Is there such a thing as too much grace? Can grace be overemphasized in the believer’s life?
During our lengthy discussion on grace, a few people have said to me: “Aren’t you talking too much about grace? Aren’t you ignoring the sanctification process? Aren’t you giving people a license to sin? Isn’t your message one of cheap grace?”
Many people—even well intended believers—object to a focus on God’s grace. Too much grace seems dangerous. They envision that those who speak freely of God’s grace are living secret lives of wild, unrestrained sin and are leading others down that road as well. They call it “cheap” grace or sometimes “hyper” grace. It seems too full, too free, too unrestrained. What is the balance with obedience? Because aren’t we called to be overcomers as well?
To study the concept of too much grace we turn to the story of Hosea and Gomer.
You likely will never see a children’s book with the story of Hosea and Gomer. You will see many with pictures of David standing over Goliath, his sword dripping blood and Goliath’s head severed from the rest of his body, or Daniel in the lion’s den, or the three Hebrew worthies being burned alive.
There is no shortage of Bible stories full of violence, often illustrated, related to children. But you will not find the story of Hosea and Gomer among them. It seems that biblical violence is okay for children but sex is not. And in some ways that’s a shame, since the story of Hosea and Gomer is the best story in all of the Bible about grace.
The name Hosea is a variation on the Hebrew name Joshua, which in Greek is the name for Jesus. It means salvation, deliverer, or savior. You recall the angel says to Joseph:
“She [Mary] will give birth to a Son; and you shall name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21).
Gomer’s name means consumption. She’s a consumer. As the story progresses, we see that she is a massive consumer of mercy, forgiveness, and grace. The story is both autobiographical and a parable.
God gives Hosea an instruction to go to find a wife in the most unexpected place for anyone, much less for a prophet:
When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife inclined to infidelity, and children of infidelity; for the land commits flagrant infidelity, abandoning the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. (Hosea 1:2-3)
In other words, he was to find a wife from the brothel; a sex worker, a prostitute. Prostitutes embody the essence of a sterile relationship in which there is no commitment, no emotion, and no love. Everything is simply transactional. In our relationship with God, we—you and I—are Gomer: Uncommitted, unattached, unfaithful.
Marriage apparently did nothing to reform Gomer’s lifestyle or her occupation. Her whoring continued. She bore three children, two sons and a daughter. We are not told who the father was of these children, but it’s not hard to imagine, in an era of primitive birth control and knowing her occupation, that these were not Hosea’s children. They are the work of her hand, but apparently are cared for by Hosea.
Their names, Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi, are significant. They show the fruit of Gomer’s work apart from Homer, the savior. Jezreel is a valley of lushness and fertility in Judea, but it is also a place where many battles are fought, many lives lost, much blood shed. Our work apart from God is destructive and fatal. Lo-ruhamah means “no pity,” “no mercy.” Gomer apart from Hosea is without mercy. She is merciless. Lo-ammi means “not my people.” Apart from our Savior, we are not God’s people.
We don’t know how old Gomer was when she got married but based on her success in her occupation and her fertility she was probably rather young. But after bearing three children and with the passage of time, it does not take much imagination to see what happened to her. Is there anything more repulsive than an old whore, an aging prostitute, an antique call-girl?
The result of having three children alone, along with the passage of time and the effect of gravity on the body, leaves very little in the places where God put them originally, and imagine her worn out teeth and pasty makeup, her old broken jewelry.
It is not a very pretty picture.
Too strong of a picture, you say? Too graphic in detail? This is the reality of the story. It is essential to see this and to comprehend it in order to appreciate God’s everlasting, unlimited, and relentless grace. We are as attractive to God as a worn-out, broken-down whore.
But there is more. Hosea discovers that he cannot simply love her to get her back. He must pay something. He must buy her back:
Then the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet is committing adultery, as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.” So I purchased her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and a homer and a lethech of barley. Then I said to her, “You shall live with me for many days. You shall not play the prostitute, nor shall you have another man; so I will also be toward you.” (Hosea 3:1-3)
You see here no remorse, no repentance, no spontaneous apology. Apparently, this decrepit hooker was not attractive enough to make a living in the usual way, turning tricks. She had apparently enslaved herself to someone else, as an occupation.
