Holiness and Grace in the Local Church

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I preached a sermon several months back entitled “The Holiness of God and the Reality of the Christian Life.” In it I tried to present a biblical balance between God’s holy standard and the reality of our experience. To varying degrees, sometimes public, sometimes intensely private, we all fail.  We all sin. All of us can relate to Romans 7. I don’t do what I want to and know I should, and I do what I know I shouldn’t. Paul is a miserable man. So am I. But then Paul writes Romans 8, and light pours into my soul. There is no condemnation.

We have had a series of incidents recently in the church that have forced the debate between holiness and grace to center stage. What should the position of the local church be when people fail? What processes of church discipline should kick into effect when unholy behavior is evident? How much should we “punish” the offender?

The gambit of responses runs from good ol Amish-style shunning to open-arm embrace. Obviously the extremes are erroneous reactions…but if we could put holiness and grace on two sides of a seesaw, which carries more weight? What should be the emphasis of the church in dealing with renegade lives? (That’s pretty much all of us, by the way).

It’s a tough question. If a Christian can live like the world and the church doesn’t seemingly care, people will notice. Especially people who are fighting the same temptation. But if repentant believers are treated so harshly that they are practically shamed into going somewhere else, what sort of family and community do we really have?

A favorite extra-biblical saying of mine is “make your words soft and sweet, because one day you’ll probably have to eat them.” The spirit of this phrase is found in Galatians 6:1-3

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. (NIV Bible)

Sin is something that we need to take seriously, in our own lives and in the corporate life of the local church. Nevertheless, the judgement of our sin took place at Calvary, and we are not called to live a condemned life but a forgiven one. Yes, repentance needs to take place. Yes, humility on the part of local church leadership is paramount.

This gospel business is a messy one. Our bad decisions often times lead to bizarre circumstances of hurt and relational chaos. But one day God will present us to Himself as a radiant bride, without spot and glorious. How? Through His relentless love and irresistible grace given to us. Not because we deserve it, but because He wants to.

In the meantime, dear God, give us wisdom. Constantly bring us back to the foot of the cross.


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