There is a bright light in the evangelical Christian world today, and in a strange, but not altogether unique way, this bright light has been the cause of great darkness.
That bright light is the emphasis on God’s grace. The pop-evangelical world, particularly among independent, charismatic churches, has served a major rebuttal to the dangers of trying to “earn” salvation through one’s own good works. On this one point they seem to stand arm-in-arm united against any doctrine that would include works as a defining element in one’s salvation.
What is true with the natural eye is also true with the spiritual eye: light is necessary for sight, but if that light is abused and used incorrectly it can cause blindness.
The evangelical emphasis on grace, though intended for good, has indeed been applied incorrectly and has caused a great blindness to fall on its faithful adherents.
In Scripture Christ is pictured as the Bridegroom and the Church (believers) as His Bride. Paul writes, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:31-32). Christ and His Church is the fulfillment of what is prefigured in the marriage between a man and a woman. This is why the Orthodox Church treats marriage as a sacrament and not a mere legal contract.
Grace, as it is popularly preached today in evangelical circles, does not remotely resemble the dynamics present in a marriage. Rather than being relational – where both sides are actively engaged in the marriage – grace is taught as its opposite: FREEDOM FROM playing an active role in the relationship.
The popular phrases heard over again is: “It’s about grace, not works,” or “it’s about grace, not behavior modification,” or “God loves you just the way you are, nothing you do will change that,” etc. The idea is that if grace is all that is required for salvation then one need not be concerned with what they “do,” whether good or bad, because what one does is essentially non-essential. Indeed if one adds works to their faith they run the risk of “falling from grace” and being “estranged from Christ” (Gal 5:4 – an often misquoted scripture dealing with works of the Law and not with works of faith derived from loving obedience to Christ).
Rather than grace being the power to make the Church the Bride of Christ, it is taught as the power to make the Church the Mistress of Christ.
A mistress is under no obligation to be in relationship with the husband. She can come and go as she pleases; the husband keeps no account of her doings; the relationship is one of pure satisfaction of desire. A mistress and a husband are basically connected with a mutual agreement to give each other pleasure. Hence, the mistress only comes around when she is in need of sexual fulfillment or material furnishings (perhaps you’ve heard famous tv preacher lines such as: “Money cometh to me, right now!!!” That’s a mistress if there ever was one).
Grace is the power to become the Bride of Christ, not a mistress. The bride has mutual affection for the husband and that love produces “works” of love. She guards herself from other lovers (idols), she cares for those things which her husband cares for, and she actively pursues her husband.
She never, not for a moment, has the idea that their marriage exists exclusively in her head; in her imagination. Nor does she imagine that saying “I do” was the instantaneous fulfillment of their marriage. Such a thought would be a nightmare. Why? Because she wants to spend every waking hour with her beloved, in active, participatory love. Anything that would prevent her from sharing emotionally, physically and spiritually with her husband is a torment, not a blessing.
The popular preaching on grace today is just that: torment. It creates the ultimate wedge between the Bride and the Bridegroom by reducing the relationship to a fantasy played out in the imagination rather than a genuine marriage lived in reality. It reduces ones marriage with Christ to a confession and a hand raise. Even if one cannot admit that this reproduction of grace is antithetical to salvation, one must at least admit that it’s boring.