Hosea evidently did not have enough money to pay off her debt in cash. The cost of buying a slave was 30 pieces of silver:
If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. (Exodus 21:32)
That is the amount Judas received for selling out Jesus.
Hosea needed to take barley, to come up with the balance in kind. He gave all of his money and all of his food in order to buy her back. Here we have a picture of what God gives up for us. Buying us back like Hosea bought Gomer back takes everything he’s got. He gave it all including, of course, his life.
We—you and I—are Gomer. We are worn out, broken down, unattractive, uncontrolled, unfit, unreformed, unrepentant, unremorseful. On top of it all, we are indentured and costly to redeem. But Hosea/Joshua/Jesus the Savior gave it all. Not just money, but his life. He gave everything he had.
Despite how revolting, despicable, repulsive, unrepentant, loathsome, and odious we are, God loves us and wants us back and is willing to give everything to pay to get us back as well. As he says to Israel in Hosea 11: “How can I give you up? How can I let you go?”
Isn’t this really too much grace?
We usually see grace as a continuum, with grace on one end and obedience on the other. We see them as polar opposites. We see grace as somehow making exception to our obedience. We are to be as good as we can be, then grace makes up the rest. That “God helps those who help themselves” is one of the most often-quoted verses in the Bible—except, of course, that it’s not in the Bible. As we see in Gomer, God helps those who cannot help themselves.
Gomer is bad. She is bad to the bone. It’s not that she’s pretty good and just utters an idle word here and there or commits a slight indiscretion. The point of the story is that she’s not merely bad, she is most sincerely bad. Hosea and Gomer, I’d like to suggest, come from two completely different spheres, two completely different domains, two different realms: Hosea from the realm of God and the divine; and Gomer from the realm of Man and the mundane. You might even think of it in terms of the two trees in the garden, as we’ve talked about so many times.
Grace is not a thing. It’s not an item. Grace is goodness. Grace is God. Throughout scriptures, grace is equated with Jesus Christ. Grace is God himself:
After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and we saw His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The very name of Jesus/Joshua/Hosea means salvation. In the Greek, we have three allusions to the magnitude of God’s grace. It uses the prefix hyper, a word we understand well, to refer to the hyper grace of God. Maybe similar to John 1:16’s reference to “grace upon grace.” God’s grace is over abundance. It is hyper grace:
The Law came in so that the offense would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,… (Romans 5:20)
Where sin abounds, grace abounds. It becomes hyper grace,
…so that in the ages to come He might show the boundless riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:7)
…and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:14)
God’s grace is hyper because God’s grace surpasses everything. So since his grace is an attribute of God, indeed, grace is God, God himself. There really can be no such thing as cheap grace, because God is not cheap. There is no such thing as too much grace, I contend, because there is no such thing as too much God. Grace and obedience are not opposites. They’re not even in the same domain, not even in the same realm.
The goal, the outcome, the end product of grace is salvation. The end product of obedience can never be salvation, because it is…
…not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:9)
If it is not salvation, then what is the goal or the outcome or the end product of obedience? We are, after all, called to obedience, to right living, and to overcoming. The goals of obedience are realized in the earthly domain. Living by God’s rules doesn’t assure you of salvation, but it assures you of a better life here. To live a godly life here is to be a better citizen. It is to be a better father and a better mother. It is to be a better spouse. And in living a good life, it enhances the community that you belong to.
But it doesn’t make you look better to God, because God loves you anyway—even if you look like a worn out, broken-down streetwalker.
