Absolute Grace: The Unbalanced View

I am a believer in Absolute Grace.

People have accused me of having an “unbalanced” view of Scripture. They (religious professionals, largely)  tell me that my grace-heavy take on the New Testament needs to be leavened with sufficient words about responsibility and morality and the proper “fear of God” that should motivate Christians to good works.

To this I say “bunk.” I specifically consider it my ministry to warn Christians against this kind of teaching. I take my cue from the Lord Jesus:

“But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Matthew 16:11-12

Paul was even stronger in his ministry. There is no evidence that Paul took anything like a “balanced” approach. He never commended the preachers who sought to likewise “leaven” his grace-heavy gospel with a bit of Law (in his day, the circumcision ritual by which Gentile males became Jews). In fact, he called down imprecations on them:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

Galatians 5:1, 7-12

That little bit of yeast works through the whole batch of dough, because yeast is alive. Yeast is a living organism. It grows wherever it finds nutrients. Therefore very small amounts are required to make bread rise, or to ferment grape juice into wine. We must be on our guard against the yeast – the teaching – of the modern-day Pharisees who would burden Christians under a yoke of slavery. When that teaching finds its way into the church, and when it finds nutrients (people willing to accept it and promulgate it), it spreads and changes the whole nature of the church.

Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.   1 Corinthians 5:7

There is no amalgam between Law and Grace. Law ruins Grace, as dead flies give perfume a bad smell.

The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  2 Corinthians 3:6

Those who want to “balance” the teaching of Grace are dragging the ugly beast of the Law back through the doors of the church.

They will argue that the desire to “leaven” my doctrine is not based on a works-based salvation theology. But to this I say “Bunk.” Today’s Galatians are not focused on circumcision any more, but their teaching – their “yeast” – is no less disfiguring. The modern Galatianism is the notion that God’s grace is not enough, it is insufficient, it needs to be supplemented by the works of the Law. As disciples, we must be on our guard. The precious gospel is prone to spoilage.

Several years ago, my in-laws visited during the summer months. I had just purchased an electric ice-cream freezer and was anxious to try it out. I whipped up a batch of strawberry ice cream (which turned out hard as a rock), and discovered that my mother-in-law, bless her heart, had pitched in to clean up by washing dishes and putting things away while I was busy with the freezer. One thing she put away was a bowl full of salt. As every ice-cream-making enthusiast knows, salt is necessary for freezing the ice cream.

The problem here is that making ice cream also uses large quantities of sugar, and it’s hard sometimes to detect the difference between a bowl of sugar and a bowl of salt. So the next morning, when I scooped out some sugar from the canister to apply to my oatmeal, I was surprised by its unexpected flavor, which caused a rather immediate adverse reaction (a mad dash to the kitchen sink). She had poured the bowl of white stuff into the sugar canister.

An honest mistake. I hold no resentment. I bring it up because it does create a nice illustration. You see, I made a scientific discovery that day. Once salt gets into your sugar, there’s really no way to get it out again. I suppose one could use a magnifying glass and tweezers to separate the tiny cubic crystals of salt from the lumpy grains of sugar, but that is a bit time-consuming. They both dissolve in water; you can’t separate them that way. One could try melting the sugar, which liquefies at a much lower temperature than salt does, but then one would have a pot full of sticky melted sugar, probably caramelized and brown, with thousands of tiny grains of salt in it. Good luck with picking those out; the magnifying-glass-and-tweezers approach seems more appealing than this gooey project. There is really no economical way to separate them. I did the only thing I could do: I dumped the canister into the garbage. I was reminded of the verse:

But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.  Matthew 5:13

I would say the same truth applies to sugar: If the sugar loses its sugariness (because it is contaminated with salt), how can it be made sugary again? There are no options. Throw it out.

This is what the legalists, those who call themselves advocates of the “balanced” view, are doing to the Gospel of grace. They contaminate it. They make it unpalatable, useless for anything except to be trampled by men – that is, ridiculed and ignored by the people whom they purport to be reaching. The fake “gospel” of Grace-Plus-Law is really no gospel at all:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  Galatians 1:6-7

The Greek word translated “pervert” is metastrepsai, which can also be translated as “change, corrupt, distort.” When Peter cites Joel’s prophecy about the solar and lunar eclipses that will mark the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:20), the word is used to depict the changes that take place to the heavenly bodies. The word always implies a change from a perfect state to an imperfect one. The true thing is “eclipsed,” made imperfect or incomplete, by something else. As Pink Floyd once sang,

And everything under the sun is in tune / But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

Without the corrupting, “eclipsing” effect of the Pharisees’ teaching, without the “yeast” that works through the otherwise unleavened dough, without the salt mingling in the sugar canister, the gospel is pure. It is “in tune.” It is, yes, unbalanced. It is all about grace, and not at all about Law.

Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees.

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