Michael: During last week’s class, the discussion shifted from Judgment to Grace. Judgment and Grace are very different from each other. Judgment is administered by people most of the time. However, our religions teach us that God is a grand judge as well. There are many verses in the bible to support this. On the other hand, Grace is a serious challenge to judgment. It flips it upside down: the prostitutes enter first, followed by the tax collectors, then the other myriad sinners and last enter the saints.
First of all, I want to make it clear that in the bible there are enough verses to support either Judgment or Grace. In the case of Judgment, there are no shortage of verses spanning the entire bible, if you want to learn more about it, feel free to walk into the sermon of practically any church you can find around you. In the case of Grace, there are many verses on the forgiveness and mercy of God in the Old Testament.
As we discussed before, Jesus used cognitive dissonance to teach us about Grace. On the other hand, Paul tried to explain Grace rationally in his letter to the Romans. Perhaps trying to explain Grace rationally like Paul did is the reason why he sometimes comes off as bipolar; grace isn’t rational. So, both narratives or views are represented in the bible; I can easily build an argument to support one over the other.
What is quite fascinating to me, is that even though this is the case, Judgment is way overrepresented in church sermons everywhere you go. The grace of God is fine and dandy, but judgment reigns supreme. Most Christians believe in judgment over grace. That has been the leading thought of Christianity throughout the ages. I would like you to take a minute to consider this further. It is quite fascinating that despite their differences, every single church or Christian denomination has very similar beliefs on God’s judgment. They may disagree on when the last judgment has occurred or will occur and how it will look like, but they hold the same beliefs on the mechanism of judgment.
For today, I would like to pitch the realms of Judgment and Grace next to each other. When thinking about this, I realized that the same words carry different meanings in the two realms. Take the word sin for example. In the realm of Judgment, sin means doing something against the Law of God which will get you separated from God. Since the Law of God is very similar to the moral code, then sin has a moral aspect to it. On the other hand, in the realm of Grace, sin means seeing things differently than God, therefore, “missing the mark” on how God sees us. There’s nothing moral about it.
Sin is just one example, there are several words and concepts that take different meanings when we discuss judgment versus grace. And I think this is one of the issues that makes Grace very hard to understand. So, to facilitate today’s discussion, I created some visuals to help us compare things better. Since a picture is worth a thousand words and seeing is believing, I hope this method may shed some light on these concepts.
The idea of judgment ties with it other concepts such as free will, responsibility, and moral accountability. What moral accountability implies is that doing morally good things accounts in your favor, while morally bad things count as sinful. Note that none of this is specific to religion. These concepts have been philosophically debated for centuries; they are the cornerstone of our justice system, they are the code of good governance, to living in a safe neighborhood, to having predictability and trust in our daily lives. These are very important concepts that gave us safety and security and allowed us to live with each other in a society which then supported our creative side. New technologies and advanced sciences have significantly enhanced our well-being and allowed us to live in an age of prosperity.
To reiterate, the concepts of judgment, free will, responsibility, and moral accountability are very important concepts that we cannot live without. But they aren’t specific or restricted to religion. In fact, these are mostly mundane concepts. In religion, these same concepts take on an eternal dimension: your acts here don’t just decide your fate on earth, but the fate of your soul in eternity. Other than this caveat of eternity, there’s not much difference in the concepts.
Fig. 1 attempts to showhow these concepts come together within the realm of judgment. I would like you to follow along with my presentation while I’m doing the reading. In the realm of judgment, it is your responsibility to consistently choose good over bad. This will not only make you a good citizen but will give you a better chance at going to heaven. It is assumed that you can make this choice using your free will. With your free will as your starting point/default setting, you can choose to do good or to do bad, what is good and bad is closely defined by what is moral and immoral, so it does change with culture and time.
Doing bad is doing sin. As a good citizen and a good Christian, it is your responsibility to choose good over bad. In order to go to heaven, your good should outweigh your sins, while the opposite lands you in hell. Salvation is in your own hands, and you win it through the correct exercise of your free will. In other words, salvation is your responsibility, you have to carry its crushing weight on your shoulders. This is the love and wisdom of God who gave us free will instead of forcing us to submit to his will and therefore make us slaves rather than free humans. Where does Grace fit in this system? In this system, Grace only has a minor role, where it can delete some of the minor mistakes that you made, but nothing major.
In the realm of Grace, you walk hand in hand with God. You are forgiven, and currently wearing the robe of righteousness. This is your default setting. To see it this way requires Faith (Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast). When and if you exercise your free will, you stray away from Grace (next slide). It doesn’t matter what you do with your free will, you have willingly left the house of the father. So, in this realm, exercising your free will is what counts as sin, because it takes you away from God. Sin here does not have anything to do with morality. The definition of sin here is a separation from God, by “missing the mark” (next slide) on how we view our relationship with God and Grace.
