Grace & Love vs. Repentance & Holiness: Is There No Middle Ground?
Grab a coffee. It will take you 5 minutes to read this post.
It truly amazes me how many Christians can’t or don’t grasp that the grace & love of God message and the repentance/holiness message are not contradictory. They are in fact, opposite sides of the same coin. Both tracks give the train something to travel down, for with only one rail you wouldn’t be able to travel at all.
I wrote the first sentence of today’s post as a Facebook status last week that had a whirlwind of commenting within the first hour it was posted. Afterward it turned into a discussion between three people I’m not sure have ever met in real life. That detail would be an example of one of the things social networking gets right — you can get connected to people you’ve never met before but with whom you have similar interests. But that’s beside my point. However, I am proud to see the conversation didn’t degenerate into name calling or personal attacks given the variety of world views represented by those who chose to comment on it at the time.
I was thinking of the subject after reading the article on ChurchLeaders.com called Stop Blaming The Holy Spirit For Your Conviction, and noticed all the commenters up to that point had been accusing the author of “greasy grace”. This puzzled me, but after five minutes I realized nope, this is pretty typical when one preaches the true message of grace. People who believe one extreme view of repentance and holiness misunderstand it, and tend to paint its proponents with a broad brush.
Since moving my podcast from Podbean (terrible service) over to Libsyn (so far so good–nothing to complain about yet), I’ve been reposting old episodes of Fire On Your Head as I’ve re-edited them and put new intros to them. My thoughts after reading the conviction article motivated me to re-post the most recent episode I did with Gregg Montella, Is Grace a License To Sin? To my not-so-surprise, in various places on the net where this repost was published, I got comments from people who clearly were assuming one thing when they read the title without actually listening to the discussion.
Of course grace is not a license to sin. We used that title because of how some in the holiness/repentance ‘camps’ assume if you teach grace, you’re teaching ‘sloppy agape’ or ‘greasy grace’. Obviously we feel that couldn’t be farther from the truth or we wouldn’t have published the discussion.
It’s almost as if people in both camps paint people in the other camp with a broad brush and straw-man caricatures — like repentance preachers are too obsessed with hell-fire and brimstone, and those who preach grace/love are into “greasy grace” and living in total sin themselves and trying to justify it. The more I understood/understand grace and it’s power, the more my understanding, and motivation, for holiness is empowered, not diminished. Yet, I know few people who teach a balance on this — other than Eric Gilmour and a few others.
As some commenters went on to say:
I believe in both, intellectually. But I find myself living, alternately, in one or the other. I don’t find it easy to live in both at the same time, but when I can, it’s such bliss!
And regarding that quote, Shaun Wissmann jumped in and said:
We do not have many people that MODEL this balance, therefore it is difficult to practically walk the balance. Often we hear that Grace transforms, but part of transformation isn’t just that we are “better” people, it means that we desire to know God and love people. So maybe the problem is that people aren’t seeing healthy examples of people walking all of this out?
It depends on “what” you are repenting from, Steve. It would be worthwhile observing what we are asked to repent from after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Was it merely repentance from sin? I think we too often associate repentance with sin, but this is not really the response the Gospel demands from us. Repentance the NT writers speak of is on a higher plane. It is a complete turning away from all man-initiated ways/efforts to come to Him, a complete refusal of such attempts (which Scripture refers to as dead works)….to the incomparable work on the Cross that makes us acceptable in Him. This “repentance” is bound to bring change, as the work has been initiated from within, than without.
There were more comments, but then Josh Burton chimed in. You may remember he was the author of the Holiness and *&!#ing Worship Leaders article on Fire Press last year. I liked many of his thoughts. Here were just a few:
I think mixing grace and healing in the face of an awareness of universal failure is the most unnatural, unintuitive way to live for humanity. Our easiest response to an awareness of a sickness/failure/shortcoming is shame, guilt, emotional distance, judgment of others, judgment of ourselves, binges, and self-medication.
Many in the holiness camp are just experts at recognizing the obvious and judging. It is not that they are healthier. It’s that they found a way in their sickness to look at the most obvious characteristics of others, and buffer their own sense of shame with a sense of being better than others. It is exceptionally similar to racism in that it is rarely perceptive observations about a person’s life and what they are going through. It is just an easy way to classify someone quickly.
Many in the grace camp are simply the flip of that, willing to accept all because they internalized their guilt and shame, and in turn hope that others would do the same (for them).
To find someone that is healthy enough to not live reacting to their own sense of guilt or shame, and instead understand the work of love is not always tangible, and is also sometimes visceral, is rare. It takes finding someone that has taken themselves out of the equation for the outcome or process. Not that they may not be involved, but that there is not an emotional kickback for their own wounded identity in the pursuit of the work of love in another. I feel like I could count the number of people I have seen live that free on one hand, and it changed week-to-week for them.
It may not be as simple as some of the commenters suggested, but I’ve always wondered why is the grace and love of God made into an either/or dichotomy with repentance/holiness.
Why is it so hard to put the two together in a both/and kind of way?
For more thoughts, don’t forget to check out the podcast I was referring to earlier. Feel free to leave any thoughts on the matter or questions below.
About Steve Bremner
Steve Bremner is a Canadian missionary to Peru, who is called to raise up disciples who flow in the power of the Holy Spirit within a missional community named Oikos. If you like Steve's blog, you'll also like his Kindle books. Note: this post may have contained affiliate links of which I receive a small commission if you purchase something I recommended.