Tag Archives: sanctification

The Duggar Thing

 

I have been very hesitant to step into the latest Duggar mess. For those who don’t know, the Duggar family is the very large family featured on television’s “19 kids and counting.” The family is Christian, homeschooled, and followers of Bill Gothard.

Recently the news brought out some facts about the oldest son of the family, things that happened when he was fourteen and fifteen years old. It was obviously handled poorly, and now the whole world seems to be either attacking or defending the family. I won’t go into detail about the crime or about how it was handled. I will only say that I have known some families who have been through this, and that it is very difficult to “handle it well.”

However, when I first learned of this I happened to read the statement made by the boy’s parents. (This young man is now married with his own children. The events occurred 12 years ago.) The parents made the statement, to People magazine, that they were shocked when it happened.

“When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes, and we were shocked. We had tried to teach him right from wrong. That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before.”

In that brief statement is a revelation. In just nine words, the Duggars summarize why legalism does not work to curb sin.

“We had tried to teach him right from wrong.”

When spirituality can be reduced to a list of things that are right placed against a list of things that are wrong, there will be no victory over sin. The desire to make spirituality a lazy process of list-keeping is what has harmed the church’s testimony in the world and the Christian’s ability to live rightly.

There are so many reasons this is true. First, evil has a draw upon the human heart. Putting something on a list and calling it wrong simply does not make it easier to avoid. In fact, there seems to be more of a draw once we identify something as wrong. We want to know why it is wrong. We want to understand the wrongness of it. We want to experience it so that we know what to stay away from. Even those who belong to Jesus are still drawn to evil by the flesh. The old ways are strong habits. If we have learned anything through our lives and by observing others, we should have learned that people find ways to do and to justify evil actions.

Second, no one knows who gets to write the lists. Most churches and teachers will claim that their lists come from the Bible—even when those lists contradict each other. Yes, the Bible does warn us against certain actions and attitudes, but some of the lists presented to us are far more detailed than anything the Bible teaches. The detailed rules of the Pharisees are nothing compared to the judgmental systems of some churches today. In fact, most lists are not published at all. People learn right and wrong by the acceptance or rejection of those around them. Sometimes people don’t learn that something is wrong until after they do it.

Third, the list of wrong things gets a lot more attention than the list of right things. We tell young men what they cannot do, but rarely tell them how they ought to handle the desires and stresses that come their way. We have long lists of sins, particularly in some areas, with almost no indication of what is right. One blogger recently wrote about the Duggar thing and suggested two boxes, one with wrong sexual practices and one with right. The one with the wrong practices was full while the one with right practices had only one, “Marriage.” But there are more than two boxes, because the listmakers will tell us all kinds of things that are wrong in the marriage relationship as well. It wouldn’t seem far out of line to say that almost all of our attention has been given to the things that are considered wrong. So much so that some young people have reported that the only sexuality they knew anything about was what they were supposed to avoid.

Fourth, there are no lists like this in the Bible. What? How can I say that? What about the Ten Commandments? If you read the Ten Commandments and understand the many rules given to the community of the people of God in the Old Testament, you will see what Jesus saw. There are only two rules. Love the Lord and love others. Jesus summarized “all the law and the prophets” under those two rules.

And Jesus said something else we should remember:

“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

We have called this the “Golden Rule.” It summarizes our relationship with others in a very simple and straight-forward way. We could call it respect or even love.

The legalist tries to live with a long list of things to avoid and strives to keep his own actions away from that list. But maybe that isn’t necessary at all. Maybe if we learned to respect others and to care for them, to treat them the way we would like to be treated, we would find that the lists are not all that necessary. Maybe if we taught our children, from the earliest ages, that others have value and a right to be respected, that no one should be abusers or abused, and that those who are weak should be protected by those who are strong—maybe the sins we say they should avoid just wouldn’t enter their hearts and minds.