Salvation is not in your own hands, it is not your responsibility, it is the responsibility of God. God provides salvation, forgiveness, and Grace throughout the bible. But I will depict it here as the cross of Jesus (next slide). This is where the heavy weight of salvation is, not on our own shoulders, but on the shoulders of the cross. This is also where the responsibility sits (Isaiah 43: 25: “ I, yes I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake and remembers your sins no more”).
What about judgment? Where does it fit in this picture? Judgment here is based upon whether you decide to stick it out by yourself with your free will, or if you ditch your precious free will and choose God’s precious Grace, or God’s way. (John3:19 And this is the judgment: The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light because their deeds were evil). Judgement is choosing the darkness over the light, it is missing the mark on how God sees us, it is being sinful. Notice that sin here doesn’t have any moral equivalency. It avoids all the traps we talked about regarding the effects of genetics and the environment.
Living in the dark and not being able to see the light amounts to blindness (John 12:39-40): “Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’” In order to see the light and be saved, you only have to turn around. This is the love and wisdom of God. It is not by giving us free will, but rather by offering us everything else if we have faith in grace.
As you can see, these are very different realms (Fig. 3). Importantly they are mutually exclusive, meaning you can’t have both, we can either have judgment or Grace. The reason for this is because the default setting of the judgment is to have free will, which already puts you away from God in the realm of Grace (next slide). Choosing to step out of Grace through free will, regardless of what you do with your free will, is outside the default setting of Grace.
Can you see the difference between grace as a pencil eraser and grace as the robe of righteousness we got through the cross of Jesus? What I have tried to highlight in the visuals is that since the mainstream narrative in religion is the judgment narrative, Grace becomes problematic. To guard the judgment narrative against Grace, the role of grace has to be minimized, otherwise it can destroy the judgment. But, this effectively discards grace, because Grace cannot be minimized. What I would like to suggest to you is to give Grace a real chance, even if just once. When you read the bible next time, instead of reading about grace through the judgment narrative, read about judgment through the redeeming picture of Grace.
Are you surprised by Grace? There is nothing mundane about Grace. You can’t find a description of it in philosophy, the justice system, or even psychology. Grace is a 100% spiritual concept. What is more, Grace is uniquely a Christian concept; other religions don’t have a similar concept.
Christianity is losing ground. The Christian religion is not doing well and, in the west, Christianity is being replaced by the spiritual but not religious folks. I believe this is largely due to the focus of Christians on judgment. Instead of God’s love and forgiveness, we preach judgment and hell fire. Please explain to me why would a sensible human being in a first world country want any part of that?
I would like to propose something. It seems to me that the great commission of Jesus to the disciples was to baptize people into Grace: Matthew28: 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” I believe that teaching the message about Grace can rekindle the Christian faith. It can offer peace for the soul which you can’t find anywhere else.
So, what do you think of Grace? Would you rather have a god of fairness or a God of Grace? Do you think the message of grace can touch the hearts of nonbelievers? How do bible verses about judgment fit in the realm of grace? What are your thoughts on this otherworldly concept of Grace that Jesus died trying to explain?
Robin: I agree that Jesus himself said we are saved by grace. It seems then that judgment would only be for those who choose not to believe in grace.
Donald: In John 6, after Christ fed the 5000, they crossed the sea and met the same people on the other side of the city. Even after being fed, these people wanted some kind of mana, a sign from the time of Moses. They wanted to understand faith through sight, which is not really faith, as it involves seeing and believing simultaneously. I’m hesitant to use this example because not everything is straightforward, like in a good marriage. In a good marriage, you approach the wedding day in the context of love, akin to grace. You’re not judging each other that day; you’re looking forward to years of happiness.
Of course, there are rules in marriage, and you might need to discuss them. Ideally, though, things are worked out so you live in the context of love or grace with each other. When things go awry, judgment arises: “It’s not fair. You did this. I did that.” Love fades, and judgment takes over. Christ indicated in John that if you believe, your actions will change. It’s not just about believing. This is challenging for us, and as Michael has indicated, the church seems to prioritize judgment over grace. We could speculate why. Once your heart is aligned, you understand Christ’s plan for you and try to live in that context. That’s faith – believing and acting. But the concept of judgment burdens us, leading us to focus on rules. There are rules, like loving one another and turning the other cheek. These are significant rules. We might feel we can’t live up to them, starting a cycle of struggle. We should discuss the role of the church, as we keep bumping up against this topic. David’s book projected a concept about the church, but without this conversation, we will struggle.
Reinhard: You equated Free Will with sin. On the other hand, sin equals bad. So if A equals B and B equals C, then bad equals free will. However, this doesn’t fit my judgment. To me, free will is a precious gift from God. It’s possible that sin is a result of Free Will, but free will doesn’t always result in sin. God appreciates when we worship Him freely, without fear or intimidation. We are not robots; we choose to worship Him.
Regarding grace, it applies to those who miss the mark, which is the transgression of the law, leading to sin. For those who accept Christ, like the biblical figures, the adulterous woman and other sinners Jesus forgave, the key is their realization of their mistake and genuine repentance. Repentance means turning away from sins committed. When they genuinely repent, that’s when they receive God’s forgiveness. Grace is not given to everyone; it’s active when we repent genuinely. Paul also mentioned that godly repentance leads to salvation, as in Galatians and Second Corinthians.
