For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
Grace and Kingdom
The gospel gives us a perfect synthesis of grace and the kingdom.
"He saw a publican named Levi, sitting at his tax booth, and said to him: Follow me. And leaving everything, he got up and followed him" (Luke 5: 27-28). "Again the next day John was with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus who was walking by, he said: Behold the Lamb of God. The two disciples heard him speak and followed Jesus" ( John 1: 35-37). "... bear witness to the gospel of the grace of God" ( Acts 20:24). "Jesus went through all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom..." (Mt. 4:23).
Those who believe obey, those who obey believe
Dietrich Bonhoeffer , in his book "Disciples", noted this difference in the Christianity that was lived out during the time of World War II. The emphasis: "Those who believe, obey" is presented by those who emphasize grace. The emphasis: "Those who obey, believe" is presented by legalists. Here it is clearly seen how two biblical emphases that are true end up distorting the meaning of the Scriptures.
The two statements are correct, because faith and obedience are truths that the Lord expects to be fulfilled in his disciples, but when they are separated, the disciples are led towards either passivity or activism. For "cheap grace," as Bonhoeffer calls faith without obedience, leads to passivity, and the emphasis on obedience leads to the activism of works of the flesh.
These same emphases appear throughout the New Testament. When there is no revelation of the complete truth, only a partial one, they become separated and are emphasized in this way, creating almost antagonistic currents within Christianity.
The Gospels mention "the gospel of the Kingdom." Paul in The Acts of the Apostles mentions "the Gospel of Grace." Are there two gospels? No. The gospel is one, because the gospel is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The gospel of grace
By emphasizing grace alone, we present Christ as the Lamb in his redemptive aspect, giving Himself as a ransom for sinners, demanding no more than faith alone. Faith is the tool that appropriates all the goodness of God, granted out of pure love to those who come to Christ to accept the multiple benefits dispensed by the Father. Grace operates from heaven, in a definite way towards sinners who are dead in their sins, unable to do anything by themselves, having no merits through which they might receive grace, but on the contrary, because they are helpless, due to their condition of death and condemnation; God shows his love, through the death of the Lamb, propitiating salvation entirely by grace and at no cost to the sinner.
God has made Christ to be for us "wisdom, justification, sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor 1:30) Paul guided Christians towards the knowledge that in Christ they are complete, that in Him we have everything and that "you are not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1: 7).
Grace gives everything out of pure grace; Grace, contrary to the law, does not demand conditions, faith is sufficient to receive "the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness" ( Rom 5:17). To receive is to believe. All this work is carried out by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who are joined to Christ, without responsibility or effort on the part of the believers, other than just faith.
When grace is emphasized, faith and the Spirit are necessarily emphasized, for these categories of words will always go together; and, on the contrary, when obedience to the law is emphasized, the works and the flesh are also emphasized, these three categories of words being an inseparable unit. However, the gospel is one and we need to understand it in its entirety.
The emphasis in the gospel of grace is summarized in the phrase: "those who believe, obey" or "the true believers are those who obey." This means that faith comes first and obedience comes later, as a fruit of faith. Paul speaks of "obedience to the faith" ( Romans 1: 5). What is involved in the message of faith? Receive Jesus Christ as a whole: "In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written: But the just shall live by faith" ( Rom 1:17). Paul's thinking is that the gospel begins with faith, and continues in faith throughout the Christian's life.
The gospel of the kingdom
On the contrary, the emphasis in the gospel of the kingdom is represented by the phrase: "Those who obey are the true believers", for which a series of biblical texts are cited to support (as in the emphasis of grace) such a statement.
There is the case of Matthew, to whom Jesus says: "Come and follow me." He, at once, stopped what he was doing and followed him. What came first in this case ... faith or obedience? First obedience, but on the basis that Matthew believed that Jesus was the Messiah - which is implicit in the story of his calling.
The case of the disciple whom the Lord commands to preach the kingdom, but he excuses himself saying that he must first attend to his father until he dies; to this, Jesus says: "Follow me; let the dead bury their dead " (Matthew 8:22). This disciple had a measure of faith in the Messiah, but he had no revelation regarding the value of the kingdom. He considered that caring for his father until old age was more important than announcing the kingdom. All disciples must know that the first thing in their lives is the King, and then all the other things will be given as additions.
In the gospel of the kingdom we present Jesus as the King; thus, he has every right to demand that His disciples obey him and follow him wherever He goes.
The King's call to absolute surrender and obedience implies, first, that the one who will follow him knows who he is following, even if he does not understand everything - remember that the hope of the Messiah was a faith of every true Israelite, so that, surrendering to Him implies accepting that Jesus, truly was the Messiah, and this was a fact of faith in the first place.
