6 Steps to Presuming on God’s Grace (Pastor’s Desk)

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Bonus step:

  1. 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.

Christian? No Job For You!

Jamie Haxby is a UK-based graphic designer, with a pretty cool website and a nice portfolio. I like his work.

Haxby made the news recently when, according to this Daily Mail online report, he went for a job interview and was rejected as an applicant. The apparent reason for rejction: Haxby’s Christian faith.

So far nothing too new. Yes it’s odd that someone’s personal religious convictions should disqualify you from a job application. But really – a Christian getting rejected because they are a Christian isn’t something new at all.

If the allegation is true, it’s woeful discrimination. It’s also strange, especially in the field of graphic design. How one’s religious convictions should affect these working conditions is pretty beyond me.

But, if the report is correct, the saddest thing has been Haxby’s reaction: to enforce his rights to sue for damages. Let me explain why I think it’s sad.

I think the bible’s fairly clear on legal matters that arise between Christians. 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 spells it out neatly enough:

1 Corinthias 6:1-8 ESV

[6:1] When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? [2] Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? [3] Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! [4] So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? [5] I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, [6] but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? [7] To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? [8] But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

The principle: because Christians are going to end up judging even angels on the day of judgement (v3) we should be wise enough to handle ‘in house’ disputes (v5). It is a shameful reflection upon believers to take their disputes before an unbeliever to have it settled (v6). Therefore it is better to be wronged and defrauded by your Christian brother than to carry out legal action (v7).

But on the matter of a Christian taking legal action against a non-Christian (and vice versa) what principles are to apply?

I think wisdom dictates that two biblical principles need to be balanced. Justice and Grace. Both justice and grace are reflective of God’s character, so the Christian must wisely decide if either justice or grace should be pursued.

One way I’d suggest is to determine the likely outcome of a matter. By its very nature the legal system has winners and losers. But not all legal matters are necessarily just about determining a winner. Some matters are probably best dealt with by a judge or jury rather than an alternative dispute resolution like mediation or arbitration. Matters like these would include issues requiring legal precedent to be defined and established or questions of law. Criminal matters also apply here.

Other matters will focus on who will win and who will lose. But one of the definite outcomes will most likely be the severing of relationships. Legal action has a way of destroying what has been or what could be between parties. This is why mediation is often seen as a much better alternative. In mediation the parties are encouraged to speak to each other and for the parties to formulate a resolution.

Applying the principle of ‘Justice’ to a legal matter generally means taking a matter before a judge or jury for determination. The emphasis here will be on seeking a definitive judgement on the matter, and the payment or division of appropriate compensation. The outcome of applying this principle will usually be a winner/loser judgement and a severing of relationships.

Applying the principle of ‘Grace’ to a legal matter might have the Christian bending over backwards to avoid litigation. Turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, suffering wrong and being defrauded are the emphasis upon the Christian. The outcome will hopefully be on maintaining some relationship between the parties, or at least ending the relationship on a better note than definitive legal judgement.

In either case the Christian will also need to determine which course of action will bring the most glory to God. Part of deciding this will be whether the glory to be given will be revealed in the present or in the future judgement to come.

Turning back to Haxby this is where I’m saddened by his particular response (if it has been reported accurately).

Legal action in this case will focus on Justice. The outcome will be a judgement on the actions of the parties and most likely some award of monetary damages.

In this case I’d argue for the alternative option: that he show grace. That he bend over backwards to remind them that if they reject him from the job because of his faith, then his faith compels him to tell them that they are in the wrong and they will be judged for it. Then tell them that though he has the right to sue for discrimination he will lay down that right in the same way that Jesus laid down his rights.

It’s not a full presentation of the Gospel, but it does reveal a hope that the final judgement of God will set this incident right. And I think this option also glorifies God the more for it lays at His feet the judgement in this matter rather than to take the judgement to a probably non-Christian, sin-flawed judge. Not that I’m saying that this judge would get it wrong, but saying that God’s justice is infinitely more glorious than human justice could ever be.

 

 

Update:

I’ve received a very humbling and gracious message from Jamie himself and I’d like to withdraw some of the comments from this original post impugning motive where I had no basis to do so. For this I apologise and have sought reconciliation. There will be a follow up post later on after my leave.