Northwest of Eden # 20 – UNDERSTANDING THE GRACE KINGDOM

Christians are obsessed with grace and unconditional love.  No doubt, it is the most celebrated concept in Christendom, but is the unconditional interpretation the correct one?  Jesus Christ did reintroduce God’s grace and love into the world.  He also introduced a gentler concept of God.  He is a heavenly Father that is willing to forgive prodigal man.  It is man who is lost and must return into the Father’s arms and be reinstated into the family of God or the kingdom of Christ that begins in the heart.  Man must return to claim God’s grace and love.  It is of the utmost importance for man to understand how grace and love can become his.  Grace (hesed, xaris) in the Hebrew and Greek Bibles has many applications.  It is used to express appreciation, gratitude, granting favors, being merciful, showing kindness and others that have to do with loving someone else as much as one loves him or herself.  During the time of Jesus and Paul, our modern interpretation would raise more than an eyebrow.  In our desire to save man from a destiny without Christ, we may have taken the easier road.  The fact that we have filled our churches with un-repented sinners should tell us something.  To the Hebrews, and that includes Paul God grants favors to the person that obeys His Commandments and does what is right.  Disobeying cost Adam the ejection from Paradise and obedience saved Noah during the flood.  Not a single soul would have been lost, had the people obeyed Noah and build boats.  Jesus began his ministry and the very first word was “repent.” The Prodigal repented before his father.  Unless man repents, he will perish (Lk. 13:1-5).  The second word was “forgive” to be forgiven by God.  Jesus did not just mean with words but with deeds.  The master reversed his sentence against the unmerciful servant that did not forgive his servant’s debt (Mt. 18:21-35).  The third word is “do.” “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 7:12).  To the Greek Christians grace meant, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36).
One that troubles me is the ambiguous interpretation of justification by faith without works.   The references in Habakkuk 2:4 and in Galatians 3:11 deal with what a person does and not with what he/she is.  The person in question is “righteous” (sadock and dikaios) and not a sinner that can trust his faith.  No one can live without faith but only the one that does what is right can trust his faith.  The same word is being used for God and everyone that does right.  James the half brother of Jesus knew that demons believed but were not doing what was right (Ja. 2:19).  He never stopped doing what was right (Phil. 2:12).   Jesus himself told the religious lawyer to go and do what the Samaritan had done (Lk. 10:37).   And the man that knew what to do, Jesus told him that he was not far from the kingdom (Mk. 12: 34).  The same argument can be made for unconditional love and grace.  Yes, both are real but they are not fruitless or unproductive.   God’s greatest gift of love was Christ and what does He demand for His sacrificial love? “If you love me, you will obey my command” (Jn. 14:15).  Faith neither feeds nor saves, actions and deeds do.  We are in error by separating the word “grace” from all of Paul’s teaching and living.  He was far more severe on sin and repentance than Jesus was.  Man shall be rewarded for what he has done and not for what he has believed (Ro. 2:6).  Man has become a hostage to his own interpretation regarding what is expected of him from both Caesar and Christ.  The struggle is no longer over a dollar but over his conscience regarding what is right and what is wrong.  A Christian was forced to face the impossible task of serving two masters in two directly opposed kingdoms (Mt. 6:24).  During times of prosperity, Mr. Christian lost the sense of separating the two kingdoms.  How can one possibly separate doing what is right from grace when one reads: “Therefore, I plead with you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual service.  Do not conform any longer to the lifestyle of this world, but be changed by renewing your mind.  Then you will be able to test and identify what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Ro. 12:1-2).
The writer of Genesis appears to view man differently from the Apostle Paul.  He understood that God had created a good being, capable of managing an entire world and its inhabitants.  Even after man disobeyed the Creator, he was still endowed with the ability to discern good ad evil (Gen. 1:26,34; 3:22).   To Paul, man was a miserable and helpless creature and unable to please God (Phil. 3:8; Ro. 5:12).  He needed help to find his way back to God and God provided the way back with His Son, Jesus the Christ (Ro. 8).  This concept was tailor made for most Christians.  That diminished view of man is not Paul’s total view.  Paul had two men in mind, a sinner without Christ and a man in Christ.  The man in Christ was being enabled to do what was right and acceptable to God while the one without Christ kept stumbling in the dark (Phil. 4:13).  When we open all the pages of Paul’s view on man, we find a creature designed to do good before the world was made and that Jesus has come to reverse his fall so that he again can do what is good (Eph. 1:4; 2:10).  Divine grace and love is God’s door so man can come back to God and be employed by Him for the good of humanity.  The difference between Genesis and Paul is time.  Genesis is before cause had affected man and Paul is after cause had affected man.  What will history tell about our interpretation of unmerited grace?  What can cause and effect predict our destiny? 
Under the umbrella of grace, Christian theologians have set man free from his debts and obligations.  Man is no longer subject to the Old Jewish Law or the Ten Commandments.  Christ has taken care of all human sin and God has promised to accept man as he is because of Christ.  Man no longer has to change because God has changed his mind about the creature He loves.  All he has to do is wrap himself in the name of Jesus and he becomes eternally secure.  Where did all this comfortable evangelicalism lead?  It has already led to isolation and seclusion from the mission field, namely the world.  Are the followers of Jesus impacting the nation?  How can a Christian make a difference when he or she is not even allowed to witness in public?  We were not supposed to stand on street corners but go to homes and tell the story of salvation face to face.  Of course we witness in churches with some hesitation about visitors that might be offended when we mention Jesus.  In stead we stress a social mission toward the needy and the needy have become quite professional in depending on the churches and the state or government.  Karl Marx has done well in secularizing and socializing Christianity.   Men are no longer brothers in Christ but brothers in a common good, socialism or democratic freedom and equality.  Like Goethe’s Faust, secular Christians are making pacts with the prince of this world.  They are gaining the world but losing their souls.