What the King demands He has given first in grace; there is nothing that He asks of us, that He has not given beforehand. The emphasis on obedience is correct, as is that of grace, because we cannot deny anything that Jesus demands, since He has every right to command total obedience from His disciples.
The King knows that He cannot send His servants in their own strength; He knows that they have to be empowered. In this aspect grace shines, because through it the disciples will be able to give up their lives for their master.
There is no contradiction between grace and law. Grace gives, the law demands; only now, in Christ, the law demands what grace gives. For this reason, Paul points out that now, in grace, "the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" ( Romans 8: 4).
When Paul was asked if, by being under grace, we would continue to sin, he answered: "In no way" , because being under grace is being under Christ and being like this: "I can do everything in Christ who strengthens me" ( Fl . 4:13). This is the omnipotence of grace, which enables the disciple to obey his Lord in everything.
In the Old Testament, believers were under the law. That was a regime of works based on the efforts of the flesh. God instituted it so that the people of Israel and the generations to come would know that the flesh has no moral capacity to fulfill the requirements of the divine will. The rule of law put the generic man to the test, and it was demonstrated that "the designs of the flesh ... are not subject to the law of God, neither can they subject themselves"(Romans 8: 7).
God took away the regime of the law and moved us into the Spirit, which does not mean that the law disappeared, but only that the regime disappeared. The regime of the letter of the law was replaced by the regime of the Spirit. The law cannot disappear because the law is the character of God, just as Christ is the image of God. The law was incarnated in Christ and fulfilled by Him. Now, since Christ is our life, in Him the law was given to us to be lived out in the Spirit.
Before, the law was outside of us, today it is inside. The ceremonial laws disappeared, because in Christ what was previously a shadow and a symbol, found its fulfillment, but the moral law cannot disappear because it is the character of Christ. Look at the Sermon on the Mount and you will see that the law that Jesus gives His disciples is higher than the law of the Old Testament. The disciples are called to obey those external laws that are now engraved by the Spirit in our minds and in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is imprinting the character of Christ in His disciples.
The effects of faith and obedience
If we emphasize faith, we necessarily emphasize grace; if we only present the gospel of grace, without presenting the gospel of the kingdom, we will be presenting a "cheap grace", since in grace, truly, everything is given to us gratuitously, without responsibility on the part of the one who receives it.
Many Christians, upon hearing the call of grace, have remained stagnant and, therefore, passive in their Christian life. This is because only half of the gospel has been preached to them.
In the parable of the hidden treasure, Jesus points out the need for the disciples to sell everything to acquire that field, in order to possess the treasure. To sell is to renounce this world, the family, the goods and even one's own life, take up the cross every day and follow Christ. This is the cost of following Christ. It's worth it. Everything else is legitimate and of value, but when compared to the value of Christ, it is like nothing: "However many things were for my gain, those I have counted as loss for the love of Christ" (Phil 3: 7).
In the parable of the pearl of great price, Christ is the Merchant who seeks precious pearls, who having found one of great price sold everything he had and bought it. This pearl is the church, for which Jesus emptied himself, in order to obtain for Himself what he considers most valuable. What He asks of us, he has first given.
On the other hand, if we emphasize obedience, without grace, we will make the disciples turn to works, we will fall into a legalistic regime, full of human works and efforts. An unbridled activism, with restrictions, oppressions, fatigue and weariness, is what is seen in many Christians where a regime of this nature is demanded: an oppressive, weary Christianity, lifeless, full of structures, systematized, methodical, focused on submission and authority.
Look at the damage that is done to the people of God by putting these emphases separately. The whole truth, the complete gospel, consists of preaching and teaching Jesus Christ as Lamb and as King. The two truths go together. As the Lamb, He gives everything, as King He demands everything.
The example of John the Baptist
We need to preach the gospel as a whole. The greatest need for sinners is to have an encounter with the authority of God, to recognize the Lordship of Christ in their lives. But remember: if they only hear demands, without hearing of their condition and moral ruin in front of a God of love who pities them and has mercy in granting grace to raise them up, in order to form in them the restoration of His image, then we will not fill up the measure of what God wants to accomplish through discipleship.
John the Baptist is an excellent reference for how disciples should be formed. The two disciples of John heard that he spoke to them about Jesus, and they followed Jesus. This is what we all have to do.
No one has the right to have disciples, Christ is the only one. Those of us who serve Jesus are the bridegroom's friend, not the bridegroom himself. Let Christ be the only bridegroom of the church, let's not fall into spiritual adultery stealing the affections of the bride away from the bridegroom. We mustn’t allow disciples to follow us; let's always present Christ.