You see, lists will never help us do right. Rules and punishments can only force certain behavior, not change our hearts. Legalism is about rules, learning right from wrong. Grace, or the gospel of Jesus, is about relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with others. The only thing that makes a difference is relationship. Loving one another is the answer.

Love God and love others. Those are the only rules we need.

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Imputed Righteousness

 

Back to Grace!   

“How righteous are you?”

That’s a question I ask from time to time. The answers I receive are predictable. “Well, I try. Hopefully I have some righteousness. I know I’ve done a lot of wrong things, but I’ve done some good things, too.” It’s a question that makes believers squirm. We have been trained to think of ourselves as unrighteous. In many churches, believers are told how their sins separate them from God and they have to repent in order to be forgiven. Then they are led in a prayer, asking God for forgiveness. But they know it will never hold. Next week they will have to do it again.

So, how righteous are you?

Do you get a little squirt of righteousness each Sunday and try to live on that for a week? Are you trying to do good things so that the righteousness in you will outweigh the unrighteousness? Are you hoping that no one will see the wickedness in your life and you can just somehow slip into Heaven unnoticed? Or are you expecting a good scolding and some temporary punishment when you get to those pearly gates? Christians have all kinds of strange ideas, and almost all of those ideas come from bad teaching.

Ready for an answer?

“How righteous are you?”

“I am as righteous as Jesus!”

WHOA! How can you say that? Jesus was perfectly righteous. He never did anything wrong. He never sinned. He always did right. Everything Jesus did pleased the Father. How could anyone say that he or she is as righteous as Jesus?

Then out come the verses:

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God…”
“There is none righteous, no not one…”
“All we like sheep have gone astray…”
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…”

And all of these verses are true, and I believe all of them. But that’s what we were, not what we are. Yes, we have all sinned and fallen short. No debate. It is true that no one, save Jesus, is without sin and righteous on his or her own. No argument on that. If we say that we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves. That’s true also. Those statements are about what used to be and what would still be true if we were apart from Christ.

But we are not apart from Christ. We have been washed and sanctified and justified (1 Cor 6:11). We have been cleansed of all sin (1 John 1:7). We have been forgiven (1 John 2:12). In Jesus, all these things are true of us.

In the Bible, the concept of righteousness is portrayed as an account sheet. Sins are listed as negative, I presume; while good works are listed as positives. We have a couple of problems. There are so many sins that our good works will never catch up. Then, even our good works are so often compromised by our sins. We do things we want to do and in the way we want and for the people we want. So few good works are truly pure, without the stain of sin in themselves. And more, even those few good things we do that are actually close to selfless are not truly our work, but the work of Jesus in us and through us. All of that means that our moral account is in pretty bad shape. Not even close to righteous.

The theological word connected to all of this is “imputed.” To impute something is to give it to another. In the Bible, this particularly refers to moral or spiritual accountability.  And righteousness is imputed, given to us from outside of us.  The only righteousness we have is imputed righteousness.

So the gospel teaches us that Jesus, who was perfectly righteous in Himself, washed away our unrighteousness by His sacrifice for us on the cross and granted to us His own righteousness. So Paul says:

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

We become the “righteousness of God.” Even about himself, Paul says that his only goal in life is to be found in Christ:

…not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith Philippians 3:9

In other words, if you were to ask Paul how righteous he was, he would tell you about the righteousness of Christ in him. Why? Because there was no other righteousness in him.

So here you go. Apart from Christ, no one is righteous. But those who have come to Him for salvation by faith are not apart from Him. In Him, you have His righteousness. Because He is in you and you are in Him, His righteousness is your righteousness.

How righteous are you? If you belong to Jesus, you are as righteous as He is. That’s the message of grace!

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What must I do? – pt 2

Am I still saved?

If we are saved by the gift of God in Jesus and simply have to believe/receive the gift in order for it to be fully ours, then what do we have to do in order to stay saved?

