Ben Cross, pastor at First Baptist Eugene, heard me teaching at the CB Northwest Conference. When he heard my approach to such matters as who does baptism, he immediately asked me to preach it at First B! Like all churches, they are dealing with people upset about such matters as alcohol, baptism, women in leadership.
So I started with the definition of grace which is â€œI help.â€ Then I went to the three dimensions of grace:
First you have grace as unconditional acceptance in places like Rom. 3-6; Gal. 2-3; 5:1, 13; Eph. 2:1-10. I illustrated from Rom 11:5-6.
Then you have empowerment for growth and service I had them read 2 Cor. 12: 9 where Paul gets grace to deal with his thorn in the flesh, but itâ€™s not unconditional acceptance. Itâ€™s also in passages like Acts 4:33; 6:5, 8; 2 Cor. 9:8, 14; 12:9; Eph. 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:1.
Finally, I went to Ephesians 1:3-6. God is interested that we be holy and blameless. His grace gives us power for cleansing from sin.
The down side comes when one or more of these dimensions is denied. If one drops cleansing, then Christians end up thinking of grace as license. The American sentence is â€œGimme a little grace!â€ which isnâ€™t grace at all!
If we put cleansing back in but drop empowerment for service, then itâ€™s what I call airplane Christianity: â€œsit back, relax, let us serve you.â€ Christians often see themselves on a cruise ship rather than on a mission ship like Operation Mobilizationâ€™s Logos. We expect God to be our servant and get really upset when He doesnâ€™t take care of our every need. Perhaps He should be sued for dereliction of duty!
Finally, if we drop acceptance, then empowerment and the need for cleansing leads to legalism. You gotta do more to gain or keep acceptance. Pray more, witness more, love more, serve more or you are put aside in the kingdom.
Godâ€™s grace is to help us live in the freedom of our acceptance and also help us mature and enjoy our status as children of God. It also helps us live in community. So what do you do to obey?
What the Bible teaches or prescribes or commands, we obey. Grace based Christians help each other do that. My example is when my leadership become competitiveness. The Bible commands me to be gentle. I need help to deal with that.
Second, what the Bible describes I want to follow as closely as possible. So it describes how to select leaders in Acts 6 and how to deal with disputes in Acts 15. I think we should follow these examples. But most donâ€™t.
Finally, where the Bible is silent, freedom is encouraged to be Spirit led, wise and grace filled in different churches, different cultures and such. God did not forget to tell us what we should do when we gather for a Sunday service. He realized that freedom is a good thing. But be wise and Spirit led.
What of baptism? Itâ€™s commanded that believers be baptized as an expression of their faith. Itâ€™s described as happening immediately at conversion. Neither the Ethiopian eunuch nor Cornelius waited to get the basics of discipleship down before they were baptized. Why do so many Bible churches do that? But no where does the Bible tell us who does the baptism. The only hint is that Philip baptizes the Ethiopian. So we are free to do it wisely. It may be the pastor, but doesnâ€™t have to be.
What of alcohol? Donâ€™t get drunk. But when does a buzz become drunk? 0.8% is the legal limit and it makes sense to me. The Bible gives examples of parties with alcohol in Jesusâ€™ wine at the wedding in Cana and in Ruth with Boaz at his barley party. So why do so many today not only practice abstinence, but demand that everyone follow their conscience?
Romans 14 says we need to honor the weaker person. But these people arenâ€™t weak Christians. In fact theyâ€™d be offended if we called them weak! They are the judgmental ones, it seems to me. So if we indulge them, we actually are acting in unloving and ungracious ways!