"I preach grace" says the earnest Pastor. And deep down you suspect he means "I preach law with a smile."
Such pastors often confess to problems in communicating their 'grace gospel'. You see, strangely enough, enquirers have difficulty with the concept of 'appropriating grace'. The preacher says 'salvation is a free gift.' They, naturally, wonder what on earth that looks like. So the preacher replies with greater vigour 'Just receive the free forgiveness and trust that you have been forgiven.' When that draws a blank the pastor reverts to a series of cliches, each more abstract than the last - "The door has been opened, walk through the door... You've got the cheque marked 'forgiveness' - cash the cheque."
"Cash the forgiveness cheque? What cheque? And where? And who's the banker? And where's my receipt?"
The Bible presents things a little differently. Take John 3:16 for instance. The gift we are to receive is Jesus. Grace is not basically a concept or property. He is a Person. Doesn't this (literally) put flesh and bones on the concept of 'receiving grace as a free gift.' We're really asking the non-Christian to receive Jesus - the gift of His Father.
Rev 3:20 - There's not a 'free gift' standing at the door, waiting to be unwrapped. There's not a gift certificate to be opened saying "IOU 1 eternal life". There is Jesus standing at the door. And when you let Him in He doesn't just hover in your lobby assuring you of your forgiven status, He eats with you in intimate fellowship. That is what saving faith looks like. That is how a person becomes a Christian - not by assenting to a concept of forgiveness or vicarious atonement but by receiving the Person in Whom forgiveness, atonement and life is offered.
The same point is made in Colossians 1:13, 14. It is the Son in Whom redemption is offered - which is the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is redemption - the transference of a person (who is still a sinner!) from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ. This deliverance is offered in Jesus. We must be introducing people to the person of Jesus not the concept of change (or even of redemption or deliverance). We don't believe in redemption per se - we believe in the Redeemer.
First, in the Lord's Supper we ought to take 'This is my body' seriously. Transubstantiation is not the answer but neither is memorialism - we don't simply receive tokens of good stuff. We receive Christ in the supper. He Himself is the Bread of life who nourishes, not remembrances of grace.
Second, in personal chats let's talk about Jesus. Not just what we're learning, not just our blessings or struggles but Jesus. How it strengthens the heart to hear His name on another's lips! He is received by us again and again as we hold out His word to one another.
Third, in preaching, we can be bold to offer a free salvation to sinners because we're not offering a blank cheque but marriage to a Bridegroom. We hold out the word of life to people who are hardened sinners, people who still love darkness and who don't actually have a resolve to 'Go God's way'. Because, of course, without Christ how could they? Often the objection then comes: 'You are promoting licence. You can't offer forgiveness to people who don't show signs of repentance.' Here's the thing though - we're not offering a 'Get out of Jail Free' card. We're holding out Christ Himself to sinners. If we simply preached an abstract 'forgiveness' then licence is almost guaranteed (whatever the state of the hearer). If we preach Christ it's out of the question.
This is a reworking of an older post