For some, it might seem strange that a man whose title is Pastor of Training and Spiritual Growth would be as involved as I am in catalyzing people to reach the lost. After all, Grace Polaris has articulated the four purposes of our local church as Worship (upward), Community (inward), Training (forward), and Witness (outward). Those familiar with the evangelical approach to church might logically surmise that my role as point person in our Training purpose would lead me to focus on the edification of believers, while those assigned to our Witness purpose would mobilize believers for evangelism.
Some time ago, though, a counterintuitive realization hit me: Grace Polaris would never be successful in edifying believers if we couldn’t train them to reach the lost. The reason for this is simple enough. If we understand the Great Commission to be the believer’s primary directive, and the Great Commission includes both making converts (represented by “baptizing them” in Matt. 28:19) and helping those converts grow in Christlikeness (symbolized by “teaching them to observe” in Matt. 28:20), then if no new believers were coming into the fold, our efforts at edification would be artificial and listless. To put this another way, for us to try to train believers without winning new ones would be like training more and more lifeguards to work at a pool with a static or declining membership. Whom, exactly, would those new lifeguards protect, and how would they employ their newfound abilities if there weren’t enough swimmers to go around?
As a result of this realization, I work hard to help believers at Grace Polaris and beyond to understand the lifestyle of an effective disciple maker and the message he or she should share. This requires a degree of precision in the language we use in our training efforts. While we are certainly still in the refining process of this endeavor, I’m very grateful to build upon God’s free grace as we go forward.
Because the Free Grace understanding of the Gospel places so much emphasis on salvation as a free gift, it is uniquely powerful in appealing to those who hear it. Training believers necessarily entails equipping them to articulate the Gospel in such a way that both the lost and the saved recognize the good news as good news, since decent news is not compelling. That God would offer salvation solely on the basis of Christ’s finished work, and not on the basis of our efforts or promises in response to Him—that is truly good news.
Furthermore, a Free Grace perspective offers a clean distinction between Christianity and other worldviews, all of which seem to assert at some level that it is a person’s responsibility to bridge the gap between himself and the divine. We emphasize the finished work of Christ alone and purposefully avoid presenting salvation as dependent in any way on human action. This differentiates the “product” that we are selling and minimizes the chance that the lost will syncretize Christ’s promise of eternal life with the works-based systems of the world.
Finally, articulating Christ’s free grace provides a Gospel-centered motivation toward good works and Christian mission. If a new convert even subtly understands his conversion as “cleaning his life up,” his service for Christ can become less of a response to Christ’s grace, carried out by a new Spirit-filled creation, and more of an attempt to stay in God’s grace. Make no mistake: fear does motivate. On the other hand, love motivates in a more powerful, happy way, and it is this power and happiness that we need if we are to appeal to those who are searching for hope.
Pastor of Training and Spiritual Growth,