To presume on God’s grace is to take for granted, or assume, that God will show favour towards you. It is a thoroughly dangerous place to be, and as we saw in Jonah 2 it has dangerous consequences for how we relate to God and to our world.
Nobody, I hope (!), intentionally presumes on God’s grace. So how does one end up at that point?
Here are six steps to the process, not necessarily all in order, and all of them subtle drifts from intentional gospel-centred thankfulness and humility.
- Assume the gospel. This means not only are you not clear on what the gospel is, but it primarily means that the gospel becomes sidelined. It moves from central place in our teaching and how we do ministry. We don’t actively or explicitly teach it, and we view it as only something to be used when speaking with non-Christians. Our Bible studies, gatherings, sermons, or other teaching moments do not bring the gospel in, rather it is assumed in the background of all that is being said.
- Refocus on your good works. Next step is to subtly shift emphasis in your good works from being a response of faithfulness to making them about keeping your status of grace. This will go hand in hand with assuming the gospel. A technical way of saying this is that we quietly assume the indicatives (what God has done for us in Jesus and the gospel) and we focus on the imperatives (what we must do). When you focus on what you should be doing you’ll eventually get used to the idea that faith is all about doing stuff. And then it’s a short step from there to doing stuff in order to keep your salvation.
- Focus your Bible reading on yourself. The task here is to not read in order to understand God’s plans and purposes in Jesus Christ. Rather you are trying to find yourself in the story. It will help to look for heroes of the faith who should be imitated – because by imitating them you show yourself to be one who has true faith. Think of yourself as a neutral observer, making judgements on the actions of the biblical characters. Feel a touch of pride that you’re not as bad as those who fail. Ignore that these stories hold up a mirror to our own failings.
- Focus your prayers on yourself. And by this I mean spend all of your prayer time on your physical needs and wants. Don’t let scripture shape how you should pray. Don’t spend time in adoration and thanksgiving. Prayer is about getting your wants met from your heavenly Father. If you must pray for others focus on their spiritual needs alone (and not their physical needs), for it will make you feel very spiritual.
- Ignore sin. You know that you’re not perfect, but it’s ok – God knows it and has already shown you grace. There’s no need to acknowledge the wrongs you have done, no need to confess sin, and therefore no need to repent. And there is no special need to do this publicly, or as a congregation.
- Form an echo chamber. Surround yourself with those exactly like you – in opinion, in age, and even in race or nationality. Finding people of like mind is crucial here. People who push back on you should be avoided and are probably less mature in the faith than you are. Reduce or don’t mix with non-Christians. Remember they need grace, but they’ve got to really want to know God. Sticking with an echo chamber is also very comfortable and secure.
- Be a consumer, not a builder. When it comes to church your primary job is to receive teaching and give in your offering. Anything that requires building your brothers and sisters up in faith and maturity is purely optional and will probably take time away from your echo chamber.
Some of these steps may be tongue in cheek, but in concert together they work to build a person who presumes on God’s grace. Living this way long enough ultimately leads to hearing these devastating words, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (cf Matthew 7:23).
Friends, may we never presume the grace of God – may it always be central to our lives and as truly awesome and profound that it is.