Extend the Same Grace You Preach

I did it for years. I was good at it, but I didn’t know it. It shaped how I preached and how I sought to pastor people. If you would have questioned my theology, I would have been offended. I was an ardent defender of the “doctrines of grace.” I knew them well and could articulate them clearly, but at ground level something else was going on. In the duties, processes, and relationships of pastoral ministry I actively devalued the same grace I theologically defended. My ministry lacked rest in grace. It lacked the fruit of grace: confidence and security. So I attempted to do in people what only God can do, and I consistently asked the law to do what only divine grace will ever accomplish.

How does this happen? The heart of every believer, still being delivered from sin, is tugged away from rest in the nowism of grace to some form of legalism. Even after we’ve been saved by grace, we tend to think, I am righteous and don’t need a Savior. Thinking ourselves to be keeping the law, we bring the law to law breakers, hoping they will see the error of their ways and buck up.

No one preaches the law more than one who thinks he’s keeping it. And no one gives grace more tenderly than one who knows he desperately needs it. The temptation to revert to legalism greets us all.

Resources We Need

But there are two specific places where a pastor is tempted to devalue grace. First, there is a temptation to devalue the grace of the indwelling, illumining, convicting, guiding, and enabling presence of the Holy Spirit. (See Romans 8:1-11.) God knew that our struggle with sin was so profound that it was not enough to forgive us. No, along with forgiveness he unzipped us and got inside of us by his Spirit. In his presence we have the resources we need to be what we’re supposed to be and do what we’re called to do.

When you devalue this grace, you think it is your job as a pastor to manage people’s lives. You simply become too present in their lives and too controlling of their thinking and decisions. Your ministry begins to migrate from being focused on telling people what God has done for them to being dominated by telling people what to do.

Maturity in the body of Christ is never the fruit of such pastoring. No, the fruit is behavioral and cultural uniformity masquerading as maturity. Only when a pastor rests in the grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit is he freed from managing people’s lives, sensitive about when to speak and when to be silent, when to be active and when to withdraw, and when to counsel and when to trust God to guide.

The goal is not a congregation uniformly conformed to the lifestyle of the pastor, but one that is progressively conformed to the likeness of Jesus. This means a congregation growing in Christ even though members of that congregation are making different decisions at ground level.

Rest in Grace

There is a second grace pastors are tempted to devalue. It is the grace of the priesthood of all believers. This grace not only welcomes every believer into God’s holy place by the blood of Jesus, but also calls every believer to be a minister of that grace in the lives of others. (See Colossians 3:12-17.) When you devalue this grace, ministry become dominated and controlled by the paid staff, elders, and deacons. You don’t preach the truth of the essential sanctifying ministry of the body of Christ, you don’t give people ministry vision, you don’t call them to lifestyle-shaping ministry commitment, and you don’t train them for service. You emphasize formal programmatic ministry while neglecting the call to informal member-to-member ministry.

The fruit of this is a passive congregation, who thinks ministry is never official unless a pastor is there, who thinks of ministry as a weekly schedule of meetings led by the pastoral staff, and who have become more consumers than participants. The “joints and ligaments” are not esteemed and trusted to do their part; as a result, the body is weakened.

When a pastor holds a theology of grace but functionally devalues God’s grace in life of the believer, he will be too present and controlling in ministry, and the fruit of his ministry will be uniformity and passivity in the body of Christ. How different from the true maturity produced by a ministry that rests in God’s grace.

Rest in grace for a pastor is a war. Again and again our self-righteous hearts migrate toward ministry legalism and control. It is humbling yet important to confess that we desperately need grace to be able to rest in grace. Isn’t it comforting to know that we have been given the grace we need in ministry so that we will not devalue the grace that we preach?

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  • http://www.redemptionfallriver.com Tom Cabral

    Jerry Bridges discusses this in his book “The Bookends of the Christian Life”.

  • Justin R.

    Absolutely true post. I am a youth pastor. I see the decisions being made by our young adults and want to step into every situation and “save them all.” I love that it is not my calling to save, but to point to the one who does. “Rest in grace for a pastor is war.” True words. Thanks Paul!

  • http://ChristMyCovenant.com Moe Bergeron

    Paul, Thank you for this.

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  • http://www.gospelgrace.net/ Luma


  • http://www.takeacopy.com/ John Dunn

    A powerful word of instruction for those pastors who regularly preach from Sinai’s lofty cliffs . . . and for those poor sheep who are slavishly seated under its terrifying shadow.

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  • http://www.truthtolove.com Brad

    Not to diminish Paul’s overarching point, I think we would do well define “living in grace” as ordinary Christian love. In this way, we take the theoretical (the theology of grace) which pastors love but have such a difficult time embracing in our age, and put into a practical, tangible light which the New Testament authors defined (and most importantly, Jesus himself) as Christian love.

    Also…resting in grace is a war for everyone.