Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Grace versus Indulgence

Grace is confused with indulgence, but the two are not really the same thing. Indulgence allows people to get away with things. It is the description of a father who spoils his children and cannot tell them "no." This is not normally the result of real love, but of indifference or guilt. God is not this type of father. Many people want this type of God because He allows them to get away with whatever they want. Further, He automatically forgives anyone who oversteps His suggestions for how they might live. But is this the type of God we really want? Do we really want a God who looks down on professional criminals and tyrannical dictators and pats them on the hand and says, "Boys will be boys"? If the moral center of the universe has no convictions, can we really claim anything is wrong? And if moral convictions are wrong , how come we cannot seem to shake them? Even those who hold openly to the idea there are no moral standards will then turn around and condemn others for violating their standards.

But grace is based on genuine love, which looks at what is good for people, not just what they happen to want. Grace does not just leave us where we are, but works to forgive and change us. It involves God the Son becoming a man (Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:1-18; Hebrews 2:10-18) to pay the price for our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The goal of this is not to leave us where we are, but to change us into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:29,30; 1 John 3:2). But it offers this as a free gift to anyone who puts their faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). This is not the benevolent indifference of indulgence. It is a positive love which reaches out to genuinely help people out of the situation they are in. It is like the rescue worker who goes to great lengths to rescue a drowning swimmer. It is like the policeman who risks his life to free the hostages of a dangerous criminal. But I suspect the reason many of us prefer the indulgent God is that we do not really want to believe we need to be rescued. We want to believe we are fine just the way we are. But this is not the Scriptures' verdict on us. We are told we all live in clear disobedience to God and His commandments (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6).   The reason we do not see this is that we water down God's standard to fit our behavior. But if we look at God's standard, it is easy to see how we fall short (Matthew 5:21-48; 6:1-24; James 4:7-17). An indulgent God is not what we need. We need to be rescued and we need to be changed. And only the positive power of grace can accomplish this.


  1. Mostly I think that countries need to protect their citizenry but it is important that we do not confuse earthy retributive justice with the heavenly restorative flavor. Jesus said it best ...

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

    The goodness or kindness of God leads humans to repent/change. Retribution simply hardens.

    1. We have of course gone over this ground before. I agree it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. But what is that kindness if not forgiving for we justly deserve to be punished for. I do not see how Christus Victor avoids this. Why are we delivered over to the clutches of Satan, if God does not conclude we deserve to be so delivered. Without an idea that justice demands punishment what is there for love to rescue us from.

      God tells us to turn the other cheek, give our coat also, go the extra mile and love our enemies, because that is what He does. But that does not mean to acts involved do not deserve justice. Rather we are like God out of love to forgo the justice that is rightfully due.

    2. I might suggest that the cross is a place to discern what justice really looks like. The human authorities involved certainly saw the scourging of Christ and the death sentence that they handed down as totally righteous. In the satisfaction model it appears that God is in agreement with them. The means of justice for the Pharisees, Pilate and God all seem to be in agreement. The only difference is that God actually knew that he was punishing an innocent man. Here is how one person sees it:

      For the first thousand years, the work of Christ was understood primarily in terms of God's act of healing people, and liberating them from the bonds of sin and death. This understanding of the atonement is known as Christus Victor. But gradually there was a shift towards a legal focus, and with it a focus on violent punishment. The message was flipped on it's head: instead of the crucifixion being seen as an act of grave injustice (as it is portrayed in all four Gospels), there was a shift towards the claim that God had demanded the death of Jesus to quench his anger.

      I suggest that humanity has substituted "an eye for an eye" gospel for a John 3:16 model.

    3. I think that a question that an proponent of penal substitution must answer is - How is it just to ever punish, albeit murder, an innocent man?

    4. It is easy to read one's preconceived notions back into church history, but Anselm, to whom the idea idea of substitutionary atonement is attributed, is a man I frequently quote (see for example http://mikeerich.blogspot.com/2012/11/a-voice-from-past-anselm.html and http://mikeerich.blogspot.com/2011/11/voice-from-past-anselm.html) does not at all strike me as a harsh legalist. I am convinced that the reason substitutionary atonement virtually replaced Christus Victor at least in the western church is because Christus Victor while true to a point, could not answer the basic question. How did we end up in the power of Satan? The answer is because we were deservedly under God's judgment.

