The other day on Twitter, I saw someone insult their theological opponent with the term "free-gracer."
Though different terms were involved, Jesus was often accused of the same thing throughout His ministry:
He is accused of too much "free-grace" when he dares to eat with sinners (Mark 2:13-17). He is accused of too much of that "free-grace" when He is seen healing and allowing his disciples to (be prepared to clutch your pearls)… pick grain ON THE SABBATH (Mark 2:23-3:6). And He is really, really accused of too much of that "free-grace" when he goes around dishing out forgiveness all willy-nilly to rank sinners (7:36-49)!!!!
And yet, the funny thing is Jesus nor Paul ever lessen God's demands. In fact, (to quote the rock legend Nigel Tufnel) they "turn the law up to 11."
Ever been unjustly angry at someone? In God's eyes, it's as if you're guilty of murder (Matthew 5:21-22). Lusted after someone? Adultery's your crime (Matthew 5:27-28). Failure to love your enemies? Well then, you haven't loved your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 5:43-45). Paul leaves no wiggle room for the sinner either, simply declaring, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10a-12)." This all leads to the crushing crescendo that if you haven't been perfect (Matthew 5:48), then you've earned condemnation and death (Romans 3.23, 6.23).
However, the Scriptures go on to declare in the Gospel that Another has stepped up in the sinner's place to take the condemnation and death the sinner deserves. On His cross, Jesus Christ, the Obedient One, gives His life as a ransom for all the disobedient ones.
What this means is that (at the greatest cost to Him, but none to us) our salvation has been won as an act of "free-grace." It means the forgiveness of our sins is handed over as an act of "free-grace." It means we are declared new creations by His pronouncement of "free-grace." It means we are heaven bound because of "free-grace." To object to "free-grace" is simply another way of saying you object to grace.
When one preaches the law the way the Bible does (unattainably high for the sinner), it doesn’t leave one shred of hope that we’re somehow going to cut the mustard. It strips away any illusions that our obedience or lack thereof is what will make us acceptable before a holy God. The inner legalist in all of us hates this stuff because for the legalist, favor (grace) is earned; obedience to God is ultimately not motivated by love for God and neighbor, but by fear of punishment and hope of rewards. Obedience for our inner lawyer is not something done out of a freed-up conscience for the good of the neighbor but is something done under obligation OR ELSE! The impossible Law preached from the Mount of the Beatitudes and the free grace of God preached from the Mount of Calvary is a direct attack on everything the legalist holds most dear. The only line of defense left for the legalist is to somehow delegitimize such a scandalous message with name calling.
All this to say, if you believe and preach that God's law is so good and holy that the world's only hope is Christ's finished work on their behalf (like Scriptures does), you can expect to have accusations hurled at you. You may hear that you don't take obedience seriously enough. That you're "weak on sanctification" or you're just too much of a "Free-Gracer." When (not if) this happens, let me suggest an appropriate response:
Remember they said the same of your Lord, then smile and say, “Thank you!”