Many religious groups and teachers understand that the gospel is simple, that faith is what enables a person to receive the gift of salvation and that no works or rituals are required. They don’t argue that point. They know they would bring the charge of “salvation by works” on themselves. But they change the focus by suggesting that those who are saved can stay saved by adhering to a certain set of standards. In fact, some go so far as to suggest that those who don’t behave or live a certain way will lose their salvation.

Another facet of this is the claim that you have to do certain things in order to be “really saved.” No one knows how “really saved” is different from regular saved, but that isn’t discussed. So a person might say that he believes in the saving power of Jesus and has accepted the work of Jesus for himself; but, if he doesn’t live according to the rules and standards, he isn’t “really saved.”

While there is nothing in the Bible that teaches these things, many believers live under the fear and shame of doubt concerning their salvation because they know they don’t measure up. They continue to struggle against sin and they find the rules and standards difficult. When they fail, the legalistic church or friend or family member is there to challenge their salvation—on the basis of their works.

Think about that. If certain works are required to keep the salvation Jesus died for or are required to be somehow “really saved,” then how is that different from the old gospel of works? If salvation is still based on what we do under certain requirements, then we still save ourselves by our own goodness, don’t we?

Perhaps I know that I will never get rich based on my financial skills. So someone gives me riches at his own expense. They are a gift, based on no effort of my own. Now, what would lead me to believe that I could keep those riches or make them grow on the basis of my financial skills? The same lack that would make it impossible for me to become rich would make it as difficult for me to stay rich. (Just ask the lottery winners!)  The only way I could stay rich is if I were to be given so much that my lack of skill could not use it up, or if my benefactor were to continue to pour out riches to me in spite of my ineptness.

I think this is what Jesus has done for those who belong to Him. He pours out on us more than we can lose or ruin and He keeps giving us more. He is the One who saves us and who keeps us saved. He is the One who makes sure we are “Really saved.”

He calls, He gives, He keeps. The Author and Finisher of our faith.

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Filed under Legalism, Relationship, Theology and mystery

What must I do?

Sometimes we learn a great deal from what isn’t said in Scripture.

When Paul and Silas were in prison in Philppi, there was a great earthquake and the chains of the prisoners fell open. The jailer, who was responsible for the prisoners, had been sleeping and woke to see that the prisoners were free. He prepared to kill himself for his neglect, but Paul told him that all the prisoners were still there. Apparently, he had been listening to the message of the gospel before he fell asleep and he asked Paul a simple, but profound, question: “What must I do to be saved?”

So there it is. The question. It almost seems incredible that we would still be asking it when it is answered so simply.

In some churches today you have to become members to be saved. Or be baptized. Or obey some list of rules. Or live a good life. Or give time or money. Or pray a certain prayer. In some you have to be good enough before you can be saved. In some you have to become good enough after you are saved in order to stay saved. In some you can never be sure. And in some, you have to be among the “elect,” the chosen ones.

But the jailer didn’t hear any of that in answer to his question. He just heard:

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

That’s it! Nothing about obedience or personal righteousness. Nothing about joining anything. The man wasn’t even a Jew!

Just believe. Just trust Jesus. That’s it.

Of course, some have a vested interest in complicating the simple gospel message. They can control those who come to them if they set up the right requirements and structure. And others just think it seems right to expect certain lifestyle changes and behaviors when giving such an important privilege. But anything more than “believe” is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, I have to add that Paul also did not tell the man he was already saved, like some would say today. He did not tell the man that all people were saved but they just don’t know it and that nothing is required. Paul had the opportunity to do that, if he believed it. No, he said that the man simply had to open his mind and heart and believe.

You see, the gift of salvation is already paid for and available to anyone who is willing to receive it. Jesus doesn’t force anyone to be saved. He offers the gift. If you believe Him enough to receive it, it’s yours. He wants you to have it.

Yes, everything changes from that point, but the changes are good. The jailer “rejoiced” because he had believed. No doubt the Spirit led him to a much different life, but that was after he believed and was saved.

The gospel is really that simple. Beware of those who add to the simple message. The lies are everywhere. The truth is found in Jesus.