The goal, the end product, of obedience is terrestrial, not celestial. But grace has a role to play in obedience as well:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and in a godly manner in the present age, (Titus 2:11-12)
Grace doesn’t just bring us salvation, it helps us to say “No!” to sin. The very thing that covers our sin helps us to also shy away from, to shun, sin. There is joy and freedom in believing that you don’t have to save yourself. There is a peace which comes from being justified by faith, as Paul says:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we celebrate in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
Nothing makes you shun sin more than standing in grace. The freedom of not being condemned liberates you to do good, knowing that you are in a right relationship with God. And whatever faults you might have are covered by him. Where sin abounds (Romans 5) hyper grace abounds all the more—not so that you can sin more, but so that you can live in more grace.
Living in grace, standing in grace, is to live and to stand in goodness. It is a divine gift. It provides freedom to obey and to be obedient without a guilty conscience, without worrying about every failure. Like the paralytic by the Gate Beautiful whose story we studied some weeks ago, this is the occasion to leap and to run and to infect the entire community with goodness.
So can we have too much grace? How to share grace? Can we share grace? What is the relationship between obedience and grace? What does it mean to be standing in grace? And how does the story of Hosea and Gomer make you feel? Does it give you, like it does me, tremendous hope?
C-J: I think it’s a beautiful story, but as a woman, it hurts me. It hurts me because of the way the woman is portrayed, in the sense that she is a harlot. But usually harlots were in bondage. They were taken, as you said, very young, and the most beautiful and desirable were taken to the temples to get more money for the coffers. And as they aged, or if they became pregnant, the babies were killed. They weren’t allowed to keep them. And later, as you said, they could be sold to become wives.
A Muslim told me, “Women, we do not respect; mothers we do, because of the garden. She was a temptress and she caused Adam to sin.” It’s a terrible narrative, when we look at humanity because of what you said about God’s grace. God loves women as much as he does men. As you described women who age in Bedouin tribes, in ancient times, yes, they lost their teeth. Part of the reason their whole body was covered was not so that men wouldn’t be tempted but that they didn’t see the ugliness of what creating life, holding life, birthing life does to a woman. She puts on weight, she gets stretch marks, she may become incontinent, she’ll lose her teeth, because if the baby needs the calcium, the baby will get the calcium from her as the baby develops; hair falling out… all the things that happen to women that we don’t talk about but are real. The high risk of death.
Women are placed in terms of temptresses and evil. The grace that is told in this story as it progresses is something that is beautiful about our faith. And that none of us come without a history. We’re born into iniquity or bondage because we have to rediscover who we are: Spirit beings having a human experience. And it takes time.
I hate to say it—it’s hard for me—but many are called but few choose God, the Christian God, the Holy Spirit. It’s a beautiful story, but it’s filled with much sadness. And as you described it, the fertility, the fighting, and then the asking for mercy. But God’s mercy cannot be measured. It is a beautiful story of restoration. It goes beyond forgiveness. It’s just the beauty of God.
Michael: I love the story. I think it’s a great story. But I also think that Connie is adding something very important to it. Understanding the symbolism of humans as whores—men included—is one thing but the hard lives implied in that symbolism is what makes God’s grace all the more important for us to see, because we really do live hard lives, and that makes the grace we’re offered even more needed, and much more precious.
Kiran: I like this story. I can relate to the woman in the story because when I became a Christian in the beginning we used to write down each Friday evening how many of the Ten Commandments we broke, then we would work really hard the following week not to break those rules. The experience and what it taught me is what my baby is going through right now. Either you’re physically weak and you don’t have the strength to overcome a difficulty or it becomes such a habit that you cannot escape from it without some sort of help. Or society is structured in such a way that you cannot avoid being bombarded daily with hindrances to living a holy life.
But the point here is that God understands all this and no matter how many times you fall, his grace doesn’t change, and he keeps paying the price. Eventually, at some point when the body is so weak it cannot do anything else, Gomer could focus her attention on the love of God and what he’s doing for her and then reciprocate. But God did not require that reciprocation, he just simply kept doing it.
A lot of people today have one sort of addiction or other—food, video games, whatever. They all would relate to this story. No matter how hard they try, sometimes they just can’t get out of it. They are being exploited to be consumers of that product. It’s a kind of enslavement that happens in every arena of life.
