Grace or Evangelism, Can We Have Both?

by Milton Jones, Marquette Challenger, Marquette, MI

Evangelistic churches tend to become legalistic, and the churches that allow a lot of freedom tend to lack commitment. What does that mean? I'm not sure, but I'm sure I don't like it.

When we are evangelistic, it forces us to draw lines. We have to decide who is on God's side and who is not. But where do we draw the lines? It's easy to draw very tight lines that only include ourselves because in that way it is most obvious who is with us and who is not. But doesn't this produce an exclusivism that in the long run will only backfire on evangelism. Doesn't it produce a sectarian, judgmental spirit that ultimately will turn people away rather than bring them to the Lord?

Why is it that when we become very evangelistic we want to enforce gray areas and impose rules that aren't necessarily in the Bible? I guess it's because there are so many new people that just don't know how to live and act as new Christians. But does that really justify a legal system? I think that what it boils down to is that it is a lot easier telling people what to do than teaching them how to think. There's also the possibility that if I teach someone how to think, he might not always agree with me. Then, how would we function together?

On the other side, why is it that people with great amounts of freedom tend to abuse it? Why have people who have heard great doses of God's grace done so little with it? Shouldn't a message of unmerited salvation and a law of love provoke an unyielding commitment? You would think that after hearing about the freedom that we have in Christ, one would never miss an assembly to hear more and would use every opportunity to tell someone else about God's grace. It should be that way, but normally it isn't. Freedom in Christ has too often been practiced as freedom to do whatever I want to do. When it doesn't appear that a resident policeman is on our case to keep us in line, we take great liberties to run beyond where some limits certainly must be.

Why do we take grace as a license to do what we please? Why don't we do what should be the obvious response to forgiveness? Why do churches that preach against legalism not grow more than they do? Maybe it's because we are too independent. I think independent churches often produce independent people. Maybe it's because we are so tired of people telling us what to do that we determine to make choices ourselves. That sounds pretty good on the surface. But when we are rejecting legalism, it is often simply a rebellion to get away from the rules rather than to move toward true spiritual discernment. Our motivation is not as much to do what's right out of a deep debt of gratitude as it is to escape commitment or possible burnout.

What am I saying? I'm looking for grace-centered evangelism. I want freedom in Christ where there is some commitment. I want to be a part of a group of people who wants to share Jesus because they want to share Jesus. I want to be a part of a group who wants to have the highest moral character simply because they have personally decided to be like Jesus. I want to be part of a group where everyone makes their own decisions, and they decide to go to all the assemblies. Some have referred to what I'm looking for as balance. Jesus called it a narrow way. Few have found it. I hope I do.

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