Wineskins Archive

January 21, 2014

Too Good to Be True? (June 1993)

Filed under: — @ 7:21 pm and

by Rubel Shelly
June, 1993

What’s the most astounding, sensational, eye-popping thing you’ve heard lately?

Here’s my real-life, serious candidate for life’s most implausible fact: God loves me, has saved me in Jesus Christ, and will soon welcome me to live with him in heaven!

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Astonishing! Incredible! Too good to be true?

Here is the way teachers who are not led by the Spirit of God teach forgiveness and security: “Well, you need to realize that you can lose your salvation, that it is possible to fall from grace. So there won’t be any condemnation for those who remain faithful, continue to grow in spiritual things, stay away from the old sins you used to commit, and show the fruit of continual transformation.”

Can Christians fall from grace? Absolutely. Are we obligated to put off the old man and put on the new? Of course. But Paul announces God’s merciful verdict on Christians before the trial starts. No condemnation!

“Rubel, you just can’t put such strong emphasis on grace. People will take it as permission to sin!”

Both Paul and I know that grace is subject to abuse. Does grace mean that Christians can just go ahead and sin deliberately? God forbid! (Romans 6:1).

Grace is not God’s permission to sin. We already have that! No, not his advice or consent. But God made us to be radically free people and will not treat us as puppets. If we want to sin, he will not stop us. But the notion that it helps people to avoid sin by filling them with guilt, terror, and neurotic insecurity is an overrated theory of holiness.

God’s answer to sin is not “Stop it, scumbag!” but “Look at my son on the cross, and see how much I love you!” Where sin increased, grace increased all the more. His one righteous act brings life for all men. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Unthinkable! But true!

So believe it and weep. Weep for joy. And out of a spirit of gratitude for his stunning love, honor him in obedience born of gratitude rather than guilt, of security rather than shame.

In this issue of Wineskins, we explore this exciting theme of the gospel of the grace of God. Critics and enemies will be disappointed to find that we do not offer a “grace only” doctrine that denies human responsibility; searchers and discouraged souls will perhaps take heart to find that we do believe in a God who is greater than our human insufficiency.

Rubel Shelly preached for the Family of God at Woodmont Hills in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1978-2005. During that time he also taught at Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He holds a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, and is the author or co-author of many books, including The Jesus Community: A Theology of Relational Faith and The Second Incarnation. He presently lives in the Greater Detroit area where he teaches philosophy and religion at Rochester College. He is known as a community leader in Nashville and has served with such groups as the AIDS Education Committee of the American Red Cross, a medical relief project to an 1100-bed children’s hospital in Moscow called “From Nashville With Love,” and “Seeds of Kindness.”

He is the author of more than 20 books, including several which have been translated into languages such as Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Russian. He has published widely in religious journals. He is co-editor with Mike Cope of the online magazine New Wineskins. Shelly has lectured on Christian apologetics, ethics, and medical ethics on university campuses across America and in several foreign countries. He has done short-term mission work in such places as Kenya, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Russia. He was educated at Harding University (B.A.), Harding Graduate School of Religion (M.A., M. Th.), and Vanderbilt University (M.A., Ph.D.). He is married to the former Myra Shappley, and they are the parents of three children: Mrs. David (Michelle) Arms, Tim, and Tom. []


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