Editor’s note: This excerpt comes from Dave Vance’s book The Idol Called Grace: When grace becomes greater than God. It deals with the tension of God’s grace: blessing, warning or both?
When my oldest son, David, was about four years old, Thomas the Tank Engine was a tremendously big deal. From the TV show to the videos, he absolutely loved all things Thomas. One Christmas, my wife and I decided to get him a Thomas the Tank Engine train table—one of those train tables you had to build from scratch and the tracks could be customized to whatever layout you wanted.
So I began to build the train table at about 9:00 p.m. that Christmas Eve. 9:00 easily became 11:00, 11:00 eventually became midnight. Motivated by the overwhelming joy that would be experienced by my son in the morning, I finally finished at 3:30 in the morning. Of course, my woke up early, running into our bedroom yelling, “Hey Mom and Dad, it’s Christmas morning!” And we ran down the steps with great excitement to see his reaction to the surprise that awaited. As soon as he entered the room and saw the train table, he made his way over to the train table to begin to play with his newfound gift. Of course, I was right by his side. I said, “Hey, buddy…let me show you something,” and I began to demonstrate how the train moved up the mountain and show him how he could guide the train through the tunnel. He looked at me and said, “No, Daddy, it’s mine! Don’t you touch it!” And he pushed my hands away as if I was trespassing on some stranger’s property.
Now I know he’s four years old and I completely understand his excitement, but I couldn’t help but think: “Do you not get it…I was the one who bought this gift for you…I was the one who labored over this…I was the one who built it, stressed over it, prepared it and gave it to you. And this is what you come back with? ‘It’s mine’? Listen, it’s anything but yours!”
We often take what God has graciously given, and we say, “It’s mine!” The gift becomes greater than the gift-giver. From the very first pages of Scripture, we see this glaring in our face. Look at Genesis 1:–27 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Verse 28: “And God blessed them.”
In this statement we see the very first act of the grace of God. God blesses Adam and Eve. God gives them dominion…God prospers them. This tells us that grace was given and demonstrated well before the fall ever happens. Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 1:20 that God knew before the foundation of the world that Christ would go to the cross. That means that God still gave them life, even though they didn’t deserve it, still gave them dominion even though they would lose it, and still blessed them even though he knew what would happen. If there is grace, this must be it.
All throughout the Bible, whenever you find the idea of grace, it always comes in two forms: God gives and God warns. Remember Noah? He says, “Noah, I want you to build an ark.” God blesses him and says, “I’m going to keep you from the rain, the flood.” Then God says, “Go and warn the people about this flood.” There’s God’s grace in blessing and warning. Remember Israel? He says, “I’m going to give you a land, and this land I promised to Abraham—I’m going to give it to you. I’m going to let you conquer this land, but don’t give in to the pagan cultures, don’t give in to the foreigners that will tempt you in the land. Be careful with them because they’re idol worshippers.” And then we have Jesus. Jesus comes on the scene and says, “I’ve come to give you life, and to give it to you abundantly.” He blesses, but he also warns, “But I warn you, judgment will come.”
As pastors, this is exactly how we must teach and demonstrate grace to our congregations. We reveal God’s blessings of grace, His gifts of salvation and eternal life and encourage them to grow in relationship with Him. We bless them as God has called us to do. But we also warn them… “Hey, you better follow these commands,” or “You should avoid these sinful behaviors.” And sometimes we’re warning them even more than blessing them… “Why do you keep doing this? Don’t you remember what God said about that?”
If all you preach is God’s blessing without the warnings, then your congregation is only hearing half of the truth. Too many spiritual leaders fall prey to this Pollyanna approach (or prosperity gospel), focusing only on the promises God has made, and trying not to “scare people off” by avoiding talking about the consequences of sinful living or pointing out God’s clear warnings throughout Scripture. You can’t have one without the other!
That’s the whole picture of grace. God blessed us…and He warned us, knowing we wouldn’t listen or understand the full meaning of His gifts. It’s undeserved, it’s unmerited and it’s unearned. Let’s help all Christ followers remember this.