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The Real Message

There are so many reasons I consider the message of grace to be the central message of the Scriptures and the ultimate doctrine of God’s love. The Scriptures tell us over and over that God loves us and that He is the only one who can do what is necessary for us to be saved—and sanctified—and glorified. He does what we need. That’s grace!

There are many messages that have come to and through the people of God. Some say that we have to work for our salvation, either to earn it or maintain it. Some are saying today that all are already saved, no matter what they have done or what they believe. But God sent only one message of love to us—Jesus. And, I believe, the only message that allows Jesus His true position in the world and in our lives is the message of grace. It rings true throughout the Scriptures because it is the right message, the message God wants us to hear and to tell.

So here it is: God loves you and offers all that you need for “life and godliness” in the gift of His Son, Jesus. Your part is simply to be willing to receive, to take what He offers, to let Him love you. The day will come when we will see Jesus at the center of our existence, the source and goal of our lives, and that will truly be Heaven.

The message of grace is the message that keeps our eyes on Jesus.

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Are you open to Manipulation?

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

 

From time to time I read Seth Godin’s blog.  He has some great insights about marketing and people.  The most recent blog entry is an interesting item on what makes some people more open to being manipulated.  Read the blog for yourself, but here are some of the things I found interesting in his list.  His blog is not intended to be Christian in any way, but these things are more than worth our consideration.   I will insert my comments, particularly in relation to the religious/performance manipulation I have seen.

  •  Believing something because you heard someone say it on a news show on cable TV.   (Or an unreasoning acceptance of the authority of the guy up front.)
  • Repeating a mantra heard from a figurehead or leader of a tribe without considering whether it’s true.   (Again, an unquestioning attitude toward perceived authority.  So many of these teachers have no evidence for the assertions they make, but their followers accept every word as truth.)
  • Trying to find a short cut to lose weight, make money or achieve some other long-term goal.  (“Seven easy steps to being more spiritual than others.”  “Five ways to make God love you.”  “How to raise your kids the right way.”)
  • Ignoring the scientific method and embracing unexamined traditional methods instead.  (The key word here is “unexamined.”  There is an obsession among many homeschoolers or conservatives for the “old ways.”  Some of the old ways are gone for a reason!)
  • Focusing on (and believing) easily gamed bestseller lists or crowds.  (If the teacher can fill the bleachers, he must be true, right?”)
  • Inability to tolerate fear and uncertainty.  (This is the big one.  The desire to control the fears and uncertainties of life opens many people to the manipulation of leaders.)
  • Allowing the clothes of the messenger (a uniform, a suit and tie, a hat) to influence your perception of the information he delivers (add gender, fame, age and race to this too).  (What, judge someone by what he wears?  You’re kidding!)
  • Reliance on repetition and frequency to decide what’s true.  (If you hear it often enough—say, that Cabbage Patch dolls have demons—it must be true, right?)

There are other characteristics that open people to manipulation at Seth’s Blog.  What do you think?

 

Thanks to:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/

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Filed under Freedom, Legalism

Logic

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

Suppose I were to posit that all dogs eat dog food. What if I then suggested that you could become a dog by eating dog food? Would that work for you? Of course not. We understand that many things can eat dog food. Crows will eat it. Kids will sometimes eat it. Skunks will eat it. But eating dog food doesn’t make someone or something a dog.

Simple logic. Most of us use it every day to keep us from foolish errors.

But if I go to church and hear a sermon my logical defenses may break down. I am tempted to trust the words of the preacher. For example: Paul was a great man for God. Paul served with great sacrifice. Therefore if I serve with great sacrifice, I will be a great man for God. God loved Moses and Moses accomplished great things. Moses left the comforts of life. Therefore if I leave the comforts of life, God will love me and I will accomplish great things. Many preachers are guilty of making these connections and many listeners eagerly accept this kind of teaching as being helpful in living the right kind of life. After all, why are we told about these people if not for us to use their lives as examples? Right?

