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The Western church is in decline.

It is hard to imagine anyone disagreeing with that statement. The evidence of our failing condition is overwhelming. Here are two (of many) examples:

  • Based on a 2019 Pew Research study, only 69% of Americans identify as Christian – down from 77% ten years earlier.
  • In a 2018 Barna Research survey, when asked “Have you heard of the Great Commission?”, only 17% of churchgoers said they had heard of it and could explain its meaning. 51% said they had not heard of the Great Commission at all!!

More than a few well-meaning and conscientious individuals and organizations have offered their opinions on how we might reverse our trending decline. Most of these prescriptions address symptoms, not the source of our unhealthy state (i.e., start teaching the Great Commission). Consequently, much of the Western church seems to have checked into hospice care, rather than pursue the cure for our disease.

To state the obvious, the cure we have been offered is God’s grace. The simplicity of that assertion does not make it any less true – particularly when we understand the meaning of grace. From Blue Letter Bible’s Outline of Biblical Usage, grace (charis) is:

[T]he merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.

Grace is the cure for all that ails us. So, how do we, as leaders, acquire the grace of God for the restoration and transformation of the Western church? How do we participate with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the good work they have committed to accomplish in our midst (Matthew 4:19, Philippians 2:13-14, 2Corinthians 3:18)? Read the rest of this entry »

The “grace of God” is foundational to the Christian faith. So why is there so much confusion regarding its meaning? Here’s an exercise to prove my point. Ask ten of your friends, separately, what grace means to them. How many different answers did you get? How many come close to the Biblical definition?

If your experience is like mine, many of the answers you receive will be limited to some work of God. Most Christians in America equate God’s grace with Jesus’ death for their salvation. This is what they have been taught or allowed to believe.

From the Outline of Biblical Usage (https://www.blueletterbible.org), we find that the charis of God is “the merciful kindness [goodwill and favor] by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.”

Did you get all that?

Grace is not an act of God, nor is it an event. Talking about grace in this way diminishes its meaning – and our understanding of God. Grace is a facet of God’s nature. God is gracious. Those that enter His presence are blessed by His gracious character.

I have heard someone say that grace is the disposition of God toward mankind. This sounds right to me. They go on to say that the grace of God produces things that are beneficial to man: justification, salvation, gifts, fruit, etc. It is important to remember that these benefits are not grace, but its products.

Furthermore, most have been taught or left to believe that grace and its benefits are free. This is wrong on two accounts. First, grace, as a nature of God, cannot be labeled as free (or costly). The Bible never speaks of grace in this way.

Some will acquiesce to this point, and move to argue that the benefits of grace are free. There are several passages they might reference. Let’s start with a couple from Romans. Read the rest of this entry »

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