Why is there opposition to the message of grace?
As I started to contemplate and preach on the subject of grace, as a church we have experienced a surprising amount of opposition, resistance, threats, intense temptations unusual afflictions and distractions. It is so beyond the norm that I have to conclude that there is a supernatural empowerment behind the opposition. Anything that can derail us from the message, or cause us to doubt, is being employed. It is surprising because grace seems to be such a benign message. What could be offensive about forgiveness, the kindness of God, acceptance, hope, comfort, truth, and a revelation of the heart and nature of God that has been revealed to us through Jesus? I believe the answer is that opposition is stirred up because grace is at the very heart and core of the gospel. John says that grace and truth were realized through Jesus (John 1:17 NASB), after 5000 years of human failure.
What is the dynamic of grace that is such a threat to the kingdom of darkness? The law was proven incapable of changing the core of sin in the human heart because of the weakness of the flesh. Grace is the word of the cross, the power of God revealed. It carries with it the means to break out and translate us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son; into God’s marvelous light. Grace means that we are not governed by the indirect rule of law without the Spirit, but we come under the direct rule of God, the Holy Spirit in our heart. That is the power that transforms a life. It is the ultimate grace. Grace is the means of sonship, the ultimate threat to the kingdom of darkness. It is the means for ordinary people to experience glorious freedom as sons, the freedom that is in the glory. Understanding the grace message from this perspective explains the intensity of devilish opposition to the message.
Wrestling with principalities and powers
Paul points out in Ephesians 6:12 that we wrestle not with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers in heavenly places. The intense battle is with the spiritual world and its hierarchy. The life of Jesus on earth gives us a model of how to wrestle in this domain. Jesus cast out demons, the spiritual foot soldiers in the dark kingdom, and mandated his disciples to do the same (Matthew 10:8). That was an authority that was so commonly given to all believers and was considered to be an attestation of their faith (Mark 16:17). It was one of Tertullian’s arguments before Roman courts that he used to demonstrate the veracity of the gospel’s supernatural power.
Principalities and powers are a different category of spiritual entities. Principalities, as I understand it, are the spiritual powers behind governing bodies. In Jesus day, for example, that would be the Roman Empire and the entire political and power structure associated with it. A principality was assigned to Israel, and embodied in the Herodians. Jesus did not cast out those spirits, nor did he dispossess the religious spirit that empowered the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Rather he warned his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees and of the Herodians (Matthew 16:11,12 & Luke 12:1).
These three authorities had a governing influence over Israel. Although usually in opposition to each other, they notably allied themselves together to have Jesus executed. The more Jesus demonstrated supernatural power and relationship with God, the more the spiritual powers behind these groups became determined to incite their human proxies to be anti-Christ.
While the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians are no longer on the scene, the religious and political spirits are still active. Their influence continues to target and oppose the anointing through opposing religious and political philosophies, and teachings. Just as the spiritual power behind the kingdom of heaven is compared to leaven, so the religious and political spirit is also compared to leaven. Leaven is yeast that is used to raise bread. The analogy paints the picture that innocuous looking yeast, when it is put into dough, permeates the entire lump, and thereby irrevocably changing the nature of the dough.
The religious spirit
We are warned, just as the disciples were, to beware of the subtle influence of the religious and political spirits. Since people are designed to be both social and spiritual, we are particularly susceptible to these influences. Just as fish don’t realize they are wet as long as they are in water, we do not appreciate their spiritual influence until we are taken out from their domain.
Let’s look at an example of a fictitious person I will call Tom. Tom has an encounter with Jesus and is gloriously transformed. He no longer smokes drinks or is immoral. His foul language has come to an end. Praise the Lord! He is so amazed at his transformation that he wants to tell all his friends. His testimony actually poses a threat to the kingdom of darkness. The religious spirit subtly shifts the focus to Tom’s newly minted holy life and the gospel message becomes “no smoking, no drinking, no immorality or foul language”. The true message of the gospel is the encounter with Jesus, which was the actual cause of Tom’s transformation. The changed outward life is a wonderful outcome of that encounter, but it is only an outward evidence of the much more significant spiritual birth and the presence of the Holy Spirit as the transforming power. The outward changes are good but not the main purpose of salvation. Jesus did not come to make better people, but rather to be the first of a new creation. Tom is a new creature in Christ. Presenting the gospel is imparting the same seed of life through the eternal Spirit.
On another level, revivals are wonderful God sponsored events that can transform whole societies. Religious persecution often follows in an attempt to extinguish the flame of the Holy Spirit. Revivals then often come to an end as a result of political infighting between its leaders. At other times regulations are put in place in reaction excesses, and the freedom of the Holy Spirit is the unintended collateral damage. This is the direct work of the leaven of the political and religious spirit.
The political spirit
Some efforts to politicize of the Gospel are obvious. There is increasing pressure on churches and their leaders to endorse specific political parties and encourage their people to cast their vote in their favour. As a rule, I believe that is an abuse of a privileged position spiritual authority. The church should remain an independent prophetic voice, speaking the truth without a partisan bias. Jesus was famous among his opponents for His adherence to the “way of God in truth” and “not deferring to anyone” (Matthew 22:15,16). A partisan voice is easily dismissed by the opposing party, thereby muting the prophetic voice.
Most of the workings of the leaven of the political spirit is much more subtle. Remember that the goal of the political spirit is to distract the church from the Holy Spirit’s governance. Here are two domains of stealthy influence.
Social and political activism is a ready candidate for the political spirit to assert dominance. As citizens of a democracy, we do have a voice and are privileged and responsible for using it to help shape our society in a positive way. However, when we put our actions and words under the banner of Christianity, that crusade overshadows the heart transforming message of the cross.
When Jesus was questioned on morality issues surrounding, for example, marriage, in each case He addressed the deeper root. On the subject of divorce, He referred back to God’s original loving intention for a man and a woman to be united through love in a mystical union for life. Divorce was granted as a concession to intervene and protect against the “hardness of heart” that causes love to grow cold. He came to heal broken hearts that have lost the ability to love, rather than simply condemn divorce. He exposed lust as the root of adultery. He acted in restorative compassion toward those that were caught in the whirlpool of immorality. God still hates the pain and damage caused by divorce, and the betrayal of love inherent in adultery. Jesus’ social reform strategy was to transform the heart by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. That is still His way.
A common strategy in a battle is to bait the opposing army with an irresistible target to focus its resources on an area that will not result in an ultimate victory in the war. Many of the current issues are very close to our heart and seriously antagonistic to moral wellbeing of our society. We feel compelled to act, as we should. We must concede that political and social activism alone is not changing changing our society. American statistics show that of the one million abortions per year, two hundred thousand are performed on women who consider themselves born again Christians. Shame and guilt are not only ineffective tools to stem the tide, that process creates a whole new spectrum of damaged lives. The root of the issue is an irresponsible attitude toward intimacy.
When issues become our message, then we risk competing with, and supplanting, the real message, and alienate the very ones we need to reach. The goal of the gospel is to bring people into relationship with God through Jesus. That relationship is necessary to change the social order.
After a long night of fishing with supernatural failure, Peter learned that supernatural success depends on hearing and acting on the word of the Lord (John 21:6). The fact is that the church is designed to be in supernatural partnership with Him through the Holy Spirit. If we abandon that design, God will see to it that we are fishing on the wrong side of the boat.