For the last 40 years, I’ve heard over and over from pastors and Christian writers that they have a new and wonderful message for us. And that message is that God’s grace is all we need; we can’t have too much of God’s grace; all we need is God’s love; God loves you so much; your sins are forgiven; and you’re going to know that love forever in heaven.
I agree that grace is an important part of Christian theology. Yes, God forgives us for our sins through Christ (although both Jesus and the epistles tell us that those who abuse grace and “love and practice lying” will not be forgiven, but only those who repent). But grace isn’t all there is, and love is meaningless if we don’t know how to implement it in life.
Too many American churches are making the mistake of limiting their teaching to grace theology and nothing more. They simply harp on how saved you are, tickling people’s ears with a feel good message week in and week out. But when it comes to personal behavior in daily life, they give their congregations no further instruction than to “love God with all of your heart.” They neglect the other half of the greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And even the grace-obsessed churches who do instruct their congregations to love others (which they say should be “out of gratitude” for grace, even though the Bible never says that), do nothing more than throw the word “love” around.
The reason such an approach is so toxic to the church is that most people don’t know how to apply love in real life. For millions of Christians, love is just a warm fuzzy feeling we exude toward the world through ESP when we are reminded to do so. But when push comes to shove, which it does on a near-daily basis for most people, we don’t respond in a loving manner.
As a long time sales rep, I have known devout evangelicals who have no problem with lying to people to get the sale, even though the Bible opposes lying in about 3 dozen passages. In the political realm, Evangelicals spread false accusations about politicians they dislike, even though the Bible prohibits slander and gossip in about 20 passages. Evangelicals are infamous for looking down on other supposedly more sinful people with contempt, even though the Bible contains about 40 passages condemning pride, arrogance and judgmentalism. And conservative Christians pay virtually no attention to the 100+ Bible passages condemning greed and oppression of the poor, which include social justice verses calling on those with political power to do something about it.
Obsessing over grace has opened the door to the Republicanization of the Christian faith – a faith that is effectively the opposite of Christianity, but is still carried out in the name of “I’m going to heaven no matter what I do.” How to live the Christian life with regard to society is simply not being taught in most churches, and that’s why the faith is becoming unrecognizable. Yes, grace is great, but it’s a pretty simple thing to teach. It’s worth a few sermons a year. The rest of the sermons need to focus on how to live out biblical teaching in daily life. If the church doesn’t move in this direction, biblical Christianity will, for all practical purposes, all but vanish from America.