Last time we explored the relationship between grace and election and found them to be inextricably linked. You cannot have grace without election, for the election of God makes possible a relationship with Him that is not based on reciprocity.
In Romans 9-11 we see how grace, election and the security of Jews and Gentiles are all tied together. God’s grace towards the Jews, based on His election, is what gives them the assurance that His promises, made through the Old Testament prophets, will have their fulfillment. This same grace, based on election, gives the Gentiles their security.
This time let’s explore the relationship between grace, love and faith. To begin, we will look at grace and faith.
GRACE and FAITH
As already seen, grace is God’s commitment to the sinner without reference to reciprocity. Nothing in the object of God’s grace warrants such a commitment.
In order for God to be gracious towards the sinner, He has to have perfect knowledge. This is what the theologian calls omniscience. It means that we will never surprise God. There will obviously be times when we will disappoint Him, but we will never surprise Him.
It also means that God never walks by faith, for faith is “commitment without knowing the outcome.” God, because of His omniscience, never commits without knowing the outcome. The believer walks by faith as an expression of dependence upon God. Actually, all people, irrespective of their race, religion or station in life, must walk by faith. All must commit before knowing, whether this means hoarding a boat to cross the lake or taking medication prescribed by a physician.
Because grace requires perfect knowledge, the believer is never called upon to emulate God’s grace. “Grace,” like so many words, has more than one meaning. Thus we are to be gracious to one another, as Paul exhorts in Ephesians 4:29:
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
This does not mean, however, that we are expected to practice -the grace of God in our inter-personal relationships. God does not walk by faith; we do. We do not practice Biblical grace; God does.
GRACE and LOVE
Biblical grace is different than love. Not only is the definition different; so also is the fact that I am to emulate God’s love, even though I am not expected to emulate His grace. As Jesus Himself said in John 13:34:
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
When we confuse love and grace, making the two synonyms, it is easy to conclude that God does not love all people, for it is certain that He does not bestow grace upon all people. Again, Jesus said in John 3:16, that verse so familiar to us all:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, hut have everlasting life.
This “agape” love that God has for the world is not the same as His grace. All who are the object of His grace are saved, and God does not save the world.
Failure to distinguish between love and grace results in confusion on how to exercise discipline in the church. For example, in I Corinthians 5 a professing believer was living in incest with his father’s wife. Paul called for his expulsion from the fellowship. Two reasons were given:
1. His own spiritual well being. “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (I Corinthians 5:5).
2. To maintain purity in the fellowship. “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (I Corinthians5:7)
Thus in verse 11 Paul calls for his excommunication from the fellowship:
But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one do not eat.
It is apparent from this passage that one who professes faith in Christ, while at the same time living in unconfessed sin, is not to be accepted by the believing community unconditionally and without reciprocity. Such a person may be saved, but he is to be treated as a “heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:17). He is actually to be treated more harshly than the non-Christian in that as Paul says in I Corinthians 5:11, ‘With such an one do not eat.”
This does not mean, however, that the believing community rescinds its love. Quite the contrary. It is out of love that the unrepentant sinner is disciplined.
Because none of us can see “the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10), we cannot commit ourselves unconditionally to others. For example, there are things that I could do which would force my wife to leave me. She may still love me, (as a matter of fact she is commanded to love me), but this is not the same as unconditional acceptance.
Further evidence of this distinction between love and grace is seen in Jesus’ command in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:44:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which dcspitefully use you, and persecute you.
The word for “love” in this verse is ~ It is Christ-like to love my enemies, whether they are believers or not. It does not follow, however, that the grace that God shows to those in Christ is to be shown by the believer towards his enemies.
If this is not clearly understood, the conscientious Christian will have difficulty determining what disciplining unrepentant sinners in the fellowship is supposed to look like. I believe this is one of the reasons why there is so little in the way of discipline, as outlined by I Corinthians 5, in the church today.
As a hypothetical example, let’s take Joe, who is an elder in his church. He has an affair with one of the women in the choir. They decide to divorce their spouses and marry one another. Their friends in the church plead with them to repent, but they refuse. After the divorce and remarriage, Joe and his new bride return to the church and expect to be reinstated. There is no remorse and no repentance.
The church is divided in its opinion regarding what should be done. Some call for discipline as outlined in Matthew 18 and I Corinthians 5. But others counter that Joe and his wife are to be treated as God treats all of us, with grace. Grace, after all, is unconditional acceptance without reference to performance. Those calling for discipline appear unloving.
In reality disciplining them is the most loving thing that can be done for Joe and his accomplice. Only then can they be assured that their “Souls will be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (I Corinthians 5:5). The failure to discipline is one of the most unloving things we can do.
If love, grace and unconditional acceptance are blurred and made to appear as one, then Biblical discipline becomes impossible. When I view grace and love as synonyms and seek to apply it to all people, I destroy any form of temporal accountability. The sinner is free to continue in his unrepentant state, assured that he has complete love and acceptance. This, clearly, is not the teaching of Scripture.
Discipline is never pleasant. Most of us hate confrontation. Yet, without it, people are deceived into believing that there is no accountability for sin, when in reality there is. If they do not learn it here on earth in the “school of obedience” they will pay a terrible price when they stand in judgment before God’s tribunal.
Understanding the difference between grace, love and faith may not guarantee the practice of church discipline, but failure to understand will most surely confuse the process.