I want to share a few excerpts from a book I recently started reading titled, “The Romance of Grace” by Jim McNeely III. What I love about this book is how he clearly shows that what we understand as morally good and our passion and desires are only truly brought into sync by receiving God’s pure undiluted grace.
McNeely also deals directly with the erroneous idea that embracing God’s radical grace (or hyper-grace as its detractors call it) is the same as giving license to sin. I think he provides some helpful insights into the whole license-legalism debate going on today.
The book starts out describing how, before the Fall, our understanding of what is good (moral) and pleasing (aesthetic) were one and the same. But after the Fall, they became divided.
“The will holds firmly to what is proper, what is moral. It imposes control over the wild and uncontrolled heart. Yet in the original Eden, there was no need for division between the “will” and the “desire.” (p.22)
And McNeely brilliantly lays out how a lot of Christian effort today is really trying to suppress our passions and desires by our willpower rather than have them be brought into harmony through God’s love. This is important because when they aren’t brought into unity, we end up with repressive religion. It’s still eating from the wrong tree, even though we may call it spiritual discipline. Sadly, this is often what is taught as living the Christian life and, therefore, the state of a lot of believers is less than one full of love and joy.
“Now we live in a world in which it is alien to even the most zealously righteous person that the moral good could be the clearly desirable thing; rather, the moral good is set against the aesthetic good. Pleasure is universally wrapped up and intertwined with the forbidden and with destructive selfishness.” (p.21)
Then he shows how this division of the heart and will leads to legalism (even though legalistic people never seem to see themselves as legalistic.)
“It bears saying that what the law really does is press notions of right and wrong on the unwilling person, setting him against his desires…the pressure to resist the inner desire and instead comply with the moral indicative is what Paul would call the law….
However, in imposing moral codes that are inconsistent with their inner desires, they divide their inner man between the moral and aesthetic good. They then believe this division is the essence of true faith. That, dear readers, is legalism….
In this division of moral good versus desirable good, the emphasis on morals over desire is what makes religion seem so colorless and lifeless…
To the divided person, the liberty of desire looks like a green light to sin.” (p.22-24)
As I have said, while true grace preachers are not preaching license to sin, living in religious legalism doesn’t stop sin either. As Paul pointed out to us, it only heightens the desire. Furthermore, it creates repressed and frustrated Christians who just hide their sins and judge others who do them more openly. This is why a religious spirit is such a mean spirit. Here’s more on that from the book….
“Moral good without the desire to do good is still a desire for evil–one that is merely thwarted. And living in a state in which your desire is thwarted isn’t freedom; it is torture! In a way, sinners who do what they want are much happier than religious, moral people who do what is right but try never to do what they want. Real healing, real grace, real power for living comes when we change over to the universe of grace. To those on the outside, it looks like the freedom to sin, because their desire is still wrapped up in the forbidden. But to those who enter grace, the hope is that the power and attraction of the forbidden begins to die off; then is when we begin to learn to live with a true passion, a true desire, for the living God. Thus the division in us, this split of the good into two halves, unites in our truest self, and we start to learn what it is to live in accordance with the reality of this love with a single mind and a whole heart without shame or remorse.” (p.26)
For this last point alone, The Romance of Grace is worth reading (and the Kindle version is only $2.99 US). I believe McNeely is masterfully pointing out here where God is bringing His beloved sons and daughters today–into a new realm of grace and desire that those stuck in orphan-hearted religion will not understand.
This book clearly makes a point that I contend for. We don’t need moral codes and more principles to follow, we need to be overwhelmed by Divine love and stay there. And in, and only in, His presence is the fullness of joy we’re looking for (John 15:11).
As James Jordan pointed out at a conference, the church is finally coming into a revelation of who they are, and their relationship to God, to where they can now enjoy their life more than sinners. Imagine that!
Living by grace brings what is right and what is desirable into perfect unity without giving license to sin. And that’s because when the Son sets you free, you’re actually free.