Chapter 83

The Rich Sound of Grace and Holiness

Why to integrate grace and truth

I grew up listening to news radio on my mother's push button AM receiver in her '64 Dodge. When I got my own car, the sound was worse: a single speaker mounted in the back seat delivered my tunes. When I finally installed a new stereo tape deck with dual box speakers under the back window, the sound was incredible. I remember deliberately taking the long way home just so I could keep on listening to the full, rich sound. Moving from mono to stereo is to the ear like moving from two dimensions to three dimensions is to the eye.

The effect is the same when we preach both grace and holiness. Preaching that resonates requires the full play of both polarities. Twisting the balance dial on the car stereo to one side or the other produces a diminished monotone at best, and at worst heresy. Jesus' preaching was known to be "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

We need to integrate grace and truth for three reasons.

The Preacher Depends On It

Grace does not do battle with holiness.

I am never sure if I should enjoy the pulpit or run in fear from it. A biblical answer would probably encourage both. Some Sundays I can't wait to climb the platform and let loose with the message God has given. The sheer joy of feeding truth to starving seekers is a passion. The privilege of preaching is exhilarating on those days that I am not overwhelmed by the impropriety of such a thing.

While I am familiar with the joy, I am also acquainted with the misery. I have some appreciation of the sense Moses must have had when he took his shoes off because he was standing on holy ground. I am cognizant that I serve the same God as Aaron, who was under strict instruction even to the extent of his underwear when leading people into the presence of God (Leviticus 16:4).

"Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may enter his holy place?" I'm not sure my hands are clean enough or my tongue is pure enough to speak for God before the people. It is preposterous to think I would be fit to represent the Almighty. Some suggest that failure (read "sin") enhances a preacher's ability to relate to the congregation's need. Such people need to reread the Pentateuch.

Or maybe I need to reread Romans 8. I appreciate that I come to the pulpit from this side of the cross. God's grace invigorates me even as it justifies me. Yet, though I preach in the light of New Testament truth, I am challenged by my reading of the Old Testament. The God I serve was awfully particular in Leviticus. I am theologically astute enough to know that he hasn't changed or grown. It is simply that I am privileged to stand at a different vantage point.

Holiness matters. It is not that God decided he had been too hard on us and that if he didn't lighten up there wouldn't be anyone qualified to speak on his behalf. Grace was not a "lightening up." Grace was not cheap. God's standard was not softened; it was satisfied. I am thrilled that God has given me the opportunity to offer his Word as his servant. My awareness of the price tag on that privilege only enhances my appreciation and my passion.

The Message Depends On It

I love to preach grace. My personal dependence upon grace predisposes me to a grace-full preaching diet. I would just as soon leave holiness to the pulpit pounders on TV.

But I am committed to a biblical ministry. The more I study the Scripture, the more I am aware that my affection for grace does not allow a corresponding aversion for holiness. Grace does not do battle with holiness. As Graeme Goldsworthy put it, "The gospel event is not a repudiation of the law; it is its most perfect expression" (Preaching the Whole Bible As Christian Scripture, Eerdmans, 2000, p. 159). Paul's apparent light treatment of the law should not be understood as ambivalence. It is, rather, a function of his location in salvation history.

But Goldsworthy also describes moralistic sermons that masquerade as biblical when in fact they are only legalistic. Even texts that offer ethical instruction need to be read in the context of the gospel. Preaching that emphasizes obedience more than grace is not gospel preaching.

To say what we should be or do and not link it with a clear exposition of what God has done about our failure to be or do perfectly as he wills is to reject the grace of God and to lead people to lust after self-help and self-improvement in a way that, to call a spade a spade, is godless (Goldsworthy, p. 119).

The Listener Depends On It

Listeners have an ear for stereo. I can hear a stinging sermon but only for a little while. The harangue as homiletic has a short shelf life. Similarly, a sweet sermon can make my heart soar, but only in moderation. What is sweet soon becomes sticky and beyond my ability to enjoy or benefit from.

There are some stilted souls who come to be beaten. These are the ones who view the sermon as penance, who have not understood the gospel as grace. There are others as well, who prefer the pastor who believes if you can't say something nice then you had better not preach anything at all. These listeners are elderly children who lack the maturity to value the full sound of stereo.

Most listeners have grown to know that sin has its consequences. Helping them appreciate this as part of the fabric of life under God will prepare them to hear that love has its privileges, that grace is the tonic for our inability to obey. Preachers who fulfill the message of holiness with the life-giving message of grace have found the frequency that listeners yearn for.