JUST FOR LEADERS

-A monthly article for inquiring pastors and ministry leaders who are interested in building a grace-based church or ministry-
By Dr. Ron Woodworth

 

A Hermeneutic1 of Grace

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Introduction…

BibleResearch“Calvin was brilliant, but his doctrine of double-predestination, whereby God either saves or damns everyone prior to their birth, is a misuse of the biblical idea of sovereign election.”2 So was my argument3 to a friend when we were talking about the pros and cons of Calvinism, or Reformed theology. Frustrated by the nuances of the various schools of theological interpretation, my friend finally threw up his arms and rather passionately exclaimed, “Well then how do you ever know if you’re interpreting the Bible the right way?!”

In the process of addressing his frustration I noted at least three essentials to biblical interpretation–which I have come to call “A Hermeneutic of Grace.”

This hermeneutic of grace revolves around the understanding and application of at least these three biblical words: grace, love, and wisdom4–which should inform every serious student and teacher of the Scripture. In this article let’s cover the foundational concept of this particular hermeneutic—Grace.

Grace is essentially the foundation of the New Covenant…

For the law was given through Moses; [whereas] grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

For it is by grace—you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 5:20-21)

You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Gal. 5:4)

Grace changes everything!

Our relationship with God, our understanding of the Bible, and our life in the world are all radically altered by a proper understanding of God’s grace toward us in Christ Jesus.

Consider the following:

  • Grace relocates the center of our devotion from the head to the heart.
  • Grace changes our focus from external standards to internal motivations.
  • Grace allows us to live from love—not for it.5
  • Grace releases us from striving—bringing us into a place of resting…from achieving to receiving…from an angry attitude to one of gratitude.
  • Grace moves us away from fear and insecurity–into a realm of trust and confidence…from man-pleasing to God-serving.
  • Grace frees us from an obsession with sin and guilt—into a celebration of forgiveness and righteousness.
  • Grace delivers us from the religion of Christianity–into a relationship with Jesus the Christ.

This freedom we have in grace has helped me steer clear from any number of issues that could potentially frustrate even the most serious Bible student.

For instance, the historic connection between pagan holidays and the celebration of Christmas, Easter, and especially Halloween6 have caused many a sincere Christian parent to wonder what to do. The “perspective of grace” says that so long as one is sensitive to ones’ own conscience—as well as the conscience of others in what they approve—there is liberty:

So whatever you believe about these things [eating meat which has been previously sacrificed to an idol or worshipping on a particular day of the week—in relation to keeping the Sabbath] keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself [or others] by what he approves.” (Rom. 14:22)

In other words, there is liberty given to each believer as to how they use their freedom in relation to many social customs of the day. Some may choose not to participate while others may choose to participate to the degree that it does not violate their personal faith or testimony to others—be they their children, friends, or acquaintances.

Conscience-based scriptural principles vs. adherence to biblical laws…

This hermeneutic of grace, which I am also calling a “conscience-based Scriptural principle approach to living,” can also be applied to any number of issues including tithing, tattoos, cremation, entertainment, health food, Sabbath keeping and worship, etc.

For instance, the law of tithing is replaced by the grace of giving, which is guided by the conscience-based Scriptural principle of honoring God (Pr. 3:9-10) and being generous with others (Rom. 12:8); tattoos, though indeed condemned in the Old Testament (Lev. 19:28) are not specifically unlawful for believers under grace–even though many may find them distasteful and damaging; cremation, rather than burial, is also an issue of personal choice under grace. Though some may sacralize the body more than others we are all promised an immortalized body in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:50-54); entertainment is also a freedom we have that is guided by the conscience-based Scriptural principle of sowing to the flesh or spirit and reaping accordingly (Gal. 6: 7-8); health foods are certainly a wise choice, but no one should insist that based on the Bible, God requires us to eat in a certain way. Remember, Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19)…though admittedly he did not say that all foods were healthy; regarding worship or resting on a certain day of the week; although the Sabbath is literally from Friday evening to Saturday evening, no one should be required to worship or rest on a particular day (Col. 2:16). The principle of the Sabbath rest (one in every seven days) is a wise enough encouragement, but again, not a New Testament commandment, which is quintessentially to live one’s life for the love of God and humanity.

Love the Lord your God…And…love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)

There is much more that could and should be said about applying a conscience-based Scriptural principle orientation to life, but it is hoped that this very brief overview should help stir us up to a more faithful interpretation of Scripture—the Hermeneutic of Grace.

Grace (charis) and peace (shalom),

Ron


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[1] Hermeneutics is the science-art of biblical interpretation

[2] “…For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some and eternal death for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say he is predestinated either to life or to death,” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Ch. XXI, Sec. 5) Also see my previous article on “Calvinism Revisited: A Constructive Critique.”

[3] As an aside, one can argue without being argumentative, or have an opinion without being opinionated, or contend with out being contentious.

[4] The key verses for concepts regarding love and wisdom would be Matt. 22:37-40 and James 3:17-18 respectively.

[5] This phrase came from my good friend Dr. David Orlowski in his new book The Heart of the Matter.

[6] See the following source: http://paganwiccan.about.com/library/weekly/aa032503holidays.htm