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Preaching Articles

If you choose grace as a preaching topic, prepare to be misunderstood. It happened to the Apostle Paul; it can happen to you.

Preaching grace is really a dangerous act: is there anything more "irresponsible" than grace? It’s the refuge of losers, the hiding place of the harebrained, the only hope at end of the line. How can people learn anything from grace when they are shielded from the fruit of their ways? How can they grow into responsible adults if they are allowed to avoid the shipwreck of our poor choices?

Sometimes it may be tempting to preach about the predictable world of choice and consequence. Consequence is the lever of choice, tilting upon the worldly fulcrum of cause and effect; sowing and reaping are the dependable laws of nature, and we can find passages of scripture to preach on them. Karma chants responsibility: “Choose, and eat the fruit of your choice.” As pastors we are tempted to wonder, how can people mature apart from learning the mathematics of choice and consequence?

To look at grace from the outside is to see someone getting off scot-free. The work of grace is the spoiling of an only child. Grace runs counter to good stewardship. Grace is the foolishness of giving a field hand a full day’s pay for but a few hours work.

Oh, but from the inside—to taste of grace is to drink the water of life. It’s the meal without the tab; the drinks are on the house. Grace is more and better wine even though the guests are tipsy. Grace is calories that somehow don’t count. Karma is the voice of reason; grace is the voice of love.

But reason cautions us. This makes grace even more dangerous; the unscrupulous can figure the con quickly. Grace can be abused, grace can be played the fool, grace can be wasted—but grace doesn’t care. Grace is the divine scandal. Grace is the way of Heaven, where mercy triumphs over judgment—not that judgment is unknown but rather tried and found wanting.

Simone Weil said there are but two forces capable of moving the human heart: gravity and grace. Gravity, the great force of nature, exerts its unstoppable influence from the outside; grace, the beautiful power of super nature, floats on air.

And here is our dilemma: we discover that people want grace for ourselves, but choose karma for others. Grace seen from the outside is how rogues get off scot-free. Grace seen from the inside is the spring of life. The trick is to help our congregation see grace from the inside—on behalf of others. Grace is more than a gift; it is the example of Heaven. Grace is the way, the truth and the life. Grace calls us not only to taste and see but also to come and follow.

The grand goal of grace is that we would not be mere partakers, but we would become the servants in its grand banquet. Grace calls us to fill the glass of every thirsty soul. As preachers, we should echo that call.



Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

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Horace Whitlow

commented on May 27, 2015

I understand that Ray has been brought up in a western, Greek mindset which brings confusion. The Bible is Hebrew, from Hebrews, to Hebrews. Grace is in Eastern Hebrew Mindset different. Grace is: God's ability in you to overcome the sin in your life. Anywhere you have a problem that you have not overcome, you do not have grace. if grace were present, you would have overcome the problem. Ask for mercy until grace wins.

Horace Whitlow

commented on May 27, 2015

I understand that Ray has been brought up in a western, Greek mindset which brings confusion. The Bible is Hebrew, from Hebrews, to Hebrews. Grace is in Eastern Hebrew Mindset different. Grace is: God's ability in you to overcome the sin in your life. Anywhere you have a problem that you have not overcome, you do not have grace. if grace were present, you would have overcome the problem. Ask for mercy until grace wins.

Horace Whitlow

commented on May 27, 2015

Just another thought, Ray. Your definition of Grace is: permission to sin. Grace is a verb, not a noun. by grace you are saved. grace accomplished something in you that brought salvation. Grace is misused because the Church sees it a permission to sin without consequences. Ask the Holy Spirit which is Yahweh the Father to come to aid and deliver you and expect by faith to receive. It is His promise.

Lawrence Webb

commented on May 27, 2015

The truth of this misunderstanding of grace was brought home to me recently when I saw a panel of pastors on an Internet site -- all of them admitting they had been raised to feel they had to justify themselves before God if they expected God to accept them. To a man, they said much of their preaching and pastoral work had been done with the hope of attaining God's grace. Completely backward to the biblical principle of grace as a gift, not something we earn.

