Misrepresenting the Gospel of Grace

Tony Evans tweeted Monday:

You cannot waste what God gives you and then ask Him for more.

Of course you can, Tony.

God’s Blessings on the Wasteful

One of Jesus’ best-known stories was the one about the Prodigal Son, and if there was ever a wastrel who came back and asked for more it was that kid. He didn’t want much but still he came back asking for more after wasting his father’s riches.

You know what his father said in response? He told the son to stop that dithering and accept the riches of the father’s house all over again.

You also know who it was that said the kid couldn’t waste what the father had given and then ask for more? That was the older brother, the character representing Pharisees who enslaved people with their rules and buried them under their legalism.

The problem with Dr. Evans’s tweet, then, is that it is pharisaical, legalistic, and completely stuck in a gospel of rules and not the New Covenant gospel of grace. What’s even more disturbing is that if you click on the link above you’ll see that this phrase is not just an unfortunate random tweet. It’s apparently taken from a devotional poster created by Dr. Evans’s ministry. He should know better, but he publicizes this type of bad doctrine anyway.

A Doctrine of Grace for Wasteful People

Here’s what I know:

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19.)

Paul didn’t write that God will do this for those who never waste anything he gives them. He said “God will” and said it without any strings attached.

This is not just a New Covenant phenomenon either. When Jeremiah saw the downfall of the Kingdom of Judah because of apostasy, a people turning away from God repeatedly, he wrote:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23.)

The Israelites wasted one blessing after another, yet in the midst of his lament Jeremiah proclaimed that God’s blessings continued anew each morning, that his compassion never ends. Does that sound like a God whose people should be told that if they waste his resources they can’t come back and ask for more?

Tony, Tony, Tony … wake up and read the Bible!

I’ll go with God’s grace and continue to rely on my heavenly Father for his unending riches even if I’ve just wasted what he last gave me.*

That’s the gospel truth.

***

*I know the parable of the talents says those who are unfaithful with a little will be thrown out “into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30.) Since Jesus promised that God never abandons his people (John 10:28-29), the wasteful outcasts must be people who are not Christians.

***

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29 Responses to Misrepresenting the Gospel of Grace

  1. Though you know my feelings on attacking publically. I think you also know my sentiments on grace. Wrote something this morning that echoes what you wrote. For Tony’s quote as you so rightfully points to the truth of this truth.

    “Much too often we act as if it is our job to keep us pure and holy for God. That we are partly,if even half way, responsible for our sanctification and unless we hold up our responsibility, our end of the deal we will not be ready or prepared for when Christ returns. We act as if God needs our help, which in effect makes God needy. We live as though if we fail God is just waiting to give the old boot right upside the backside and out the door we go. Whether we say we believe that or not, the truth is we often act or talk, much like that is exactly what we believe. Our failure lies, in not having a clear picture of our wickedness, our brokenness and the ugliness of the cross that our sin deserved. Without that clear picture we think that we can surely make ourselves more presentable, more deserving of the cross. The reality is we already are, Christ was not. Because he was not, we now can live without fear of what the cross demanded.”

    The sad part is we all are guilty of this and why Luthor said “He must preach the gospel daily first to himself and then to others.”

    Thanks for reminding us of the truth of grace Tim.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Pat. Your thoughts on the cross are right in line with something I read recently from the Council of Orange (and which is scheduled for this Saturday!).

      Tim

      P.S. I am not attacking Dr. Evans publicly. I am attacking the error in his doctrine publicly, though.

  2. Jeannie says:

    Tim, your post makes me think that it can be dangerous to apply our human standards to God. I know that if I gave my son a cupcake and he threw it on the floor and stepped on it and then asked for another, I would not give it to him (though if he dropped his cupcake accidentally, I probably would). My reason would be that I would be trying to teach consequences and thinking-ahead and trying NOT to reward misbehaviour. But to extrapolate from that and say, “Well, God’s just like us, only more so!” seems really dangerous to me. (I hear people doing that on a different issue: “Well, if you’d dress up for the Queen you should dress up to go to church!” as if God is like the Queen only a LOT stricter.) I think we risk losing a great deal of potential joy if we waste what we’ve been given, but to say that that prohibits us from calling on God again doesn’t seem right to me.

  3. christine says:

    I’m with Luther…“He must preach the gospel daily first to himself and then to others.” Grace is often too amazing for us to understand. It takes away all our power to save ourselves by being good. Annoying. So we screw it up to grab some of that power back.

