Gracebut – by Greg Albrecht
Friend and Partner Letter from July 2015
One of the most common objections to God’s grace goes something like: “Sure, we have been saved by grace, BUT…” That phrase is used so often within legalistic religion that it seems like it should be spelled as one word – gracebut with no comma. When used as a G-rated term for the hindquarters of an animal or human, the word is spelled b-u-t-t. It is wise to keep not only our BUTS (objections or opinions) out of God’s grace, but our BUTTS as well.
BUT, with all due respect and political correctness, we must admit that though BUTTS can become large, the BUT used to diminish, devalue and destroy God’s grace is far bigger and of far greater concern than any BUTT. The word BUT is a preposition or conjunctive, often used to modify a previous statement or introduce an exception. There are many ways BUT is used – here are three common ones:
- BUT is often used to negate what has just been said or written, and thus it creates a contrast – some call the word “BUT” a contrastive conjunction. The gracebut objections go something like this: “Oh sure, we have been saved by grace, BUT we still have to keep God’s laws and his ten commandments.”
- BUT is used after expressions like “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry” to introduce a question or request or even introduce a seemingly polite statement that takes exception with an opinion previously expressed or accepted. The gracebut brigade announces: “I know how important you seem to think grace is, BUT I’m sorry, there is much more to pleasing God than mush and platitudes.”
- BUT is used to directly challenge and contradict a rule or standard or commonly accepted truth. The fraternal order of gracebut says something like this: “Your constant harping about grace might make you feel better, BUT all you are doing is giving yourself permission to break laws. You are permissive and making a mockery of God’s law! Shame on you!”
I wasn’t addicted to crack; I was addicted to religion in a vain attempt to get God to like me, bless me, or at least spare me from hell when it was all over. It’s funny how one can talk a good grace game, but for all practical purposes live by the law. I’ve learned that the ‘grace but…’ mentality is as lethal as anything you can sniff, toke, or shoot up. If it’s grace, there are no conditions and no exceptions. Anything else is only masquerading as grace. Don’t take it – it will kill you. – Jim Palmer, Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God (And the Unlikely People Who Help You).
Chances are you have suffered through the singing of a friend or relative who is tone deaf. A tone-deaf person often has little, if any idea, of the painful sound they are making. Some tone-deaf people, in a vain attempt to make up for their lack of melody, harmony and grace notes increase the volume of the sound they make, somehow thinking that decibels alone will help their singing.
Some preachers and the messages they proclaim remind me of tone-deaf-Johnny-one-notes. They yell and fulminate about the law. Their message is defined more by what they are against than the love they embrace. They are alarmed about virtually everything, screaming about consequences facing those who fail to measure up to religious standards. The message blaring
incessantly from one-note preachers is presented somewhat like a test of compliance to religious duties – those that pass and get “good enough” grades will go to heaven, while those who fall short will be condemned to eternal torture in hell.
Their single-minded extreme devotion to obeying laws (and punishing those who break them) makes it seem as if they, and their followers, lie awake at night worried that someone, somewhere, is getting away with something. Which is why such rhetoric is often called “hell-fire-and-brimstone preaching.”
The toxic demands of legalism cause people to become tone deaf – unable to appreciate the rich, symphonic fullness and harmony of God’s amazing grace. Gracebut religious authorities are convinced that God’s grace will be extinguished by fiery screaming and shouting about law – they seem to believe that the more condemning and judgmental the message, the more it becomes true, real and authentic. Gracebut preaching is a spiritually deafening one-note message delivered by tone-deaf preachers to congregations who “hardly hear with their ears” (Matthew 13:15) and who, over time, become spiritually hardof-hearing due to the deafening decibels of condemnation that pass for the gospel.
