Now it’s one of our own. Someone who encouraged us along the way of grace. Someone who understood and said good words. Someone God used to touch our hearts. Now a good ministry is over and a good name is stained.
When the offenders were of the other camp, the one we escaped, we saw their sin as part of their teaching. It seemed natural to associate sin with the rest of the characteristics we saw in them. Yes, some of what they did surprised us, even disappointed us; but it allowed a separation from them that we felt we needed. In a sense, their sin let us think of them as evil.
But now what? Now they will say bad things about someone we respected. Now they will say that our teaching is the problem. Now they will try to take the focus off what they did and point at us. It is tempting to point out the differences between their sin and ours, but we know in our hearts that the differences don’t really matter. The moment we thought ourselves to be better, we opened the door for the attack—just like they did.
Now we have to ask ourselves if our way is really any better. The way of grace was supposed to be better. As long as sin stayed in their camp, we could think of ourselves as better. We could reject their accusations as long as the sin stayed over there. Good people don’t do those things. We wanted to think of ourselves as good people.
But it’s more than that.
Now we have to grow up, and we have to understand the real message of grace.
Here’s the simple truth: as long as we are in this world, all believers will battle the flesh. The choice we have faced is whether we will live under condemnation because of that fact or under the joy of knowing the forgiveness and love of God in Jesus.
That needs some unpacking.
The flesh is the old way we learned life. The flesh in us believes that we need to solve our own problems, that we are identified by our actions, and that compromise reveals truth. When we hurt, the flesh offers us pleasure. When we are afraid, the flesh offers security. When we are angry, the flesh offers us vengeance. The flesh knows what will make us feel better.
But the flesh lies. It only knows the old way. Life without Jesus. The flesh tells us that compromise will alleviate pain. The flesh tells us that compromise reveals who we really are. Then the flesh tells us that more compromise will make us feel even better. Soon we find ourselves walking a path we never wanted.
Even believers. The flesh did not go away when Christ came in. Nor did it lose its power when we learned grace. Legalism gave power to the flesh because it offered a religious system that made sense. Legalism offered the promise of overcoming evil in our lives, but the flesh learned to substitute some sins with other sins Nothing in legalism gave us victory over the flesh.
And neither did grace. Learning that we are no longer under the law did nothing to take away the power of the flesh. Knowledge may bring us to freedom, but it does not give us victory. In fact, knowledge of grace has made some more judgmental than before, more confident in their errors, more bold in their sins. Knowing grace does not make us better.
Victory over the flesh is found only in the person of Jesus. Only as we learn to walk according to the living Holy Spirit, as the Bible teaches, will we learn to walk apart from the flesh. Even then, our progress is slow and inconsistent. A lifetime can be spent just learning to walk. The transformation of our thinking takes time. But we do learn, more and more, to take our pain to the One who loves us and to trust Him for our victory.
The choice between legalism and grace is not which will be better at rooting out the sin in our lives. The difference is between truth and error. Grace is the message of the Scriptures. We are free in Christ, fully forgiven and acceptable and secure and loved apart from our works good or evil. It is error to tell believers that they are under condemnation and law or that they are still eternally accountable for their sins. Grace is true.
The difference is whether we will live our lives in shame or in love. Will we cower in the presence of Jesus, or will we bask in the love of His heart? Will we see ourselves as loved and accepted, the way He sees us; or will we live on the edge of rejection and condemnation? Hope and peace lie in the realm of grace, because hope and peace come from Jesus.
So I still choose the message of grace because I know it is the message of Jesus. It still brings hope and peace and joy to my heart. It is still the truth of the Bible, the one message that flows consistently through the revelation of God.
Nothing has changed. Abuse is still sin, and so is adultery. A legalist who abuses does not make the abuse wrong. Abuse is wrong because it hurts others, no matter who does it. A grace teacher who commits adultery does not make adultery right. Adultery is wrong because it hurts others, no matter who does it. We must never rationalize or excuse sin just because the sinner is “on our side.”
If we learn anything from this, we must learn that judgment is not based on sin, but on response to the truth of God’s love in Jesus. Those who taught legalism and brought shame on so many will not be condemned because of their sins. If they are condemned, it will be because they have rejected Jesus. Sin has never been the real issue. The cross of Jesus took care of sin. The only issue is whether we will let the cross of Jesus be sufficient for us and the life of Jesus be exchanged for ours.
And, yes, even grace teachers will sin. Some will stain their ministries and cause suspicion on their message. Hopefully, grace teachers will find a strength to admit the truth and avoid blame. Some will not. Some will look so much like the legalists in their response to their sin that we will wonder about the differences. And, perhaps, we will see that sin is not different in the lives of those under the law and those under grace. The difference is in the hope. The difference is in the reality of the love of God in Jesus. Those who live apart from that reality will continue in shame, rejecting themselves and others. Those who live in the reality of God’s grace will look to Jesus and find forgiveness and peace.
The grace of God in Jesus is still sufficient for us.
Pray for those involved in these sins. Pray for each other. Look to Jesus and be thankful for His love. And when you fall or fail, look to Him and find that His acceptance and love have not changed.