Well, not that kind of example. Paul was a great man for God – because God chose to do great things through him. God loved Moses and God chose to work mighty things through Moses’ life. These things are not the result of effort or wisdom from these men. The amazing events of their lives are the result of the choice and activity of God.

That’s grace!

 

 

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I am good enough

Words of Grace 

 

I confess up front that this post is a reaction to something I heard recently. I have heard it over the years, but this one hit home. You have heard it also; maybe you have even said it: “I’m not good enough.”

The young man says it as he walks away from a relationship. The young mother says it as she walks away from a church. The son hears it from his father. “I am not good enough.”

Not good enough for God to bless you. Not good enough to have that relationship. Not good enough to fit in with the others. Not good enough to expect something positive out of life. Not good enough.

Those are hateful words. Lies. Venom from the heart of the evil one.

All day long the evil one stands before God and says that none of us is good enough. He accuses us of sin and brokenness. He reminds us of what we have done. He tells us that we are not good enough.

Who has not sinned? Who does not need a Savior? Who can cast the first stone? Let’s face it. We are all the same. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “None is righteous. No not one.” All who come to Christ do so as sinners who can neither escape their sin nor atone for it. We all come the same. Needy. Broken. Sinful. Unclean. If one of us is not good enough after coming to Jesus, then none of us is. Either the Savior is enough, or we are without hope . . . all of us.

One of the most grievous sins must be for one person to look on another and think that the other is not good enough. How dare any of us hold ourselves to be better than another! The only difference between any two people is Jesus. Those who have come to Jesus have their sins washed away and stand now in His righteousness. Those who have not come to Jesus stand in their own faulty and insufficient righteousness.

But all of those who come to Jesus for salvation are the same. No one is better than another. No one can boast of superiority. Nor can anyone accept inferiority. It’s about Jesus, not you or me.

And we are as good as He is. Otherwise we are nothing. His righteousness, His goodness, is in us. He is our Life. So we are good enough, if He is good enough. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

I am good enough.

Jesus is my goodness.

I am as good as anyone who belongs to Him.

Because He has made me good

I am good enough.

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I am complete

Words of Grace 

 

…and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. Colossians 2:10

 

Theologically, emotionally, and practically—this is one of the most amazing statements of the Bible.  “You are complete.”  Nothing more to be done.  God looks at you and sees a finished product.

Think of how that contrasts with so much of what we have been taught.  “You will be acceptable to God if…”  “Your salvation will be assured when…”  “God needs you to do…”  So much of the church’s teaching has been about what we are supposed to do now.  But what if it has all been done for us?

What if you really are a finished product?  What if there is nothing more for you to do for your salvation or if there is nothing more that you could do?  What if you are already complete in Him?  That would be something truly amazing!

Do you realize that the only thing that will happen when you and I die to this world is that we will lose things?  We will lose our fears.  We will lose our physical bodies.*  We will lose the sin that has plagued us for so long.  We will separate from this world of corruption.  All those things will drop away like the husk of a seed that has germinated into its true nature.

The context of the passage quoted above is about Jesus, in whom “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”  That word, “fullness,” is the same as the word, “complete.”  All the way to the top.  Full.  Whole.

Listen: just as Christ is full of the Godhead, full in the Father, so are you full in Him.  That is just what this passage is saying.  Is Jesus less than God?  No?  Then neither are you less than complete in Him.

The call to the believer is to live according to the truth of who we are in Jesus.  Begin to let this world go.  Look to Him for all things, because all you need is provided in Him.  There is nothing more for you to do, so just walk with Him and learn of Him.  Be who you are.

 

I am complete.

There is nothing more to do.

I cannot become more of what I already am.

So I’ll just walk with Him.

In my completeness!

 

*When I mentioned losing the physical body, someone thought that we would be gaining or adding a spiritual body.  I will grant that, but let me ask this: How can we be sitting with Jesus in the heavenly places now, as Ephesians 2:6 says?  Perhaps, in that day, we will simply discover our spiritual body—which has been ours in Christ all along.

