Grace and Demand
Any conscientious reader of the Bible at some point asks, “How do I reconcile these voices?” Are they incompatible? Is the Bible inconsistent? Does the Bible teach an extravagant grace that asks nothing of us, or radical discipleship that demands everything from us? Which is it?
The church is in desperate need of a way to express the grace of the gospel and the demand of the gospel in a way that enhances both without canceling either. If you have ever asked these questions—union with Christ is your answer.
For example, the Letter of James, like the Sermon on the Mount, sets a very high bar for the Christian life. James uses strong language. “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (James 4:4).
Either we turn down the volume on James (“Now he doesn’t mean …”) or it becomes a cudgel with which to batter even the most faithful among us. Who can read the letter of James, in good conscience, and not cry out, “Who then can be saved?”
Only union with Christ allows us to read James not as a crushing burden but as an uplifting possibility. The letter of James is a litmus test—are you in Christ? But if you are, then James becomes encouraging, even beautiful to you. You can persevere under trial (Ch. 1), have a living faith (Ch. 2), tame your tongue (Ch. 3), rest in not knowing what tomorrow will bring (Ch. 4), and love the poor (Ch. 5)—because you are married to Christ. James describes the life that Christ died to enable you to live.
The Bible teaches us that we can be united to Christ, and our union with Christ, in turn, teaches us how to read the Bible. If you are united to Christ, then from him come both grace and demand, which together lead to a life of joy. Listen for the dynamics in Jesus’ own words:
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. [You hear the grace in this]. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. [You hear the demand following right after. And then you hear the consequence]. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." -John 15:9–11