      It is true the human agents of the crucifixion were acting unjustly, but God used that to accomplish His purposes (Acts 2:23; 4:27,28).

      The whole point of punishing an innocent man is He voluntarily agreed to take the punishment for us.

  2. Church father Irenaeus writes in the second century:

    "The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil."

    I agree with that as it is plainly displayed in the gospels. The issue is whether Jesus ministry on the cross radically changed the approach that is seen in the gospel accounts.

    My thinking is that humanity (not God) freely chose to rebel against God and unwiiingly eventually became enslaved to these things that Irenaeus described. A few thought from scripture:

    "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2:15)

    "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12)

    For me, it is hard to see how any legal payment/transaction for sin can do anything to defeat sin, death, and the devil. Of course I am not a CPA. :)

    1. This assumes Christ paying the price for sin and defeating the devil are contraries. They are not. Christ defeated the devil by paying the price for sin. But if no price is paid for sin how was the devil defeated?

      The Letter to Diognetus (which is older then Irenaeus) says:

      He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange!
      O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many
      should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many

      Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness-- by whose stripes you were healed.
      1 Peter 2:24 (NKJ)

      For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
      2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJ)

      The two views have never been seen as a major difference but as slight variations of the same basic view. There were not even any clear disputes on the subject.

    2. Who was "the price for sin" paid to?

  3. Christ's death is stated to be a sacrifice which in the Bible is only appropriately offered to God (Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 9:26; 1 Peter 1:18,19).
    Christ's death is seen as dealing with the requirements of God's Law which implies it was offered to God (Galatians 3:13.14; Colossians 2:13,14; Isaiah 53:8)

    But where does Satan obtain the right to exact a price? Especially if it is not based on our being under the just judgment of God for our sins. How did the White Witch become the Emperor's executioner?

  4. I do understand the concept but find it hard to imagine the divineness of the idea that God sacrificed himself to himself to appease himself and to satisfy the Law. Seems to me that, in this case anyways, that God is subservient to the Law. That troubles me because that would make the Law God. I do not see that image (of Christ being subservient to the Law) reflected in the ministry of Christ on earth and do not see it demonstrated in his death on the cross.

    I do not think that Satan exacts a price at all as he is in no position to demand anything of God. I simply see the cross as the ultimate victory over sin, death, and the power of evil. And more importantly the ultimate expression of the love of God.

    1. "I simply see the cross as the ultimate victory over sin, death, and the power of evil. And more importantly the ultimate expression of the love of God."

      I would totally agree that. The question is how does this come about. I think any answer to this admits to a degree of mystery. I do not think that such things are completely open to our understanding. Nonetheless I try to follow as much as possible the Biblical explanation. I do not think my understanding makes God subject to His Law. His Law is simply an expression of God's justice, what we deserve, but what His love takes upon Himself rather than allow us to suffer it.

      But I do not see how the older view of a ransom to Satan is helpful here. It seems to make God subject, if not to Satan, at least to some power higher than God that forces Him to give Satan his due. But perhaps I am not understanding the concept.

    2. Perhaps I simply do not have a Jewish mindset that embraces the need for a sacrificial altar that atones for sins. That said, I do understand that many primitive cultures felt a need to sacrifice to the gods and the Israelis seemed to imitate that practice to an extent. Mostly I see that as God working within the human paradigms of those days.

      That said, it seems to be a bit of a stretch to say that a sacrifice was absolutely needed for God to forgive. Jesus forgave many when he walked the earth apart from any altar sacrifice being offered. IMO, we should be looking to his ministry and not the Law to discern the message of the cross.

      So the challenge, to me anyways, is to find a paradigm of the cross that does not see it in terms of being an altar even though the altar mindset is the predominant one in the OT and NT. Heck, the Roman Catholic Church still sees a need to re-sacrifice Christ on their altars at each Mass. The altar mentality runs deep.

      So when I think about the message of the cross I reflect back to the words of Jesus - deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Him. He personified those words for us when he prayed not my will but thine. He could have used divine powers to escape the brutality coming but he denied the need to physically survive and took up his cross. In doing so he accepted the will of the Father to live and die as a helpless man. John the Baptist also lived and died this way.