Sibusiso Lushaba

commented on May 27, 2015

this is so true my feeing is grace is Jesus himself showing the love that a human mind will never understand, it will take him revealing what grace is in every situation you face

Dan Thornton

commented on May 27, 2015

Excellent article! It is true that whenever we teach grace and forgiveness with biblical veracity, many will purposely misunderstand. Yet we dare not ever replace the grace of God with a tit-for-tat religious system. Hyperbole is used well in this blog to describe God?s lavish love, patience, and grace. Hyperbole impacts hearts well, but does theology poorly. For those who want to go deeper and try to understand the relationship of God?s grace and God?s justice, simply replace every occurrence of ?grace? in the above blog with ?our gracious God.? Then ask, ?Is this true?? The mysteries are revealed as we get to know our gracious and just God, not as we study the subjects of grace and justice. For instance, our gracious God does give full day?s wage to many who only work an hour, but that does not make him foolish. When our gracious God forgives, yes, the forgiven is restored in relationship to God, yet there are often consequences (not scot-free). Our gracious God does give better wine after the wedding guests have had a lot to drink. Our gracious God, however, does not spoil an only child ? he disciplines him. Our gracious God never runs counter to good stewardship ? even his gracious choice of us losers is part of the great wisdom and superior plan of God. Our gracious God cannot be abused, and will never be played the fool. Yet for all this, we are to preach and teach God?s grace first ? his compassion and ready forgiveness are the fuel to godliness in all those who choose to believe and love Him.,

Tim Johnson

commented on May 27, 2015

I had a good pastor friend who used to teach that Grace is The Empowering Presence of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your comment!

Isaac B

commented on May 27, 2015

Grace! Sweet grace. How sweet the sound to hear of the lost sinner; how wonderful it is to the heart already regenerate. It brings the father's heart made up (since it is unchanging) from eternity past and lavish it upon us in time. It is the sweetest sound in the gospel. We need to be careful however of how we hound God by our theology. He is not scandalised, not at all. Paul didn't entirely picture Him that way. He is JUST while JUSTIFYING the sinner. Paul settled it there. God is SCANDALISED. If He is, Paul will be wrong with that expression. The gospel without grace is no gospel at all. The limitless God however took care of the loose end. He is greater than man's motif of Scandal.

Isaac B

commented on May 27, 2015

Apologies. GOD IS NOT SCANDALISED.

Isaac B

commented on May 27, 2015

Apologies. GOD IS NOT SCANDALISED.

Byron Sherman

commented on May 27, 2015

Well said!

E Lundquist

commented on May 27, 2015

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

Horace Whitlow

commented on May 28, 2015

Grace being God's ability in us to overcome sin. Without Repentance: Turning in the opposite direction, Grace has little effect. Isaiah 26:10 "The Wrong finds favor (grace), yet he shall not learn Righteousness (right way); in the land of straight-forwardness he acts perversely, and does not see the excellency of God.

Paul Creese

commented on Jun 3, 2015

To Understand Grace one must understand Who God is and his will for humans. The bible tells us in Ephesians that from the foundation of the world God created us to be righteous, holy and blameless... God accomplishes this through his Grace, which is Jesus Christ. In this understanding, we cannot simply see grace as something which God applies and lets us off the hook for sin. In Christ, the issue of sin has been taken of once and for all. Jesus Christ died for the sins of the entire world. Our problem them is one of belief. Do we believe that in Christ we are free from our sins. In Christ the reality is that we are indeed righteous, holy and blameless in God sight. If indeed we do believe Jesus Christ and trust that God has already done what he promised and accomplish from the foundation of the world in Jesus Christ, then we are free from sin. Sin has no place in our lives. This is what grace is. It free us from sin, in Christ. So that Grace is not a license to sin, but is that power which free us from its power over our lives.

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