Sunday, March 11, 2018


The way we believe is the way we behave. It is also the message of the Bible: “Out of the riches of the heart, the mouth will speak.” If belief is not in the heart, it will not enter into the mouth; nor will it take the form of action.

A psychologist related to me some research that demonstrated this very principle. He explained that Christians were surveyed in the US, Canada, and Korean, and it was found that in both the US and Canada the more religious in belief acted the most morally. However, the researchers were perplexed that they weren’t able to observe this correlation in Korea.

Here is one possible explanation - Perhaps it is because Korea had been evangelized by Presbyterian Calvinists. Calvinists emphasize the fact that we are saved by grace apart from any obedience or moral virtue. I tend to be Calvinistic, but I observe that some Calvinists emphasize grace and the sovereignty-of-God at the expense of preaching against sin and the need for obedience.

I had seen this many times in New York City, where several generations of grace-centered seeker-sensitive churches have sprung up to reach professionals and upwardly mobile younger adults. This strategy is similar in all of them – emphasize the appealing aspects of Christianity (God’s grace, forgiveness, and love) and de-emphasize its unappealing aspects (God’s righteousness and holiness), those aspects that set Christianity in opposition to our progressive culture.

Consequently, this kind of preaching slides comfortably down the pallet. God’s grace accepts all, and Jesus would never turn anyone away. The message is not a demanding one. No one has to give up their social gatherings, relationships, or careers. Sin and obedience are barely mentioned, and preaching against sexual sin is more likely heard in the local bar. Instead, it is preaching geared to the marketplace, and it sells to the youth who want it all with minimal sacrifice.

The Good News requires the bad news. In the absence of convicting sermons, grace suffers. It becomes a mere pleasantry like, “So nice to see you today.” Conviction of sin is the reminder of our moral failures.  These failures continue to highlight grace by exposing our continual need for grace. Without this defining context, grace is nothing more than a set of defining doctrines.

Our blessedness is a matter of our daily re-acquaintance with the fact that we are truly damned without the atoning blood of Christ:

·       “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:3-7 ESV)

Blessedness requires brokenness. A church that is not reminded of their poorness of spirit, that is not brought to mourning over their sin, and left in a state of meekness and humility will not “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Nor will they be satisfied by the grace of God unless they are reminded of their need for it by their persistent moral failings and the preaching that exposes it.

The most memorable sermon first tore me apart and exposed my sins. I was broken by the Word of God. It made clear my utter unworthiness before a holy God. But when the sermon closed with grace, I clung to its words as if my life depended upon it, and it did. I wept tears of relief. I was rescued by God’s grace in a way that nothing else could do.

Liberal churches also believe in grace. They too preach that God loves us and has forgiven our sins, but I’m not sure that they get it. Grace has little meaning for those who aren’t convinced that they absolutely need it. It is like preaching freedom to those who already believe that they are perfectly free. Such preaching is foolishness to them.

Secularism also endorses a grace devoid of holiness. Secular pop psychology teaches us to love and forgive ourselves. However, the continual publication of grace-based self-help books, indicates that their love-thyself and forgive-thyself affirmations fail to penetrate to the place of need.

I question whether or not the Holy Spirit will validate such a defective or unbalanced grace-based message. Instead, as Jesus instructed, the Spirit will convict the world of its sin:

·       And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. (John 16:8)

However, when a church fails to preach sin and holiness, it is not doing the work of the Spirit. Nor does it seem likely that it will encourage the growth of the fruits of the Spirit – obedience and holiness.

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