  4. Why do pastors tweet horrible doctrine? For the same reasons they preach it from the pulpit.

  5. ShaliniShalini says:

    Thanks Tim and Patrick. Timely reminders of what grace is really about. It’s so easy to slip into the error that if we try to become good little Christians, we are somehow more deserving of God’s grace and mercy than other Christians who come to Him on the basis of His grace alone.

  6. Bronwyn Lea says:

    Tim, I think if I were to tweet matthew 25:29, quoting Jesus’ words after telling the parable of the talents, people might react the same way as they have to tony Evans. The language of ‘use what you’ve got or else it will be taken from you’ is not limited to just one place in the gospels either: “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:24-25.
    it goes without saying that Jesus had the balance of the gospel of grace right, but he also spoke about accountability and a proportionate response from God to our stewardship of talents or the amount of our listening. I really wrestle with this balance, and I I don’t in any way want to undermine the truth of Gods unearned and lavish love as he demonstrates in the parable of the prodigal son, but I also wanted to say that (notwithstanding the dangers of trying to condense any truth into 140 characters), tony Evans may have got his views from actually reading his bible.
    (Ugh, swallows hard at being controversial, but clicks submit anyway…)

    • Tim says:

      The view he tweeted may have come from Bible passages, but it would be a misunderstanding of what those passages mean. Matthew 25 is obviously talking about people outside the people of God as being the ones cast from his presence. Mark 4 is not a stewardship passage, from my reading, but a message about the fact that if you have Christ you will find that you have more and if you don’t have Christ then even that which you think you have will be stripped away.

      And you’re not being controversial. You’re being conversational. But even if you were being controversial, Bronwyn, you’d still be welcome to do so at my place. After all, controversy does not mean unconstructive or unhelpful. In fact, if you’d like to write a controversial post and submit it here, I’ll run it. That way if it goes over well I can say that I knew it would all along, and if it goes over poorly I can say that I must have been sleeping in that day and let it slip through somehow. See? I always have your back, Bronwyn.

      • Adriana says:

        Three cheers for a blog host who is not “trigger happy” with the delete button! I love the fact that we are free to disagree here. Not stating an opinion today, just felt like mentioning that!

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      And here is the downfall of Twitter. Zero context.
      We need both the law and grace. The law strips us of our own righteousness, driving us to the cross. And grace clothes us in the righteousness of Christ. We are all wasters of grace. We all need our Savior. And throughout Scripture, we do see what should be our lot if it weren’t for Christ who has reconciled us.

  7. Mary Anne says:

    At the risk of seeming contrarian (who am I kidding? Contrariness is one of my specialties), I’ve always felt like the older brother had a point. Goodness knows I need to work on my bad qualities of envy and discontent, but I can’t help feeling a pang when I see people get blessed with healing miracles, or extraordinary help when they’re in trouble, or (fill in the blank with your own particular longing) and then I look at my own situation–e.g. my mom’s recent illness and death—and I know the older brother’s feeling well, that sort of, “Why are You doing this for them and won’t give me the time day?!”

    I’ll have to keep working on that. Don’t expect to be cured of it in this lifetime, but the thing is to keep on trying . . .

  8. christine says:

    Mary Anne and Tim, although I don’t identify closely with the older brother (I’ve been way too prodigal for that) I have had a question about the interpretation that the older brother represents the Pharisees, or contemporarily the “religious”. The father says to him, “don’t be angry…you have been with me always and everything I have is yours…it’s okay to be happy your brother is back.” Why would the story teller paint a picture of the father explaining that his love for both brothers was equal if one of the brothers is supposed to be a “fake” Christian? Since I first heard this interpretation from Tim Keller, who I like very much, it has troubled me.

    • Tim says:

      Good question, Christine. I don’t think it’s a matter of fake Christians, but rather of legalistic members of God’s covenant people. Much like the parable about paying the workers hired late and early the same wage, this one is about God dispensing his riches as he pleases on whom he pleases.

    • Jeremy M. says:

      To add to this, Keller isn’t talking about “fake” Christians and the like in relation to this parable, at least in his book Prodigal God. He may have made comments elsewhere I don’t know about, but I’ll focus on the book. His emphasis is that there are two types of “lostness” so to speak.

      One is about being as good as we can be and earning our grace. It’s about thinking we can obey well enough to earn our Father’s favor and blessings. This kind of description would lend itself more to the “religious”, not saying that all who follow Christ are this way just that once we start thinking that we can earn God’s favor on our own or that we’re interested in obedience for the blessings rather than God Himself, we begin to lose sight of what Christ really came to do.