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Is it Legalism?

 

Occasionally I get a challenge on my use of the word “legalism.”  Some say that I don’t use it right, that I am just using it to categorize people in a negative way.  They think it is unfair for me to use the word to describe those who hold to higher standards or certain kinds of behavior.

What these challengers don’t understand is that I have been where they are.  In fact, years ago, I wrote a little pamphlet entitled, “The L Word,” in which I debunked the challenges of those who pointed at my church and called us legalists.  I said that legalism was only properly used in reference to a system teaching that people can be saved by keeping the Law.  Since I always believed that salvation came through Jesus alone, by grace through faith, I could not have been called a legalist.

Have you ever been right and wrong at the same time and about the same thing?  Well, I have been.  The above assessment is technically correct.  Legalism teaches salvation by law.  What I didn’t understand then is that all forms of performance spirituality stem from and return to legalism.

Now, let me give you a little of the theology I believe.  There is one requirement for salvation and it isn’t something we do.  It is receiving, by faith, the gift God has given to us in Jesus.  That’s it.  Just saying yes.

And that’s where some people disagree.  Yes, it’s faith, they say, but it is also obedience.  It is also doing the things God says.  If you don’t do what God says, then you aren’t really saved, they say.  And I reply: that’s legalism.

If my behavior is a requirement for my salvation, then I am under the law and saved by works.  If it is 90% Jesus and only 10% me, then I cannot be saved because I can never measure up even to that.  It doesn’t matter what ratio you bring out, if it isn’t 100% the love of God through Jesus, given freely as a gift to those who will receive, then it’s legalism.

Still, most performance-based people would agree with this.  And that’s where I was.  But then I began to hear people say things like, “Well, real Christians don’t ___.”   Or even, “I have to wonder if so-and-so is still saved.”  And sometimes, “We have no fellowship with people who don’t ___.”  I began to understand that we still had some requirements in addition to Jesus.

If the teaching produces feelings that some are “real” Christians while others are not; or that a person could lose his salvation on the basis of some evil act or the lack of some good act—how is that not legalism?  It is still under the law and not dependent on the grace of God in Jesus.  It’s grace plus whatever rule or standard the teaching promotes.  If you have to speak in tongues or be baptized a certain way or wear certain clothes in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus doesn’t make real Christians.  He only makes potential Christians.  We have to do the rest.  And if you have to avoid smoking or divorce or television or alcohol in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus can’t keep what He has made.  It’s up to us to keep ourselves in the kingdom and keep ourselves saved.

And—listen—if it’s up to us to keep ourselves saved, then we are under law and not under grace.  And those who are under law are legalists.

So what does your church or organization teach?  What do the people around you say, particularly about others who are not like you?  Are some people “real” Christians while others who profess Christ in some other category?  Are some people you talk about in danger of losing their salvation or of never having been saved because of something they do or don’t do?

Legalism is the antithesis of grace.  It pushes the love of God into a side category considering it something like an influence, rather than the answer and hope of the believer.  The cross of Christ is not enough for the legalist, we must do our part.  And the legalist will tell us what our part ought to be.

The truth is that the cross is enough.  The work of our salvation was accomplished by the love of God in Jesus.  That’s the past work, the present work, and the future work.  All that is necessary, He has done.  Our part is to believe and receive.

And about now the objections are being shouted.  “But what about sin?”  “We have to do our part!”  “What about the commands?”  “What about those people?”  Go my blog page and type the word “sin” into the search box.  You can read my many answers to these objections.

My mom and I used to play cribbage and she often said, “No matter how many times you count it, that’s all you get.”  Count it any way you want.  The truth is still the same.  All the challenges and objections and qualifications boil down to a simple fact:

If Jesus is enough, that’s grace.

If Jesus is not enough, that’s legalism.

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Filed under grace, Grace definition, Legalism, Theology and mystery