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Does Grace Only Liberate or Does It Also Discipline?
May 22, 2007
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
866-295-4143,
fbns@wayoflife.org
The impression given by Chuck Swindoll [in the book Grace Awakening] is that the sole function of grace is to liberate. He celebrates continually the believer’s ‘freedom,’ ‘liberation,’ and ‘deliverance’ from restrictions either real or imagined. Grace gives us ‘permission to be free’ (p. 5). We have ‘liberating grace’ (p. 8). ‘All who embrace grace become “free indeed”’ (p. 46). ‘You will be free’ (p. 53). You should be ‘enjoying your liberty’ (p. 132). These are but a few examples. Many more could be listed.

In authoring his book, our brother seems to be obsessed with the great bondage under which believers seem to labor. After reading his book, I could not help but ask myself, ‘Why have you never felt this great burden of “bondage” about which he writes?’ I was raised in a strict ‘holiness’ home. I attended a Christian college, which would be viewed as having restrictive rules. I have ministered in and been pastor of churches that maintained high standards of conduct for their members and leaders. In the years of my ministry, I have never felt I was in bondage to or misused by any human. I have never felt restive under rules or restrictions. It is interesting that in recent years this seems to have become a problem for some. Why? I believe it is because of the tremendous pressure of the wicked age in which we live. Holy, godly, and separated living is no longer ‘in style.’ It is viewed as an anachronism and a ‘bother.’ God’s grace is being used by some as a way by which to allow Christians to do things they have not done before with the idea that it is perfectly acceptable. Some Christian leaders and their followers are ‘caving in’ to the spirit of the age.

While it is certainly true that grace liberates us, it is equally true that grace enslaves us. If this is not so, then James was terribly mistaken when he introduced himself as ‘James, a servant [slave] of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Jam. 1:1). The New Testament is not all about what we can do, but it is also about what we cannot do. The ‘grace awakening’ emphasis neglects this aspect of grace.

Grace was fully revealed in Jesus Christ. The word ‘appeared’ (Tit. 2:11) focuses on Christ’s incarnation. Paul is arguing in Titus that godly living is mandated by God’s truth. He gives us an important lesson on grace that must not be forgotten: ‘For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world’ (Tit. 2:11-12). This is what we might call the ‘restraint’ or the ‘control’ of grace. Grace does not merely allow us to ‘run wild,’ to ‘do our own thing,’ but rather it enables us to ‘say no’ to the ungodliness around us and to live self-controlled lives. Grace, in other words, is not merely liberating but also controlling. A Christian walking in grace is liberated from the power of sin but is under the control and restrictions of the Master.

Notice that Paul’s concept of grace includes the negative, as well as the positive. As believers under grace, we are to repudiate ‘ungodliness’ and ‘worldly lusts.’ What is included in these? Certainly in order to obey such command, some specifics would have to be given. It is this that Swindoll resists. We are to avoid ‘ungodliness,’ but let no one presume to instruct us as to what it is. This we must figure out for ourselves because we want no authoritarian intrusion into our person choices. This approach is neither practical nor scriptural. ...

It is interesting also that Paul instructs us as to how the truths of grace are to be communicated. ‘These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee’ (Tit. 2:5). This seems to conflict with the notion that no one has the right to ‘tell another believer what to do.’

Certainly there are some Christian leaders who have assumed more authority than they should. There are also some who employ their authority in repulsive and abrasive ways. However, we should not, on this account, draw back from the proper use of authority. Paul says, ‘these things,’ these matters about life under grace, should be communicated by God-called leaders with ‘authority’ not with reticence. In other words, we are not to leave choices regarding Christian living simply to the unguided and uninstructed decision of each believer, but are to actively, boldly, and authoritatively call God’s people to a life of holiness.


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