When God’s grace activates spiritual taste buds, a transformed child of God tastes the fine wine of the new covenant for the first time. When God’s grace opens ears and eyes that have been dulled and diminished by the battering and beating inflicted by Christ-less and grace-less preaching, it’s as if eyes that have previously only seen the wilderness of a dry, arid spiritual desert now take in all the grandeur and splendor of Niagara Falls for the first time. When God’s grace opens ears and eyes, the sweet sounds and sights of God’s love and mercy are like a healing salve and ointment for wounded souls.
God’s grace is amazing, free, incredible, overflowing, extravagant, mysterious and inexhaustible. No human effort or production can take you higher than God’s grace. Grace doesn’t promise a momentary escape through chemical addiction – instead grace slowly and inexorably, like the waves of the ocean, changes you and me from the inside out. We grow by and into grace – we mature into it – it is no quick-fix, drive through spiritual junk-food meal.
There are times when it is necessary to use the word BUT, BUT there is never any correct or appropriate time to qualify, diminish or restrict the boundless nature of God’s grace. Nothing in the world can negate, challenge or contradict God’s amazing grace. There is no law that is stronger, no path that is superior and no reality that transcends God’s amazing grace. No buts about it.
We are created to think and react and make our way in the world according to cause and effect, bargaining, bartering, reciprocal give-and-take rewards and punishments. God’s grace is foreign to our thinking and alien to our experience. Grace is an out-of-this-world, higher, transcendent spiritual path. God’s grace is a universal axiom/verity/truth that surpasses the way we are hard-wired to think and react. Grace is, dare I say it, a greater law than any other law! Grace is the greatest reality of all realities. God’s grace announces the end of “try harder and run faster and do more” religion.
Grace means that God is not mad or angry! Grace means that the god of wrath is the god of religion, not the one true God. Grace flows out of the love of God, expressed most fully for us in the life and teachings of Jesus, in and on his cross and through his resurrection and the consequent new life he lives in you and me now!
Grace is the difference between living and working in a religious salt mine and being free from such oppressive demands and burdens. Grace releases you and me from paralyzing fear. Grace will hold our hand when we cross a dangerous street and it will make sure we get home before dark. The Road of Grace gets you and me from where we are to where we need to go. God sets up a table laden with the Bread of Life. Jesus is our meal, and grace picks up the tab.
Karen, my bride of 46 years, loves to cook. Her passion for cooking has increased over the years to the point where she is, in what may be my slightly biased opinion, a gourmet cook. When she cooks and bakes, she prefers that I stay out of her kitchen. What she makes and how she does so is up to her. My role is enjoying the delicious end-product.
For me, God’s grace is a lot like Karen’s kitchen and her cooking. God’s kitchen is his kitchen. Jesus is the chef, and for that matter, he himself is the foundational ingredient to all of the recipes he produces for us. Ours is not to invade the kitchen, ours is but to choose to enjoy and embrace the final product. I may not know that much about the art of cuisine, but I do know a little about consuming the end product. One of the major rules: when one is served an exquisitely prepared meal, one does not immediately doctor it by emptying the salt shaker (or the bottle of ketchup!).
God’s grace is served to us “as is” – when the gracebut brigade insists on dumping a religious salt shaker or emptying a ketchup bottle all over what God serves to us, it is perverting the masterpiece God freely invites us to receive. I’ve known people who seemingly had to nearly empty a bottle of ketchup all over whatever was put in front of them before even tasting the meal. Of course, in the process of baptizing their meal in a tsunami of ketchup, these individuals horrified and offended the cook.
Gracebut is somewhat like a “ketchup bottle of law” – it adulterates and modifies grace so that it actually changes and obliterates its significance. When gracebut is on the menu or being served, don’t call the meal grace – call it what it is – law.
If we insist on drowning God’s grace with ketchup, or dumping toxic salt all over it, we may still eat what’s on our plates, but we are not free to call the spiritual meal God’s grace. It is no longer God’s grace. Its essence has been changed. When people speak of law and grace and start modifying God’s magnificent, priceless grace by saying, “Oh sure we have been saved by gracebut…” you may be assured that God’s grace is no longer on the table. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
Because of the rich provision of grace God lavished on you and me,