      The other type of “lostness” says who cares about all that, I want to do what I want to do and who cares who says otherwise. I think is how most people think about those who are in need of grace, we think of the rebels and rule breakers. At least this is my take on it all, hope it was helpful.

  9. Jerry says:

    If you have an issue with Tony Evans, shouldn’t you go directly to him and get a better understanding of what he meant? This type of rhetoric over the internet, displays disunity within the faith. You maybe correct entirely correct in your assessment of what Dr. Evans tweeted, I just disagree with your approach. Matthew 18: 15-17

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for reading, Jerry. Matthew 18 is for personal wrongs, and doesn’t apply at all here.

      The better biblical model for disputing doctrinal wrongs (like the one Dr. Evans committed) is Paul calling out Peter in front of everybody for being a Judaizer. Then he wrote about it (Galatians 2) in a letter to be distributed and read far and wide throughout the churches in Galatia. “Hey everybody! Peter got it wrong and I called him on it!”

      Cheers,
      Tim

      • Mrs. L. Hartranft says:

        Your article here grieves my heart. You are looking at one tiny quote and writing a headline that is slanderous. Christ has again been wounded in the house of His friends. Tony Evans is no false teacher, and any person who has listened to him or read him knows of the abundance of grace that flows from this ministry. It has been almost 45 years since I came to Christ, and I have seen and heard so much like this. You are ignoring the “forest” because of focusing, not on one single “tree”, but on a perceived marred “spot” on one. I pray that Christ will give you sight to see how harmful this is to the Body.

        • Tim says:

          Thanks for the comment, Mrs. H.

          Nowhere did I call him a false teacher. Since Mr. Evans has such a huge following, his tweets need to accurately reflect Christ’s gospel. This one, sadly, didn’t. And since there are some people (not you) who will say, “If Tony Evans teaches it, it must be right,” pointing out the correct teaching of Scripture might help those people see how better to consider his tweets just as the Bereans did Paul’s sermons.

        • Tim says:

          P.S. What grieves my heart is that Mr. Evans would tweet to his followers that there is a limit on how much a Christian can expect from God.

  10. Dee Parsons says:

    Tim
    I totally agree with your post and your view of grace. It reminds me a bit of the verse “If you don’t forgive others for their sin, then neither will your Father in heaven forgive you.(Matt 6:15).I have heard Christians confidently say that an individual is not forgiven if they do not forgive others.

    I usually respond something like this. “I thought that my salvation was dependent on one thing-Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. You are now saying it is dependent on Jesus Christ’s forgiveness and then my act of always forgiving everyone else. So, there is a work involved!” *Deer caught in the headlights* response.

    In His three year ministry, Jesus let us know just how all encompassing the Law is. He was pointing out our utter failure to do it all right, Then, he implied “Don’t worry. The solution is coming and sooner than you think.” That sacrifice was the grace we didn’t deserve or merit but it was given because, somehow, to Jesus we are worth it t o Him.

    Jesus knows we will waste His grace. We will be stubborn, unforgiving, and downright ungrateful. Yet, His love never diminishes. His grace is given in abundance each and every day.

    Have a great day helping to keep the citizens of California on the straight and narrow!

    • Tim says:

      People read the Sermon on the Mount as if it’s a Christian Manifesto for living in Christ. It’s not. It’s a sermon on what the perfect life looks like. The only one who lived it is Jesus. On the forgiveness passage, he was telling people that if they want to earn their way to heaven they had to forgive perfectly in order to earn their own forgiveness. But as you said, Dee, Jesus had a better way for us. We are incapable of being perfect so he is perfect for us.

  11. Sonja says:

    As a fellow believer I appreciate your perspective and response to Tony’s tweet but would like for you to consider some things. I don’t think it’s accurate to equate the prodigal son’s brother to Pharisees because the brother was still a part of his Father’s house and still had his portion of inheritance. The Pharisees were clearly Jesus enemy, he called them poison because their beliefs (doctrine) were toxic and made it pretty obvious they weren’t going to be a part of the Kindgom. It’s more likely the brother represents faithful people who serve alot through Church or ministries because it’s human nature to want to earn salvation through works or “good” behavior.
    I also think you should know that Tony is a great teacher of scripture and it’s not good for fellow believers and it’s better to refrain from passive aggressive comments like “Read your Bible.” The scripture says believers will be known for their love for one another.
    I could also make a strong case that scripture does say multiple places that if you love Jesus you would want to follow His way (commandments). Note the prodigal son had to return to His Father to get the new blessings. They weren’t just given to him while he was still out squandering. It suggests he was truly repentant. It seems scripture associates blessings with repentance.

    Blessings,
    Sonja

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