Q&A: How do you Balance Grace and Obedience?

Original Question: “Setting aside cheap grace (believing without obedience), does the approach of emphasizing obedience lead to moralism and works-based salvation mindsets (my works save me and approve me before God). How do you help keep a balance of obedience and the disciple’s affections for God and grasp of grace?”

Answer: Our first question asked of every passage we study through Discovery is: “What is revealed about God?” Obedience grows out of a burgeoning awareness of who God is and what causes his heart joy, concern and deep passion. People can only be expected to respond in obedience to the degree we are coming to know God. Responsive obedience is what we are calling for in this emphasis.

We are not talking about merit!!! Salvation is “by grace, through faith.” Every DMM catalyst I have interacted with absolutely believes, teaches and leads from that conviction. But they also are grieved by the absence of the healthy call to respond in obedience to King Jesus. Grace is our foundation. It is our hope. Obedience is our faith response. The sheer fact that this is so often missed is intriguing to me. Why do we automatically hear calls for responsive obedience as meritorious?

Q&A: Do You Recommend Changing the Questions?

Actual Question: “In DBS, after reading the scripture, the 3 key questions asked are: 

1. What does this scripture tell you about God?

2. What does it tell you about mankind (fallen man)?

3. What change do you want to start to see in you by the Holy Spirit’s help?

My question: Have you considered adding a question before the last one, inviting people to talk about what Jesus did to the fallen condition of man, and to remember the power that Jesus enables, so that the Gospel becomes the power to change, rather than just our will?”

My Response:

Many have changed the questions, for many reasons. Some do because they get bored asking and answering the same questions week after week. But it is that repetition that allows lost people on the way to faith to be able to start Discovery with their family and friends. “Who are you doing this to benefit?” is the question I want to ask these adapters.

Obviously, the form of question # 3 above introduces the work of the Holy Spirit prematurely, if the group is primarily composed of lost people. It has been inserted by the person who wrote the question. The actual questions I recommend people ask after the passage has been read twice, retold and any details noted which were omitted in the re-telling are:

  1. What do we learn about God?

2. What do we learn about people?

3. How will you put this passage into practice?

Why would you want to insert the suggested additional question? What do you hope to accomplish by inserting it. If the participants are not yet believers, they likely do not even know there is a Holy Spirit. That is one of the biblical truths we believe they need to discover from the pages of the Bible rather than depend on our observations about him as their entre into knowing him. I suspect the inquisitor is thinking about a group of Christians doing Discovery and the need to get them to think about what God is calling them to do, rather than depending on their feelings, emotions or self-will. That is not the setting the DBS questions were developed for use. Maybe many who profess to be believers are so much in need of these additional questions because we have never really expected them to directly apply the Word of God to their lives.

Talk of Obedience Rattles Cages!

Ever go to a dental office to have a tooth filled and have a Bill Cosby flashback? His dentist routine is a classic! Rolled into the humor of attempting to speak with drool running out of your mouth around that sucking hose, while attempting to speak to some guy who asks you questions when he has his hands in your mouth, there is that line about not using a sharp metal object. Hygienists often discover that cavity by using a sharp metal object. They keep probing until they strike “Eureka!” by getting you to yell louder than any other patient that week. These paid professionals are probing for pain (do not do this at home since you are not a paid professional, at least not in this field—well maybe one or two of you are).

Those of us who seek to instigate movements seem to “strike a nerve” by our discussions of obedience-based discipleship. Some yelp with pain the very first time they hear it. Usually they, or a loved one, have been abused by a tyrant who practiced spiritual abuse. Others writhe with discomfort allowing their non-verbal clues to communicate that they have only recently been extricated from legalism by the “jaws of life” called grace. And then there is a third group I will call the “grace police” (GPs).

“O-B-E-Y” is clearly a four-letter word to these GPs. Their spiritual calling is to sniff out any hint of works righteousness. In their passion to accomplish said calling, they doubt the language of obedience can be used in any sense other than to talk of merit. Regardless of how many times you affirm that you are teaching an obedience that is “from” grace, not “for” grace, they will have none of it. They are quite sure you are setting a “Trojan Horse” trap. They must protect the non-thinking church from wolves-in-sheep clothing who would dare to believe that faith can be strengthened, deepened and expanded by doing what God says. These folks have obviously missed any discussion of prevenient grace (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevenient_grace).

Alas, their aversion to any sense of obedience-based discipleship is far-reaching. They not only reject that not-yet-believers can do anything prior to the moment of faith when they clearly grasp who Jesus is and accept that he died in their stead, they reject that talk of obedience has any place anywhere in discussions of discipleship.