And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”
What is your communication of God’s message to others like? Whether you preach, teach, or simply share your faith, what does it sound like? Would Jesus’ condemnation of the lawyers in the verse above apply to you too?
This is a topic that has been bouncing around my heart for a while now, so it is significant to me that it comes out so clearly in Scripture today . Jesus is harsh, very harsh, toward supposed teachers of God’s word who used it as a club to beat people into submission. Jesus did not have anything nice to say to this group who burdened people with laws without doing a thing to help lighten that burden.
Let me insert a disclaimer. I am not promoting lawlessness. I have no desire to suggest that Christianity does not require that we repent of sin, obey God’s commands, and actually do good things. The Bible has commands, and those command should be preached and taught.
The problem for me is that preaching rules is perhaps the cheapest and easiest thing to do. Preaching grace, that is harder. It is easy, way too easy, to open a Bible text and use it to make up principles that I want you to live by. It is easy for me to make every narrative passage about all of the heroic qualities that you are supposed to emulate if you are going to be a godly person. Preaching grace, that is harder.
It is also really easy for me to find the issue that I am most passionate about, and to make that the central message of my preaching and teaching. It is easy for me to say that good Christians adopt children, give to feed the poor, fight trafficking, engage politically, battle abortion, attend prayer meeting, join choir, plant churches, read theology, read the Bible every year, home-school their kids, listen to sermon podcasts, dress according to my definition of modesty, and avoid whatever I consider to be bad for them. And really, none of those things are wrong. The problem is, in our passion to make preaching and teaching applicational, we end up building a list of things to do and things to avoid that may in fact be completely absent from the passage that we teach. We build the burden for people and lay it on their shoulders. We weigh them down with laws that we have never kept—that’s right, never. None of us has ever lived up to even our own picture of what a good Christian should be. Yet, when we preach and teach, if we are not careful, we will crush people with the weight of expectations that we do not meet ourselves. Preaching grace, that is harder.
Somehow, right Christian teaching includes both a call to repentance, a call to perfection, as well as the unfathomable grace of God. Somehow, we are to call people to live like Jesus while reminding them that they can have the righteousness of Jesus as a gift. Somehow, we are to demand that people change, help them to do so, and remind them that their change is not something that gets them into heaven.
To preach grace requires that we do the hard work of looking at each passage of scripture that we would teach and find in that passage the clear intent of the author. Preaching grace requires that we keep in mind the overall storyline of the Bible as we open a passage to our hearers. If all we do is load people up with laws without also freeing them in Christ, we miss the point. And as we see from Jesus’ words above, missing the point, missing grace, offering law with no help, that is something that is woeful.
So, what then? Am I suggesting that we avoid all rules in preaching, teaching, and communicating? Of course not. We need to demand that people be faithful to their marriages, that they grow in righteousness, and that they participate in the things of God. But we also need to help them to do so with the grace of Christ. We need to realize that communication that has only law is not the gospel, nor is it the message of Scripture.
I once heard someone say that if our gospel does not have people accusing us of being too lawless, our gospel is not the one preached by Paul. I’ll add that if our messages only take Scripture, find rules, and apply them to our hearers, our messages are not the message of Jesus.
Yes, preaching grace is harder. Preaching grace requires us to trust that God will lead people into righteousness through the Scripture without our adding weight to the Scripture. Preaching grace requires that we use the law to show people their need for the Savior, show people the Savior, and then help people love the Savior enough to follow his ways. Preaching grace does not forbid us from telling people that some things are right and wrong, not at all. But preaching grace requires that we offer people a relief from the burden of the law that is greater than simply a call to straighten up and fly right. If this seems impossible, it is—at least, without Jesus it is. Preaching grace is harder, but it is what Jesus does. Preaching grace is the noble call for all who would open God’s word to Gods’ people or who would tell the truth to a lost and dying world.