      Of course the enduring message of the cross is that Love Incarnate could not be killed. He who gave his life lives to love again. The message of the cross and the resurrection is that Love Incarnate triumphed over all things (sin, death and evil) that oppose Love.

      I understand that this is not a Jewish interpretation but it is one that I feel that I can understand and do not find to be mysterious at all. Guess I am not in favor of categorizing the good news as something mysterious and not understandable.

      Enjoying the dialog Mike. Helps me to have to communicate where I am at on the issue.

      Blessings, Bob

    3. It sounds like you are interested in ending the dialogue at least for now and I do not want to detain you if that is how you feel. But there are a couple of things have said I feel the need to comment on and perhaps if not now we may wish the discuss them at a later time.

      I am not so quick to dismiss the Jewish context or even the primitive pagan context. I believed God revealed Himself to human being from the very beginning and even primitive people may remember things we as moderns have lost.

      I do not see how one can totally avoid the idea of mystery. I fully agree that Love Incarnate conquered sin, death and evil. But if it is not clear how He did it, it still remains a mystery.

      Blessings, Mike

    4. Did not mean to indicate otherwise as I am always up for a discussion Mike! :)

      I hear what you are saying about the attraction of ancient Jewish and pagan contexts. But what do you do with ancient Eastern cultures that do not seem to include the altar paradigm. Seems that the altar paradigm is regional and not universal.

      Guess I find it to be a hard case to make but do understand that the idea of altars in entrenched in the thinkings of many. Hard for some to imagine that God can forgive apart from being satisfied by a brutal sacrifice. My view is that it is man and not God who demands such brutality.

      I am okay with the idea of mystery surrounding the cross. What I object to is the God of wrath paradigm that is being continued in the penal substitution model. Catholics, Fundamentalists and some Evangelicals seem to fully embrace this paradigm that seems to be based in the OT and seems to totally ignore the gospel accounts of Christ's teachings and ministry.

      All that said, I am glad that we both embrace the idea that Love Incarnate wins in the end. :)

    5. While no paradigm is universal the altar paradigm does seem to be common in a large number of cultures. Nonetheless I do not embrace it because it is common or because I find it congenial, not because it fits in with what I see both the Old and New Testament saying. Nor do I see it as conflicting with the ministry of Jesus. But I do not see the idea as repugnant as you do. As I mentioned in the post I do see love and anger at evil as something that goes together. Nor do I see this as making God a bully, but His giving us the punishment we justly deserve for rebelling against Him.

      Also as I noted in an earlier discussion I do not see the problem with the harsh legalists as being not too strong a view of God's justice, but too weak. They believe that they can somehow measure up, rather than realizing they need to rely on God's mercy as much as those they are criticizing.

    6. "Nor do I see it as conflicting with the ministry of Jesus."

      As I have already shared my concerns about how the altar view is at odds with his ministry, I would enjoy hearing of how you feel that the altar paradigm resonates with it.

      Would also be interested in hearing how love and anger goes together in your life. Have you found your love to be best expressed when your anger is appeased? Guess I am trying to put a context around the idea.

    7. I am human and find that my anger is virtually always shot through with selfishness. But even I sinful as I am can see a place where anger is the appropriate response. When the helpless are being trodden down, when injustice is rampant, when wrong is being done to people is it really wrong to feel anger. And is this anger not a natural result of love for those who are victimized.

      In Jesus' ministry we see incredible love and compassion, but we also see very clear statements of anger and judgment against evil. It often falls where we do not necessarily expect it. On the seemingly upright people who are proud of their uprightness. But it is clearly there.

      Jesus also continually mentions how He has come to offer His life as a ransom for many, to overcome sin and death. All of this seems to me to resonate with the altar theme.

      The real question here seems to be whether there is an absolute contradiction between God's love and His judgment. I am not convinced there is one.

    8. Interesting how we see the anger of Christ exclusively expressed against the religious establishment who judged "sinners". But to those who struggle with sin and towards the ones who are caught in sinful acts he has nothing but mercy towards them. That to me is a beautiful expression of how divine justice is restorative and not retributive.

