by Gerald Vaillancourt General
Individual Implications :
Toward the organized
Toward the Family
Implications for the Local Church
Life has its share of major events and transitions whereby your perspective on things change. And when your perspective on things change, your whole life changes. When a person accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior, there is a heart-level transformation whereby our perspective on life and people become very positive. It is very noticeable in most cases, as people around, including Christians, begin to notice the new zeal and enthusiasm. In the vast majority of cases though, many lose their first love with Jesus and over a period of time find themselves wondering where the initial excitement of knowing Jesus has gone. Most try in desperation to follow the directions of their church in an attempt to regain what was lost, only to find that the weariness of "doing right" and "being right" taking its toll. Others on the other hand who are known for their determination and strong will and a "do or die " attitude attempt to be what a "Christian should be" , in words, deeds and doctrines. Ironically, those usually become the most judgmental and self-righteous in spite of their efforts to "meet the standard."
Then one day, you finally discover that you are no longer under law for righteousness, that you are blameless and without reproach before God , and that the promises of God are yes and amen because you're in Christ. Now, depending on how many years you have been under a performance-acceptance and works-righteousness belief system, the change from being under law to being under grace is quite a transition. Generally speaking, full-gospel folks go through the greatest transitional changes and the longest time before they get somewhat established on the message of the cross.
In this particular section of the Gospel of Peace HomePage, we will cover the particulars and implications of making the change from being under law to being under grace. Readers are welcomed to send us other particulars that we may not have covered or considered.
When Christians begin to hear the truth about the Gospel and what it means to be free from legalism, the most common initial experience is often anger toward ministers , ministries and churches for not letting them know about this wonderful truth of the Gospel. The pedestals upon which Christians have put their ministers and leaders are soon kicked off. At this point, it is normal to see develop a certain mistrust of Christian leadership, no manner how well-meaning they may be. This is a very normal reaction, and the more you bought into the performance-acceptance message, the greater the reaction. Depending on the personality type, this reaction may also be in the form of discouragement. This could last anywhere from a few months to a few years. Some find it hard to believe it can take so long, yet it does, and it's different for everyone.
When Christians have been led to believe that God's love and acceptance and promises are gained by one's level of performance, the reaction can be quite unpredictable. This is when you get to find out who's been operating under legalism and who's been operating under the motivation of love. The motives and intents of Christians' hearts begin to be exposed because the mask of performance is no longer valid. For example, the individual who may have been so proud about their daily hour of prayer and attending every service may all of a sudden slow down or even stop some of their religious "duties". Remember that this slowing down as far as performance is concerned is quite normal, because changing one's motives and purposes is actually a very gradual change of perspective on the Gospel, on God, and toward good works. Yet observing all this in a church setting can be very interesting to say the least. It really opens one's eyes to the full impact that legalism has had on Christians. It becomes evident why the Gospel reveals the true intents and motives of the heart.
In changing from law to grace, this next stage of transition gradually leads the individual into a more meaningful relationship with the Lord, built upon the foundation of gradually getting a greater and greater heart revelation of God's unconditional love and acceptance based on the finished work of the cross. But don't fool yourself; it's not as easy as many presumptuously seem to assume when they start learning about the message of the cross (grace). With the vail of legalism being gradually taken off, the individual begins to see the real condition of their heart, yet at the same time have the comfort of knowing that in Christ they are always righteous and blameless before God. Many begin to question their activities and attempt to judge and decide which is "law" and which is "grace." For some, this can be a confusing time as they try to sort in their mind the implications of being under grace as oppose to being under law. Again, this is all very normal. Remember changing one's basic belief system from law to grace implies changing one's very perspective on God , self and others.
When a couple initially changes from being under a performance-oriented belief system (law) to learning to establish their faith and trust in the finished work of the cross, the marriage itself is not initially affected, or only to a small extent in most cases. When the true nature of God's relationship with each believer becomes increasingly established in each mate's heart, then the couple may start experiencing some conflicts with one another as the marriage itself starts to go through a transition as a result of coming to terms with the truth of the Gospel and the freedom that it brings. Now, in the same manner that control and religious manipulation was recognized within the church setting, dysfunctional aspects of the marriage relationship also starts to be recognized for what it is. In many cases, the husband or the wife who have a controlling mate that uses shame, intimidation or fear as a means of having their way, find themselves recognizing what is going on, and may no longer be willing to submit themselves to unhealthy treatment by their spouse. As you can imagine, this can create some conflict. Please take note though that this particular aspect of the transition from law to grace may not start to manifest itself until at least a year or two after starting to learn the truth about the Gospel.