To know that no matter how often and far you fall, you can always come back, is liberating. In fact, you don’t need even to come back, God Himself comes down to you and pays the price, no matter how many times it is. He takes you and also your baggage. There is no better story for grace in the Bible than this. That it is found in the Old Testament is itself somewhat amazing.
Carolyn: I have just read an article about the death penalty. It just brought back this story. Is it appropriate for us to not be concerned and just live in our little castles and not realize what’s going on on death row? Even though the convict may be ready to die and has asked only for grace and love. But one condemned man who gave his heart to the Lord and asked for grace was shown no grace. It was the Old Testament “an eye for an eye” for him. Where was the grace of the New Testament?
Don: Is the picture too vivid?
Kiran: When you look at the implications of this story in real life, let’s say a pastor had some affair in the church. What would you do with him? Suppose a church member had some sort of problem that we don’t accept, what would you do with them? And how would you behave with others as God behaves with us? This is so radical that most of us cannot accept it. I think that’s the problem.
C-J: That happened to a pastor I knew and the church tried to be gracious and supportive, bringing in other pastors who picked up the responsibilities and counseled him. But in the end, he refused to take responsibility. He would not submit, so he and the church split. I left.
I think the harm within your own church makes it even harder because we hold ourselves to such a high standard, and yet we have clay feet. As we were talking, and speaking for myself, I was reflecting on places in my life where I extended grace, but only for a season. The expectation is: “You will understand what is done here, you will own what you have done here, and you will change your behavior and make restitution if necessary.”
But when grace is given from the hand of God, it’s without measure, and it’s continual. “Let’s try this again.” I don’t have that capacity. I don’t think humanity has the capacity, even though we say we should and we could. When I look at this progression of fertility and into fighting our war within ourselves, the only thing we can do is fall on our knees and say, “Lord, I can’t, thy will be done” and surrendering. There’s no negotiation. “Lord, forgive me. I surrender.” It’s profound. It is incredibly profound.
David: We’ve been on the topic of grace for a long time, but in introducing Hosea, I think we could be on it for an awful lot longer! I have not read Hosea, except maybe for snatches here and there. Skimming it quickly just now, I realized there is a wealth of discussion material. For example, God said that Gomer was not one of his people, and that he was not her God. But a short while later, in Hosea 1:23, he says: “I will also have compassion on who had not obtained compassion. And I will say to those who were not my people, you are my people. And they will say, You are my God.”
If God has a goal, if he’s looking for some kind of quid pro quo in return for his grace, maybe it’s that it will encourage people to recognize him as God, to say ‘You are my God.” It seems to me that’s a very big deal because it points directly at one of the two things Jesus said were most essential: Love God and love your neighbor. To love God it is enough to accept the presence of God—to believe in God. If grace leads you to believe in God, I think that’s what God hopes it will do.
Dewan: We talk about blessing, grace, freedom of choice… these can be confusing. They are all connected with God’s name. God has many names.
The “Creator” God is a loving God. He gave us freedom of choice, a common blessing for everyone, including Muslims and Hindus and whoever. For example, he provides life, water, air, and food for everyone. This is a common blessing.
“Jehovah” is a special name for the God of Israel. He said, “Remember me. Don’t worship idols. I will not share my glory with others” and he became a jealous God. He gave so many blessings—the Ten Commandments, for example. Manna in the desert was a special blessing for Israel.
“Emmanuel” God, Jesus Christ, became the savior for all mankind. We are followers of Jesus Christ, of Emmanuel. This is a special blessing for us—the blessing of the Holy Spirit. If we follow the spiritual law, then the Holy Spirit will be with us. So this is a special blessing, not for everyone; only for those who follow the spiritual law.
Common blessings are for everyone—Hindus, Muslims, whoever—because he’s a loving God. But he has many names. When Moses asked, “Who are you? What is your name?” God said, “I am. I am in everything.” But now we are followers of Emmanuel. God is one. We believe in the Trinity, but he became a savior and for this special blessing, we have to follow the spiritual law.
