Works-Based Grace: James MacDonald and the Oxymoron

This nonsense appeared on Twitter:

I thought that had to be a joke, as if someone created a spoof. But I found it on James MacDonald’s ministry website to go with a five-point devotional entitled The Eyes of God (posted on May 11, 2015) which includes this:

5. The eyes of the Lord observe righteousness and award grace.

The devotional cites three Bible passages, none of which teach anything like that fifth point. God does not observe righteousness nor obedience and award grace.

He can’t. That would turn grace into not-grace because it would be God’s response to your work rather than his free gift to you just because he chooses to love you with his grace.

Works-Based Grace is an Oxymoron

God does not look for obedience nor for righteousness and then “award” grace. It is in his grace that he considers us righteous despite our actions.

Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. (Titus 3:7.)

Not only that, but it is God’s own grace that gives us the ability to obey him.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. (Titus 2:11-12.)

God has already made you holy, so you already have the righteousness Mr. MacDonald mistakenly says God is looking for before he awards grace.

God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace and peace. (1 Peter 1:2.)

It is a result of grace that you are able to obey.

It is a result of grace that you are cleansed.

It is a result of grace that you are holy.

No amount of clever pictures with clever phrasing will ever change the fact that God gives grace because he wants to give grace.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5.)

He loves you that much.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Works-Based Grace: James MacDonald and the Oxymoron

  1. patbadstibner says:

    WOW! Now that is at least boldy stated though Tim, must give them credit for that. Do you know how many subtle, hidden statements there are out there saying the same thing. You did a post on one, dying to self, sounds right, very subtle, so give them at least some credit. At least they are not warning others to be responsible, to not be careless and to treat grace with respect, Yes, I think they deserve some credit. For, they are very clear not hidden, not disquising it at all. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      They are bold in their doctrine, even if it is in error, that’s for sure. If you go to the website, that picture I linked at the top of this page has a lot of options for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, etc. They want it boldly spread around. Too bad it’s just not based on what the Bible says about grace.

  2. govpappy says:

    I wish bad theology was always this obvious.

  3. Laura Droege says:

    Maybe it should be re-written: God sees us and delights in giving grace to us. (Is that Biblical? I haven’t had caffeine yet this morning, so my brain is a little fuzzy!)

  4. Jeremy M. says:

    I must admit the first thought I had when I read that saying wasn’t exactly the same as yours. I read it as two separate ideas instead of connected ones. The usage of award doesn’t make that reading the most likely after further thought, though. After all mercy isn’t exactly something I would consider to be awarded, since as you said, it wouldn’t really be grace.

    • Tim says:

      When you read the linked article it makes even less sense. It’s like that fifth point is one statement followed by a bunch of unrelated ideas.

      • Jeremy M. says:

        Yikes… that is just a big old mess. I think somebody needs to crack open a dictionary or do a search on the definition of grace. The dictionary does a better job than the article and slogan does.

  5. janehinrichs says:

    Awards grace? That doesn’t even make sense.

  6. Jeannie says:

    I don’t think it’s a very well-thought-out piece in general (all that “intrinsically valuable” stuff seems like hair-splitting to me). And the idea in the picture that God is withholding grace until He sees some obedient person to “award” it to just doesn’t make sense.

    • Tim says:

      Not well thought out at all, Jeannie. It’s kind of a jumble, and I would think a post meant as a daily devotional would be a lot more coherent.

  7. I do agree “God gives grace because he wants to give grace.” However, this idea, devoid of human faith/faithfulness, means God just randomly picks people to receive his grace. This is not true either. “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith” (Eph 2:8). Faith is not a meritus work, yet without it one cannot receive God’s grace. So maybe…just maybe he was trying to express Romans 4:3 “Abraham had faith in God and it was credited to him as righteousness” ??

    This idea seems paradoxical when removed of the idea of a Covenant community. God’s relationship with people is expressed primarily in covenants. We don’t deserve God’s blessing or promise (thats grace) but we receive them by faith/faithfulness. Abraham didn’t earn or deserve God’s righteousness, but God saw his faith and declared him righteous. The People of God didn’t deserve the blessing of the Covenant, but they received it/them only when faithful to the covenant.

    I apologize in advance if I missed the point.

    • Tim says:

      You raise some good distinctions, Jon. On your point that “The People of God didn’t deserve the blessing of the Covenant, but they received it/them only when faithful to the covenant”, that is certainly true under the Old Covenant. Under the New Covenant, though, we are promised that while we work out our faith it is actually God who is working in us to finish what he has started.

      It all starts and ends with God’s grace. Our ability to obey and our righteous living are all a result of his grace already and continually being delivered to us.

  8. Pastor Bob says:

    This looks like another statement that starts off with a good premise, and then diverges.
    “GOD SEES ALL.” – However, the rest of this skirts and then moves into error. Does he always reward righteousness? Job has a different story, as do many believers who have not always seen “gold all of the time.”

    *sigh, the watchmen on the walls are the first to be shot.

    • Tim says:

      The reward for righteousness is certainly not always realized temporally, that’s for sure.

      And I love your line “the watchmen on the walls are the first to be shot.” Yikes!

      • Pastor Bob says:

        Thus I cringe when someone states with full assurance that (dis)obedience is directly related to this (series of) actions. Something about the separation of East and West comes to mind.

  9. Melody says:


  10. This reminds me strongly of my Mormon friends. They believe that you must obey and seek righteousness, and in response God will cover up the mistakes you make. The more mistakes you make, the less forgiveness you get. The fewer mistakes you make, the more forgiveness you get. It sounds silly until you realize that this is how most human relationships operate.

Talk to me (or don't)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.