The recent controversy about the dealings of BJU with GRACE concerning the ongoing investigation of abuse has resulted in many voicing their viewpoints about problems with how cases involving abuse are handled in our day. For me, the intense recent attention to this problem has stirred my mind in a different direction to an issue that I believe is just as important to address.
The Contemporary Overemphasis on Certain Aspects of the Grace of God
For many years now, Christians in many circles have been highly focused on emphasizing the grace of God in salvation and justification. These believers frequently decry what they deem as “legalism” among other believers whom they consider to have deficient perspectives about the grace of God.
This intense emphasis on grace in reality has been an overemphasis on only certain aspects of the grace of God, namely, how God’s grace spares repentant sinners from the eternal judgment that they deserve for their sinfulness and provides complete acceptance with God for believers apart from their good works as a believer. Far too often, this emphasis has been accompanied by a serious lack of emphasis on other facets of what God’s grace to repentant sinners means for their subsequent lives as believers.
What Paul’s Emphasis on Grace Included in His Teaching to Believers
Certainly, Paul emphasized the grace of God in salvation to the lost people that he evangelized (Acts 20:24). He similarly stressed the importance of grace for believers by highlighting it in his teaching to them, both in person (Acts 13:43; 20:32) and in his Epistles (e.g., Eph. 2:8).
Notwithstanding this vital Pauline emphasis on these aspects of God’s grace to both sinners and believers, Paul’s ministry to believers about God’s grace in their lives also included an emphasis in his teaching to them that is sorely lacking in many churches today. In his teaching that emphasized the grace of God to new believers in Thessalonica (cf. 1 Thess. 1:1; 5:28; 2 Thess. 1:2, 12; 2:16; 3:18), Paul also stressed their susceptibility to divine judgment even as believers should they engage in immorality:
1Th 4:1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.
2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.
3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:
6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.
7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
Paul here reminded the Thessalonians that he (and Silvanus and Timothy) had previously forewarned them and testified to them about Jesus as the Lord who is the avenger of all who are defrauded among believers by the immorality of their brethren (1 Thess. 4:6).1 Not only did he remind them that they had emphasized this truth to them previously, but also he warned them anew with that same truth by including this teaching in this epistle that he wrote to them.
Based on Paul’s emphasis to new believers that the Lord would avenge all believers who are defrauded by the immorality of other believers, we know with certainty that Paul’s stress on the grace of God in the lives of believers did not mean that he focused his teaching to them about grace only on its so-called “positive” aspects. Rather, Paul solemnly testified to believers of the fearful accountability that they would have to the Lord if they engaged in fornication.2
Jesus’ Emphasis to His Churches about His Judgment of Immorality among Believers
As Paul did with the Thessalonians, so the glorified Jesus warned believers in His churches about His fierce judgment of immorality among believers:
Rev 2:14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
Rev 2:20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
These passages make clear that the glorified Jesus wants His role as the avenger of all immorality among believers to be emphasized greatly in His churches.
A Desperate Need in Churches Today
For some time now, the preaching and teaching in many churches has had an overemphasis on the grace of God that saves sinners and grants them full acceptance with God as believers. This overemphasis has been at the expense of the necessary repeated solemn warning of believers about Jesus’ judgment of all immorality among believers.
Such a flawed emphasis on certain aspects of the grace of God has undoubtedly fostered abuse among believers because many of those who have abused others have not received the proper warnings that they should have received. Regardless of whatever else that is good that will come about through the ultimate resolution of the BJU-GRACE matter, churches everywhere need to be warned repeatedly by their leaders that living in the enjoyment of the grace of God does not exempt any believer of fierce divine judging of him should he remain unrepentant of abusing others through immorality.
1 Hiebert explains,
This duty of chastity is vital because “the Lord will punish men for all such sins.” . . . He satisfies justice by inflicting the due punishment upon the wrongdoer. . . . Christ will be the sure and just judge “for all such sins,” all the different forms of carnal impurity.
—D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 187
2 Some may object to the idea that God judges believers. David testifies to the intensity of God’s chastening on him (Ps. 32:3-4) for his great sinfulness, which included adultery and murder. Moreover, David experienced profound consequences for his sins (2 Sam. 12:10-12; 14), including the death of his newborn child (2 Sam. 12:18).
Paul also makes clear that God does chasten believers with judgment in this life if they refuse to repent of their sinful deeds as a believer:
1 Corinthians 11:30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
This clear Pauline teaching about the Lord’s chastening judgment on believers should serve as a profound warning to all believers against abusing other believers in any way, including sexually.