I was about ready to share more thoughts from R. C. Sproul as offered in his book, Grace Unknown, when the following arrived on my computer and I thought it was worth sharing it with you.
That Grace Isn’t Supreme
Presumably all evangelicals who know what the e word means affirm that we are saved by grace alone. Ask them, “Friend, are you saved?” and they know that a “yes” depends on trusting in something irreplaceable Jesus did for them at the Cross, not on their being nice. In this basic sense, evangelicals are not confused about the fundamental tenets of their faith.
The problem is behavioral denial. If the ancient formula lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of praying is the law of believing”) can teach us anything, it is that how we behave, how we worship, and what we do eventually will be reflected in what we teach.
Consider our worship services. The preaching in many evangelical churches frequently majors in heart-rending stories in service of motivational speeches, pop psychology, and “helpful hints for happier homes”—or at best a series of “biblical principles” to apply to live better lives. What we can and should do almost wholly displaces what God has done on our behalf. A call to worship from the transcendent God is often supplanted by a cheery, entirely secular “Good morning,” repeated until the requisite response volume is achieved.
A student told me of a service at a megachurch where there were no prayers at all. Those designing the service determined that there was no time for them. No time for speaking to God in worship? And when a charge (instruction as to what we should do) displaces a benediction (blessing from God to go forth empowered to live lives worthy of our calling), we truly are shut up to our own strength.
With respect to salvation, the problem is at least as severe as our neglect of Paul’s words in Romans 6:1, urgently warning us not to suppose we may sin so that grace may abound. Salvation does not entail entire sanctification in this life. But surely it entails a reorienting of our hearts’ desires, so that we are at least grieved by our besetting sins. How is it that seminarians can vigorously defend profanity, obscenity, and vulgarity as proper evangelistic tools, as I have heard them do? How can “holiness” have become a term evoking scorn, derision, avoidance, except by confusing it with obnoxious, sticky, pretentious piety? Do we actually even want to be saved, in the sense of being freed from the dominion of sin?
Or is it that we have forgotten, or do not wish to believe, that we are the sorts of people who actually need to be saved? And who can by no means save ourselves, but are wholly dependent upon grace?
Marguerite Shuster is Ockenga Professor Emerita of preaching and theology, and senior professor at Fuller Seminary.