      Makes you wonder why we think that God is angry at the ones who struggle with sin and those who commit sinful acts. But perhaps it might be valid to say that God is angry with those who have a religion based on something other than love? Yet even to those the Crucified One says - Father forgive them for they do not know what they do. Seems to me that, in that statement, anger gave way to mercy. And a bit later He tells a "sinner" that he would be with him in paradise.

      Regardless our views of these things, I know these words are the heart of the message of the cross.

    9. I am not sure I disagree with most of what you have said. I would simply hold that judgment is the context in which restoration takes place. If there is no judgment, not even Pharisees can be judged. And if God is most angry at lack of love it is still judgment. But I agree that the heart of the gospel is that forgiveness and mercy triumph over judgment at the cross if that is what you are saying.

  5. I say justice and you say judgment. My thinking is that they are different. In my view restoration does not come by exacting judgment in the form of punishment or retribution on the offender as that seems to harden and not soften hearts. Yet restoration seems to come when divine-like justice is done by way of forgiveness and reconciliation.

    I think that I do not need to judge a person's sins or punish them in order to forgive them. Justice to me is not about judging and punishing an offender as that does nothing for the offended. When a person demands an eye for and eye they are not seeking justice but retribution. That seems like man's view and not God's.

    1. Part of the problem I have here is while I do not think our disagreement is purely over words, we seem to be using words differently and I am not sure whether we are really understanding each other. I understand justice, judgment, desert and on the negative side retribution as all meaning the same thing. Giving someone what they deserve or what is due them. (The home team deserved to win the basketball game because they were better players.)

      I would use the words like love, mercy, grace and forgiveness for giving someone what they what do not deserve. (They gave that man a retirement party, even though he was cantankerous and hard to work with.)

      In my thinking it is love and grace that restores and justice only condemns or exonerates.

      I am not saying mine are the only right definitions, but I feel we are talking around each other and not really understanding where the other person is coming from. Can you shed any light on the subject?

  6. Thought that it might be best to lift this from the writings of Derek Flood. I think that he desribes the difference between justice and judgment better than I could.

    Biblically to "bring justice" does not mean to bring punishment, but to bring healing and reconciliation. Justice means to make things right. All through the Prophets justice is associated with caring for others, as something that is not in conflict with mercy, but rather an expression of it. Biblically, justice is God's saving action at work for all that are oppressed:

    Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow". (Isaiah 1:17)

    "This is what the LORD says: "`Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed" (Jeremiah 21:12)

    The way that we "administer justice", the Prophets tell us, is by encouraging and helping the oppressed. God's justice is not in conflict with his mercy, they are inseparable. True justice can only come though mercy.

    "This is what the LORD Almighty says: `Administer true justice: show mercy and compassion to one another. (Zechariah 7:9)

    "Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice".( Isaiah 30:18)

    There is a biblical concept of "judgement" or "wrath". Jesus warned frequently that the people were calling judgement on themselves and called them to turn (repent) from the course they were on. Judgement or wrath is the consequence of sinful or hurtful action. It follows from sin like falling is the consequence of jumping off a cliff. Paul writes in Romans that "the wages of sin is death". The wage, the thing you get as a result, what you have coming to you, is death. "but the gift of God is eternal life". God who is a God of love (compassion) and justice (making this right) desires not to see us die, but to give us life. God desires to break us out of the vicious cycle of consequence and to therefore bring about justice - to make things right again, to restore us to where we where meant to be. Not by saying that it is of no consequence that we are bleeding and broken, but by taking us out of the treadmill of death, by liberating us from the tyranny of hurting and being hurt. That is what biblical justice is all about. It is not in conflict with compassion, it is rooted in compassion.

    1. I fully agree that helping the poor and the helpless and oppressed is a fundamental and necessary ingredient of justice. What I have called the capitalist ethic, that says if you are poor, helpless and oppressed it is your own fault for not working hard enough is unbiblical.

      But do any of us do all we should do in helping the poor, helpless and oppressed or keeping any of what God demands. Therefore we are under God's judgment and need His love, grace and forgiveness. This clarifies what God's justice requires, but does not for me change the basic definition.

  7. "I fully agree that helping the poor and the helpless and oppressed is a fundamental and necessary ingredient of justice."

    On that we agree Mike!

    Hope things are well in your neck of the woods!

    Happy Sunday!