How To Balance Grace and Judgment?

didyouwashyourhandstoday asked:

I don’t understand. There are people who take scripture and show God’s wrath against sin and want the change in people and offer very little grace and a lot of Judgement. Then there are the people who say Grace is all you need and they offer very little judgement or punishment but cry out grace on all things. My question is, how do you balance the two? how can i know i am a sinner but saved by grace and be expected to believe God will forgive me when i do things i know are wrong but fail to change.

My friend, this is simpler and also more nuanced than the confusion we feel.  I actually answer that one in the sermon you were thinking of: both are true at the same time, all the time, for all our seasonal moments. 

1) The Gospel keeps us from pride because Jesus had to die for our sins, but the Gospel keeps us from despair because Jesus was glad to give his life for us. 

We are kept from an absurdly high opinion of ourselves and an overly low one — and since our human condition is so fragile and fickle, we will need the Gospel to speak either one at different times, or sometimes at the same time.

Apostle Paul on one hand called himself the “chief of sinners,” but in the same epistle would call himself a “saint” or “ambassador” or “aroma of Christ.”  He would talk about forgiveness covering our past, but also empowering us towards a better future.  Jesus talked about the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin, but also leading us into righteousness.

By prayer we can gain more wisdom about which one works where.  For me, since anger and impatience are huge issues, I have to continually remember Jesus loves me out of that sin: he rescued me from the bondage of my own violence.  It cost him his life and he absorbed the wrath I deserved: so how could I have anything to do with that anymore? 

At the same time, when I do blow up on someone, Jesus has enough grace to move me past it.  There are times I’d like to stay angry and refuse God’s gracious discipline.  My stubborn refusal to receive that grace does not change his love for me, but it will definitely destroy my heart. If you “fail to change,” God will still forgive you every time, but you’ll still be selling yourself short on the abundant life that God means to give you.  It is not about what “should” be, but what could be.

2) Even as you’re planning out sin in your head, up to the moment you sin, and even afterwards when you have no intention of changing, God still loves you. 

That’s the only way we’ll really change: when one day, God’s unchanging love tenderizes your heart.  Oh, I know you Doctrine-Police hate that.  So tell me: I suppose you think God’s love changes based on our performance.  I suppose you also do not have any human interaction except the podcasts of your favorite Reformed preachers on the iPhone you bought with the money that isn’t going to Africa because you don’t freaking love real people or have never served broken human beings in uncomfortable places beyond your mom’s basement, and also everyone secretly hates it when you’re there.

Okay, sorry.  Had to get that one out.

Let’s see all the elements of God’s love come together here.  All at once I deserve judgment, yet God does not want anyone to perish but that His kindness leads to repentance.  That’s how God’s grace keeps me running to Him instead of from Him, because His holiness is made bearable through His cross.

Here’s the tension: God is too holy to let sin go unpaid, but He loves us too much to let us pay for it.  

Both are true, perfectly balanced, and will meet us where we are broken.  If you are a prideful person, the Gospel revokes your self-glory.  If you are a self-condemner, the Gospel makes much of Jesus through you.  If you’re the guy who hurts people, Jesus will jackslap you.  If you’ve been hurt, Jesus heals the brokenness.  If you cause consequences, God will take up vengeance; if you’re living through consequences, God will carry you.  Both sides will inevitably happen over the course of life, but that’s why the Gospel is for everyone.

3) But hey: the bottom line is that God’s every motive from beginning to end is Love. No one in the history of anywhere ever has been shamed into loving Jesus. 

No one’s testimony is ever, “So yeah he took me to the middle of the street and pulled down my pants, then asked me if I loved Jesus yet and I was saved.”  If we’re all a bunch of head-hanging, morbid, self-mutilating, Neo-Reformed Calvinists yelling total depravity and wrath-of-God all the time, I wouldn’t follow that “God” either.  That’s a puny measly buzz-kill God who is NOT my Heavenly Father.  We’re done with that lame devil’s script: go ahead and rejoice in the grace, man.

Read the gospels again; I mean heck, read the OT and you’ll see it there too.  God hates injustice because He is love.  God hates enslavement, dehumanization, and division because He is love.  God’s desire is never that we would receive judgment; His judgment exists because He loves. 

We cannot jump to one at the expense of the other, but proper wisdom tells us: being motivated by judgment never changed anyone.  Turning to God out of fear of Hell is like joining a gym out of fear of lifetime explosive diarrhea.  It makes less and less sense if you keep reading that, you know.

Ultimately any kind of guilt, fear, and shame are poor motives to embrace Christ. The undercurrent, the anchor, the thread that runs through it all is God’s Love.  Anyone who says otherwise is being sort of lazy in their theology because a guilt-trip always works for short-term change.  A sustainable faith will know the God who lovingly removes every barrier from Him and paid the price of judgment in Himself.



7 thoughts on “How To Balance Grace and Judgment?

  1. I love the way you write, JS. 🙂

    You wrote:
    “Here’s the tension: God is too holy to let sin go unpaid, but He loves us too much to let us pay for it.”

    I have come to believe that forgiveness is free. I don’t think sin had to be paid for in the sense that God had to be paid. I DO believe we pay for sin in many ways, death being chief. Everybody dies. No one gets saved from that end result of sin in our world. Beyond that, I believe there are natural consequences to sin (I see many of them on a daily basis from broken bodies to broken relationships and everything in between). And I believe we will one day face a judgment based on our works, however, I probably don’t see that in the Roman law sense the way most people do.

    The idea that Jesus ‘paid God’ for our sins I do not believe to be Biblical. But this has to do with the atonement – what happened when Jesus died on the cross. It’s a complex issue, but one that, in the end, determines just about everything we believe regarding Christianity. It also has a lot to do with how we see God and His character. This has been an issue with me for a long time, yet I feel that I am just beginning to scratch the surface of what is really true in regards to both. Good thing God has been patient in revealing Himself down through the ages. 🙂

    Love discussing this stuff with you, JS. Grace and Peace, JF


    1. True, maybe the language isn’t very exact (Apostle Paul probably used more legal terms instead of “debt”), but it does help me to sum it up that way. It’s at once so much more complex and so much more simple than we could conceive.


  2. Wonderful!
    May I post this quote of yours in one of my blog posts giving you the credit?
    “God is too holy to let sin go unpaid, but He loves us too much to let us pay for it.”
    God’s been speaking to me about judgment at the moment and how Christians should interact with non-Christians, with what the balance is between love and judgment.
    I have always been a love over judgment person, but recently I feel like a Christian has come down hard on me for not being more of a judger, I suppose.
    They think something along the lines of: division between Christians and non-believers is a given, so if there’s no division, the Christian is probably doing something wrong.


    1. Of course, go for it. I actually modified the quote from something Tim Keller said!
      And yes, it’s hard to balance the two: but even Jesus said he desires mercy more than sacrifice, and James said mercy triumphs over judgment.


      1. Yay, thanks! All very interesting to think about. I very much agree, but know some Christians don’t. They like to emphasize judgment more. Maybe it’s a case of we need both types of people, as that’s one way to balance the two. Not sure.


  3. Reblogged this on Idea Becomes Fact and commented:
    If you only get one thing out of this reblog, I hope it’s this: “Here’s the tension: God is too holy to let sin go unpaid, but He loves us too much to let us pay for it.”
    I think I’ve found my new favourite quote!


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