Reinhard: We see grace mentioned often in the New Testament, and prostitutes mentioned many times in the Old Testament. In this story, the prostitute is Israel, which was consorting with other gods, with idols. God became very angry with Israel, arguing back and forth just as Hosea and Gomer did. This is to describe how even God’s people disobeyed him and revolted against his will. Through Hosea, God really wants to show the reality of things happening in Israel, but God gave his grace to them over and over, though grace seems to be focussed upon more in the New Testament.
It is the same in our lives. Our faith is fluid—sometimes it goes too far, sometimes it does not go far enough, sometimes it goes astray. The lesson here, I think, is that God’s grace is given to everybody, that God’s love is never-ending. Although sometimes we don’t see God’s handiwork in our lives, when we are down, God is always there, God always comes back to us. If we want to really return to God, we have to realize how much he loves us and we need to pray to put our lives in his hands and at his mercy.
The Holy Spirit is always at work in each one of us. As long as we want to do the right thing, as long as we want to have a good relationship with God, God will always take care of us, look out for us, in everything we do in this life.
David: It’s clear that Gomer needed grace. It’s not so clear that Hosea needed grace.
C-J: I think Hosea did need grace—grace to forgive what he did not understand. If he was told by God, he was obedient, but to have enough grace to love Gomer when he did not understand? As it was defined, and as Dr. Weaver described, she was unlovable. Any man can look at a woman on the street and know that there was a lot of damage before that occurred.
And so I think he too needed grace. He needed God’s love resident within him to cover what he couldn’t understand. He could see it, he could name it, he could describe it. But now he’s being told to love it. That’s a very high bar.
David: But it doesn’t say that in the story. It doesn’t refer to Hosea at all as a recipient of grace.
Kiran: True, but he’s an example of God showing grace to others.
I was particularly thinking that the amount of sacrifice that Hosea had to have in his life, to extend grace to this woman, was also considerable. God’s grace comes to us for free, but it costs everything to God. And when we do extend grace to others, it also costs something for us. I think that is exactly what is needed.
We are to be like God, and that means we have to sacrifice the way he does in terms of time, in terms of resources, in terms of peace of mind, and so many other things that Hosea lost when he brought Gomer into his life. In fact, people would have thought him crazy. Why was he doing this? He’s a prophet! He must have been ridiculed.
C-J: He was so poor, he couldn’t even pay the 30 shackles. Yet he was obedient, and the cost in terms of humility was required. It is a beautiful story. We all need grace and the price is immeasurable.
Michael: I don’t know why we’re talking about Hosea. I thought the focus was supposed to be Gomer. She’s the easy part! God expects us to be Gomer, not Hosea, who is the symbol of Jesus (bearing his name). I’ve never thought about my role as Hosea. I was just enjoying being.Gomer!
Carolyn: I’ve always looked at Hosea paying the price, and always giving, and giving. But Dr. Weaver’s beautiful presentation of grace today really made me feel like my responsibility is always to give grace to those around me. It isn’t cheap grace. When you give grace to someone, you give them the benefit of the doubt, many times, and love comes into it. There is no way we can do this without love. But this discussion has really opened up my eyes in many ways to the depth and breadth of this story. It has moved my heart.
Don: I had no idea that the story of Hosea and Gomer would put so much silence on everyone’s lips.
We are winding down our discussion on grace, but I do think we need a little bit more time on it.
We became immersed in the subject of grace because being a God of all mankind means that he’s the God of grace. The fourth mystery that we want to look at, in addition to the mystery of iniquity, the mystery of godliness, and the mystery that God is a God of all mankind, is the mystery of what grace does to transform us.
I’d like to begin that subject next week. If you want to prepare, the story of the conversion of Saul to Paul (Acts 9) will be the jumping off point for discussion on how grace transforms us.
Michael: Our study of grace has helped me to understand and appreciate it. I am definitely starting to see how it is liberating me in my daily life. It is already making a transformation in my life.
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