The law was given through Moses, and judgment was based on that law. However, when we live by faith, we don’t need to worry about the law. The Pharisees stressed righteousness by law, but Jesus changed the paradigm to being saved by faith. The relationship with God is no longer about fear; it’s about closeness. Jesus showed how God wants to interact with humans, changing the perception of God from distant to personal.
The New Testament and Paul talk a lot about faith. Faith is where grace is in action. When we have faith in God and His forgiveness, we receive grace, provided we have true, genuine repentance for our transgressions.
David: The focus in the story of the adulterous woman is often on her, but I started thinking about the crowd after Michael’s talk last week. These were presumably law-abiding Jewish citizens, including some Pharisees, ready to stone the lawbreaker. However, when Jesus said, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone,” they all walked away, recognizing their own sinfulness. This illustrates a deep insight: they were all law-abiding, yet in a sense, they were disobeying their law by not stoning the adulterous woman. Were they recipients of God’s grace? I think they were, at least momentarily. They had an epiphany, realizing they were all sinners, and thus stopped their actions. This story beautifully juxtaposes grace and judgment.
Don: What about the role of obedience? The scriptures clearly call for obedience. But if obedience doesn’t guarantee heaven, can disobedience keep you from heaven? What then is the purpose of obedience if it’s not for salvation? If God’s grace is what saves, why be moral and upright? We seem to have linked obedience to judgment and salvation, but grace turns this idea on its head. What is the role of obedience if not for earning heaven?
Michael: Maybe we need to view this differently. In religion, especially the Old Testament, judgment and obedience are crucial. This might be because religion served multiple functions, including administering justice and maintaining righteousness among people. It wasn’t just about the soul and connection to God; it was the law and civil justice system. This context might explain the emphasis on these concepts historically. But now, religion can serve a higher spiritual role, focusing on spirituality rather than mundane concepts.
David: That’s exactly my point about the story. Jesus asks the crowd to choose between obeying the law or the voice inside telling them they’re sinners and shouldn’t throw stones. This raises the question: Is the word of God in the Bible the same as the word of God in your conscience when praying? Obedience is necessary, but it’s about whom you obey.
Donald: Words like obedience and obey are important; they’re like guardrails, guiding us between right and wrong. I like to think that the Bible and my understanding of God’s word enhance my life, not just in terms of salvation. It’s like a manual for life. If I obey it, my life and those around me are likely to be more fulfilling. Obedience is beneficial. For example, in a hospital, drinking water is prescribed because it’s good for you, though it might not cure everything. Obedience to good practices is beneficial, but whether it leads to eternal life is a separate question.
David: So would you be the first to pick up a stone?
Donald: To throw a stone means to cast judgment, right?
David: Yes, and having laws makes life more comfortable for people—it simplifies judgment.
Donald: It creates a healthier society.
David: … In which adultery has been eliminated by stoning.
Donald: But where does goodness come from? Can it come from beyond spirituality? That’s not the focus of discussion today, but it’s a thought.
Reinhard: Before Jesus showed us real love, religious practices based on the Old Testament punished every transgression harshly, like stoning adulterers. The people who brought the adulterous woman to Jesus were trying to trap him and show righteousness by the law. Paul mentioned that being right with God through the law is impossible, but through the Spirit and by God’s grace, we can navigate life’s ups and downs. If we’re humble before God and seek His forgiveness, His grace will be with us. We don’t need to worry about the law if we’re close to God; our obedience will follow our faith.
Michael: Amen to that.
Anonymous: I’m feeling a bit discouraged and unfocused today, but what I’m hearing suggests a misunderstanding in trying to relate terms like righteousness, judgment, grace, obedience, and law. I see them as strongly connected; we can’t skip any of them in our spiritual journey. We may not understand our current steps, but it’s a process, as God reveals things to us gradually. We grow step by step, coming to know the truth over the years.
The first step, as the Bible illustrates with Adam and Eve, is simple: a single command to not eat from a certain tree. This obedience leads to the next steps. Adam and Eve faced consequences for disobeying, teaching them what it means to defy God: suffering and hardship.
As we walk with God and obey Him, we learn about greater things. He gave us laws, like the Ten Commandments, guiding us through obedience to something greater. Through obedience, we then learn about grace. We understand disobedience, its consequences, and judgment, which is death. But grace helps us do what God wants. It doesn’t exempt us from past judgment but empowers us to live according to His laws.
Grace doesn’t negate the need to follow the law. It empowers us to obey the Ten Commandments more effectively. With grace, our free will is purified; it helps us choose the good even when we’re inclined to do otherwise. All these concepts – law, obedience, grace – are interdependent and crucial for spiritual growth. Living by grace doesn’t mean we ignore the law; both are important for attaining eternal life. Step by step, we grow, realizing that it’s not our deeds but God’s guidance that leads us to eternal life.
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