“The Big ‘But’ “
by Preston Foster
It is usually a desired state of being. Equilibrium is, in most cases, a state of tranquility and symmetry. However, when we are talking about grace, balance is a dangerous thing. When we speak of grace, balance, in its traditional sense, is often used to dilute grace, making it into a hybrid — and false means of salvation.
This idea struck me as I read a post on the Normandie SDA Church Facebook site. In that posting, Alex Stanley was quoted, saying:
“The church, or I should say, church people, must quit adding the word 'but' to the end of our sentences about grace. Grace plus is no longer grace. Grace minus is no longer grace. We are afraid people will abuse grace if presented in its purest form. We need not fear that; we should assume that. Religious people crucified grace personified . . .”
Many of our ministers preach “grace, but.” Grace, but not freedom to sin. Grace, but works. Grace, but law. Depending on who you talk to, grace might be all of these, but (according to some) it is more. It is a really big “but.” Grace, undiluted is, to some, a dangerous potion that requires “balance” (or, in my view, dilution).
All of these qualifications leave room for self, pushing Christ aside and making His grace a function of our efforts. It is not. His grace is dependent on nothing but The Cross. Our acceptance of His grace is dependent on our faith in His shed blood. Gratitude for that gift will yield our sinful natures to the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit will change our behavior (e.g. fruits of the Spirit).
Still, our behavior is not the basis of our salvation. Salvation starts with grace and ends with faith.
Adventists are not alone in seeking a “balanced” approach to grace. Many others, including agnostics, atheists and people of other faiths, are works oriented. Humans love the idea of self-reliance. Works appeal to our vanity. They are sometimes camouflaged in attractive clothing: work ethic, accomplishments, will power, intellect, or anything that we can attribute, at least in part, to ourselves.
For the moment, however, let’s think about why some of those in our Adventist culture (liberal and conservative) cannot accept grace without qualification. Why are we so dependent on “The Big ‘But?’?” Some might say that our focus on the law — particularly, as Adventists, on the Sabbath (again, I am without qualification, “pro-Sabbath”), inevitably results in measuring our behavior (and that of others) against the requirements of the law. Since the time the law was given, the gap between what the law says and what our behaviors are has generated frustration. Examining the chasm between the law and our behavior makes us try harder. We internalize the law as righteousness.
But Jesus, Himself, IS righteousness. He is the one who fulfilled the law. He is the one who paid the price for our sins. If we are in Him, He is the one to whom the Father will see when examining our worthiness to be in His presence. Our righteousness is in Christ. There is no qualification, no alternative, and no but.
If salvation is by grace through faith, what else is there to discuss?