Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that if we didn’t get complaints that we’d gone too far and said too much, then we probably haven’t really preached the Gospel of grace. That’s been my experience. Almost every time that I preach a strong sermon on justification by grace through faith, by Christ and apart from the works of the law, I get complaints. I just thought I would say a few things about that.
1) Young people have a difficult time understanding grace. I think that young people are so used to living in a world of rules and grades, so used to competition and being told to be good/do right, that the Gospel is hard for them to understand. I’ve been around youth evangelism my whole life, and I believe about 98% of the “decisions” I’ve witnessed were brought about by messages that were legalistic and moralistic, not Gospel centered. These are kids who think about the Christian life as “living for God,” not as “Christ died for me and I will never deserve that.” They are like the workers in the Vineyard who are really hacked off that the owner paid those last minute workers the same wage.
2) Another reason young people struggle with the Gospel of grace is that they’ve been the primary focus of all the cultural warfare Christians talk about. It’s in their lives that all the issues of morality and cultural decline really come to the forefront. When you hear that sort of “do good/be good/don’t be like the world” message, the Gospel of God justifying sinners really sounds dangerous.
3) I think it’s provable again and again that what we are comfortable saying to an unbeliever, we aren’t comfortable saying to a Christian. The Gospel is for Christians, too. We love the story of the Prodigal son. Now, what about the day after the party? What if the son messed up again in a week? What if he doesn’t live the life of a grateful son? Or to be more realistic, what if he sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t? Does that change the Father? Does the older brother get to come back into the story and say “Aha!! I was right!” Christ died for the sins of Christians, and we need to hear that over and over again.
4) We really don’t believe grace can conform our lives to Christ more effectively than law. I mean we don’t. We think we need the law to keep us in line. Especially, we think we need the terrors of the law to frighten us into being good Christians. It’s the “law/grace/law” model. This kind of legalism just overruns Christianity. It usually comes in a less than recognizable form, saying we need “exhortation,” etc. because we have a tendency to drift back into sin. I’m reminding of Paul’s words to the Galatians: 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith. 6 just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness? I’m not sure we get it yet.
5) Here’s one always sure to get a rise out of evangelicals. “Once you are justified by faith, you can do what you want. And if you want to do all the things you did before you knew Jesus, then you just don’t get it.” The idea that we can do what we want just gets everyone nervous. But what is the alternative? Being somehow forced to do what we don’t want to do? I sin because parts of me still want to sin. I obey Jesus because parts of me really want to do that. It’s a bummer. (Read Romans 7) I believe there is some hope the situation will change, but not until I’m dead! The prodigal came home and did what he wanted. So did the woman in John 8 who Jesus said he didn’t condemn. So did Peter when he denied Jesus and then repented.
6) How does grace change us? The Holy Spirit gives us a new heart, the mind of Christ, new affections. We are changed and the promises of sanctification and perseverance are true. But the law can’t PRODUCE anything worthwhile in my life as a Christian. It’s either there because Jesus is my treasure and I choose him over the world and the flesh, or it’s not worth being there at all. The law can really do a great job on the externals, but grace gives me Jesus and only cares about fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit. Sorry to all the preachers and Christians trying to control people. I suggest you give up.