultured. They often come limping, bringing within them scars from their broken past, but they come with their Bible and are excited about what they find in it. This is because they know that they need its Gospel message of peace, reconciliation and healing.
How do they know this? Because God has revealed it to them! And why does the liberal church not know this and instead has exchanged the Gospel message for an updated message of universal salvation or one of, “There are many ways to salvation?” Because they have rejected God’s revelation! In rejecting the message of judgment and depravity, they have also rejected the message of grace. The great 18th century American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, put it like this:
- The glory of divine grace appears chiefly in its being on the sinner when he is in a condition exceedingly miserable and necessitous. In order, therefore, that the sinner may be sensible [aware] of this glory, he must first be sensible of the greatness of his misery, and then of the greatness of divine mercy…Indeed, the soul is not capable of receiving a revelation or discovery of the redeeming grace of God in Christ, as redeeming grace, without being convinced of sin and misery. He must see his sin and misery before he can see the grace of God in redeeming him from that sin and misery. (From the sermon, God Makes Men Sensible of their Misery)
Edwards preached that we are unable to understand and appreciate grace until we see our need for it. Likewise, we have little esteem for the Savior, as long as we refuse to see that we are miserable sinners who require His mercy.
This is not merely a psychological principle; it is the will of God! He will not reveal himself to the self-satisfied:
- At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” (Matthew 11:25-26)
Why is our God pleased to reveal Himself only to the meek and lowly - the brokenhearted as the Psalms assert?
- The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18; Isaiah 66:1-2; 57:15)
And why must we first know of the judgment of God (and our deserving it) before He will reveal to us His mercy? Edwards warned that we need first to have an appreciation of both judgment and mercy:
- If men were sensible of the love of God without a sense of those other attributes, they would be exposed to have improper and unworthy apprehensions of God…For this is the very end of Christ’s laying down his life and coming into the world, to render the glory of God’s authority, holiness, and justice, consistent with his grace in pardoning and justifying sinners.
Truth and beliefs are the foundation for any relationship. If I believe that my wife is trying to hurt me, this belief will influence how I feel and act towards her. Similarly, what we believe about God will determine the nature of our relationship. Therefore, it is essential that we understand God – His hatred of sin and love of righteousness combined with His willingness to endure the judgment that we deserved:
- God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
Why is this knowledge – that we are sinners who deserve nothing from God other than condemnation – so essential? Without it, we would become arrogant and boast. This is why God chose to reveal Himself the broken people of this world (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
Before we are ready to see the glory of grace, we have to see our utter unworthiness. Before we can be raised and honored, we must first be humbled:
- But he [God] gives us more grace [to the humble]. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. (James 4:6)
· Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time…God of all grace…after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:6, 10)
Humility is the doorway to grace. Therefore, God will not graciously reveal Himself to the proud. Instead, according to Jesus, He must first humble them:
- “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
But how do we humble ourselves to receive this grace? We acknowledge the truth about ourselves – that the only thing that we deserve from God is judgment, and that it is only by His sheer mercy that we have anything good in our lives! Paul claimed that this was the purpose for the Law:
- Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
The Law was given to show us our true moral status and to humble us by making us “conscious of our sin.” Solomon acknowledged this truth as he dedicated the Temple:
- “When a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel—being aware of the afflictions of their own hearts, and spreading out their hands toward this temple— then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act.” (1 Kings 8:38-39)
Solomon acknowledged that it is “the afflictions of their own hearts” that will produce q humble awareness of our hopelessness and bring about true prayer. It is only in the context of brokenness that we learn to die to ourselves – to cease self-trust in favor of God-trust:
- “The Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:2-3)
The humbling reveals to us our failures and needs. Ultimately, it leads us to abandon our ways in favor of His. However, the humbling process does more than simply to reveal to us our needs and insufficiency in the face of trials. It also uncovers our moral corruption.
When Israel was deprived of their needs and desires, they not only had an angry bio-chemical reaction. They also rebelled against the God who had provided so graciously for them. The trial – the humbling experiences – brought to their awareness not only feelings, but a fully developed self-righteous program, complete with its self-justifications and vicious accusations against their Benefactor. It uncovered beliefs – “I will only follow You if I get what I want. You are my need-provider. If I don’t get what I want from You, I will hate You.”- that were entirely contrary to blessed love-relationship with their Savior. These beliefs needed to be exposed and confronted. However, without the trials and humbling, this script would remain hidden and true loving relationship would be undermined!
If, instead, mercy and blessing is extended to the self-satisfied, this would only serve to harden and affirm them in their self-righteousness and entitlement mentality.
It is the humble who will see God (Matthew 5:3-8) and enjoy Him forever. This is the message we must continue to preach. Without the preaching of judgment and our deserving it, we will not be humbled, and our appreciation and adoration of our Savior will suffer – also discipleship! Paul therefore reminded Titus about the nature of true preaching:
- At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. (Titus 3:3-5, 8)
Lest we become proud, we need continual reminder of who we are and from where we have come. It is only in the context of humility that gratefulness will thrive, and with it, devotion to our Lord. The Lord will not throw His pearls before unrepentant swine (Mat. 7:6)!
However, we evangelicals are forgetting from where we have come and who we are. We rarely hear sermons on judgment, sin, and human depravity, and so we are losing our appreciation for grace. By neglect, we are becoming the liberal church. God help us!