In the same manner that ministers have the potential of controlling and manipulating their congregation by using the law as a basis for shame, intimidation and fear in order to fulfill their own needs for power , control and selfish ambitions ; the same principles hold true in a marriage relationship. Christians in a congregation who begin to understand that identity and self-worth comes only in Christ and through the finished work of the cross, are not likely to allow leaders in a church to control them , once they begin to understand the wonderful freedom, love and acceptance found in the Gospel. In other words, the law as a basis of control becomes ineffective. As you can appreciate, if a mate is controlling their spouse, he or she may resent having to make any changes in the way things were going so far. They may even blame the Gospel for their new problems, but the fact is that the Gospel has only revealed an already existing problem. In the same manner that ministers will feel threatened when members of their congregation are no longer co-dependent on them and cannot be manipulated any more, so it is in a marriage coming out of legalism. At this stage, things may get worst before they get better. It all depends on the more legalistic mate's willingness to let go of control. That conflict can get as nasty in a marriage setting as it can in a church setting. Remember that one's belief system does not stay at church when you come home. It's a part of you and no one changes their belief system overnight.
In principles, when a family that has been raised under works-righteousness and performance-acceptance begins to learn the truth about the finished work of the cross, the same type of conflict that can be observed in the marriage itself, can be observed between the parents and their children. The age of the children will determine to a large extent the level of difficulty the family may experience in going through this transition. The other significant factor will be the willingness of the parents to let go of legalistic means of relating to their children as opposed to principles of grace. In the same manner that ministers may not appreciate making such changes in relating to their congregation, parents may not like this part either. When parents recognize they were controlling, an apology to the children may do a lot to help the whole family go through this transition. One of the effects of being under legalism for so long, is the tendency to misinterpret the Gospel according to what legalism has gradually developed in one's heart. For this reason, some teens for example may interpret freedom from the law as freedom from rules since they often do not differentiate the fact that though God relates to you on the basis of who you are in Christ, that does not mean that people in this world do that, and neither does it mean that there are no consequences to your actions in this realm as far as they affect how people view you and treat you. One of the common symptoms of this false assumption of what it means to be free from the law can be observed in teenagers who all of a sudden start watching all kinds of videos because in their heart they equate this as being "free" from the law. What has happened is that the Gospel has revealed what was really in their heart. If you find it difficult to relate to, consider the following. How many regular tithers would still tithe if they realized that under the New Covenant they are NOT under the curse of the law and that God's provision is still available because of the provision of the cross and not how much they give to the church. If you can relate to that, then you can relate to what teenagers go through when they initially are introduced to the truth about the Gospel. So parents, don't get too nervous when your kids go through a transition of their own. They are people just like adults and depending in when you introduced them to the Gospel the effects of this transition will be more or less overt and unpredictable. Huhhmm... just like us adults!
As Christians go through the transition from law to grace, the effect on relationships with relatives is very encouraging. There begins to be a mending of relationships where being under law in the past has put up walls of division because of doctrines. It no longer matters if relatives don't believe or receive our Christian methodology and doctrines. The result is that a mutual acceptance begins to develop because when unconditional acceptance is given, it can break the strongest of barriers. People who are very performance-oriented in their belief system (being under law) are simply incapable of giving unconditional love, and family members and relatives are usually able to recognize this "holier than thou" attitude. Let's face it; it stinks!
When a Christian has lived for several years under works-righteousness and performance-acceptance (alias... the law) and then learns the truth about the gospel, the change will be gradual, will take time, and will vary in level of difficulty to adapt. Now if you think it's easier for a minister to make that transition, think twice , because a minister not only has to deal with their own transition, they have to cope with every individual in their congregation that will go through this transition. They will also be the target of others' frustrations and anger as they go through the process of changing their belief system from law to grace. From the part of the minister this will require a LOT of patience and tolerance as they attempt to guide others into something they are learning themselves to walk in.
For a minister it can be quite an interesting spectacle as they observe the Gospel revealing the true intents and motives and spiritual condition of the members of their congregation. Those that were considered "spiritual" and "mature" under legalism often turn out to be the most insecure in the congregation and sometimes the biggest "flakes." The minister is likely to be under constant attack from the legalist in heart within the congregation who will do their best to turn others from living under grace. This is a time where leaders and ministers will discover where people are really at in their spiritual walk. In other words, when the mask of legalism is no longer effective in a church for people to hide behind, for the first time you start seeing the " real McCoy " in each one. Some of the weakest under legalism become some of the strongest in Christ, and some of the strongest under legalism become an emotional "mess" if they choose to continue under legalism, because they looked better under that hypocritical religious mask, or perhaps they enjoyed the control they had over others. Legalist can get very angry when they sense that they lose their control. As you can appreciate, a minister that changes from law to grace can expect to have to deal with all these angry legalists.
Because most ministers are somewhat familiar with how people behave and react to changes, even if they believed in the message of the cross, few are those who are willing to "rock the boat" and jeopardize their financial security, their position and sense of power derived from a belief system that puts their congregation under law. The more a church have been performance oriented with mega-teachings to get people "in line with God's commands" , the more difficult the transition will be. And if the transition in such a context is difficult for individuals in a congregation to go through, just try to imagine what a minister has to face. Of course those ministers who are not willing to pay the cost of telling God's people the truth about the Gospel will never tell you that the real reasons for resisting such a change. They will usually state that they are concerned that people will use grace as a license to sin (Paul had the same accusations) , but who's fooling who? But before you criticize them, ask yourself what you would do when your very source of livelihood might be at stake. In going from law to grace, no one pays a greater price than the ministers who decide to put people first rather than their personal comforts and security. And those who are willing to pay that price need our prayers and support.
In situations where you deal with a church board that make the decisions rather than the pastor, the potential for ugly religious politics is even more evident. It's not easier to change three to six men into making the right decisions for a congregation. If board members enjoy the power, prestige and control potential of their positions and they start realizing that the Gospel will free God's people from others ability to manipulate through legalism, you can be sure that the gears of religious politics will start turning. You will be surprised at what people are capable of doing to their fellow Christians when religious wrath is stirred up. You will also get a greater understanding of what the Pharisees were like and the real factors that motivated them to be so mean.
When a congregation goes from being under teachings that puts them under law for righteousness to finding identity, righteousness and acceptance on the merits of the finished work of the cross, that congregation has just made a 180 degree turnaround. It's one thing to start new believers on the message of grace, but it's quite another to change those who have been indoctrinated under works-righteousness and performance-acceptance. In some circles we have been so used to methodology to everything we do, that folks often try to "make" grace work by another set of do's and don't s. Old religious habits seem hard to get rid of. Gradually but surely members begin to be more themselves with each other, and an openness toward one another begins to develop. Unfortunately the legalists in heart who don't wish to change often find themselves losing the influence they once had on others, and to them that is an alarming threat to their sense of self-worth since under legalism that is where they derived their identity from. Many start to recognize that they were putting other members of the church on pedestals or that they were co-dependent on some. Some who were trying to gain status in the church through the politics of position and ranks within the church will often realize their own motivation for wanting to gain status or be seen as spiritual. Reactions vary from working on their motives to quitting their status goals.
Because of those who are yielding to the message of grace, the congregation as a whole learns to developed a compassion, not just for the lost, but also for fellow believers of all denominations. Doctrinal differences among Christians loses its divisive grip on the congregation. The members re-establish family ties that were broken as a result of being under law. Those who yield to grace regain their "first-love" again. This does not happen overnight though. It may take two to three years, assuming there are no major hindrances such as legalists who do everything to oppose this transition. Remember, as it was in the days of Paul, so it is today. The issue is the same; law versus grace.
The transition that a congregation will go through is basically a reflection of all its individual families. When families discover the liberating truth about the finished work of the cross and love and acceptance from God outside of having to learn it by following the law; don't expect them to allow themselves to be put continually under the burden of the law on the part of their church leadership. Ministers who attempt to hide the truth about grace from the families in their congregation will find themselves losing good families whose simple desire is to be told the truth about the New Covenant relationship we have in Christ. Indeed this transition is not always easy, for the individual, the family, the church and the ministers, but the freedom in Christ that it brings and the peace that comes from experiencing God's unconditional love becomes the great motivator of the heart unto good works, from a heart in love with Jesus. So who's performance will you put your trust and confidence on; yours, or His?
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