DOES GOD’S GRACE COVER DOCTRINAL ERROR?

Several years ago I was invited to speak for a gospel meeting at a church. One of the topics that week had to do with God’s grace. After I had finished with that particular lesson, I had a woman come up to me and ask me a couple of questions. I will never forget what she said. She told me that she was not confident in her salvation and that she was afraid that she might be doing something wrong. She asked me, “How can I know that I am saved?” She continued by asking, “What if I am ignorantly doing something that will keep me out of heaven?”

That is an interesting question, isn’t it? In fact, let me ask the same question to you, but in a different way. Is it possible that you might be ignorantly wrong on a doctrinal issue right now? Keep in mind, the word “doctrine” just means teaching. So in other words, is it possible you may be ignorantly wrong on a biblical teaching? The answer would have to be yes because if we are ignorantly wrong on an issue right now, we wouldn’t know it!

So yes, it is possible. If God’s grace covers no doctrinal error, then this would be a scary way to live. Christianity wouldn’t be a religion of hope, but a religion of fear and constant doubt, never knowing if we are really saved. But thank God that our salvation isn’t dependent upon precise obedience! In fact, claiming that God’s grace covers no doctrinal error already presents a problem, because if that is true, then that means we would have to live sinless lives!

One person erroneously has said, “You don’t have to live a sinless life; you just have to make sure you are sinless before you die.” That statement completely misunderstands Christianity, the grace of God and the redemptive plan found in Jesus. We can know that God’s grace covers doctrinal because of the following reasons.

We will never reach a level of sinless perfection.

To claim that God’s grace will not cover doctrinal error undermines the whole scheme of redemption itself. Over and over again in the Bible we are reminded that we can never be sinless (Rom. 7:13-25).

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Phil. 3:12)

Only one person is sinless and that is Jesus who is the sacrifice for our sins (Heb. 4:15; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24; Gal. 3:13). Therefore, we can know that God’s grace covers doctrinal error because the Bible teaches that we can never reach a level of sinless perfection.

The blood of Jesus continually cleanses us.

If we can reach a level of sinless perfection, then why would we constantly need the blood of Jesus? I am not in the blood of Jesus because I am sinless, but because I am sinful!

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:7-9).

Therefore, we can know that God’s grace covers doctrinal error because the Bible teaches that the blood of Jesus continually cleanses us.

There are multiple examples in the Bible of God’s grace covering doctrinal error.

The below is not meant to be an exhaustive list but is to only serve as a few brief examples:

  • 1 Kings 3– Solomon sacrificing at the high places.
  • Leviticus 10:8-20– Eleazar and Ithamar failing to eat the sin offering in a holy place.
  • 2 Chronicles 30:1-27– God accepted Jews even when they had not been ceremonially cleansed (2 Chron. 30:17-20). God accepted the Jews’ worship when they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread an additional week, contrary to the law (2 Chron. 30:23-27).
  • Matthew 12:1-8– David and his men eating the showbread, which was unlawful.

All of the above practices were accepted by God even though they were deemed as unlawful. The most important question here is why? What separates Solomon from other men who sacrificed on the high places? What separates Eleazar and Ithamar from Nadab and Abihu? What separates Hezekiah and the Jews in 2 Chronicles from the many other Jews who worshiped incorrectly? For that matter, why was Peter able to live after denying Jesus three times but Ananias and Sapphira was struck dead immediately after making a little “white lie” (Jn. 21:15-19; Acts 5:1-5)? It would seem that if anybody should have gotten struck down for lying it would have been Peter! So, once again, we must ask why?

It really is all about the heart.

There is one key component that so many leave out in Christianity and that is the heart (Mt. 5:8; Jer. 17:10).

“I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (Rev. 3:23).

God knows the secret things of the heart (Psa. 44:21). If God wanted precise obedience, He would have created robots to do His bidding. Instead, God wants our hearts. He wants us to choose Him. We as humans have a problem of just looking at the outward. God looks at the inward man; He looks at the heart:

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

The reason God allowed the Jews in 2 Chronicles to worship Him contrary to the law is because of their good hearts:

“For a multitude of the people, many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the good Lord provide atonement for everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he is not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary” (2 Chron. 30:18-19).

Mankind was not made for law; law was made to help mankind. Jesus explains this in Mark 2:27:

“And He said to them, “’The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.'”

Jesus affirms that the law was made for man’s benefit and God’s glory. It was never intended to be a yoke of bondage to the people of God as the scribes and Pharisees had made it. God doesn’t want lone obedience. He wants a heart that craves a relationship with Him (Jn. 17:3; Mt. 7:21-23). As Joel 2:13 says:

“Tear your hearts, not your garments.”

Obedience doesn’t always necessitate a good heart and disobedience doesn’t always necessitate a bad heart.

There are many who appear to be obedient and may be obedient, but they lack a proper heart. Paul said that even if someone were to help the homeless and the poor, if they don’t have love it profits them nothing. He went as far to say that even if someone were to die for the cause of Christ but not have love, then it profits them nothing (1 Cor. 13:3).

You would think dying for Jesus would be a “one way” ticket to heaven, but not if our heart isn’t right. Think about the implication of what Paul said! According to 2 Chronicles 30, we see an example of good hearts with wrong actions that was accepted. In 1 Corinthians 13, we read about an example of an obedient action, even to the point of death, but a bad heart that will be rejected. Obedience doesn’t always necessitate a good heart and disobedience doesn’t always necessitate a bad heart.

I am judged based upon my relationship with God and not through a legal system. 

Ephesians 5 says that our relationship to Christ is like a marital relationship. I wonder how many husbands or wives would claim to be perfect? Even if someone claimed to be a perfect wife or husband, we know that just isn’t true. We all mess up…constantly. But I have a wonderful relationship with my wife. Why? Because I am perfectly obedient? No. Because I love her and she knows that. I strive and even though I fall short as a husband, I keep trying…and I have a relationship with her. Jesus came to this earth to have a relationship with us. He wants us to know Him (Jn. 17:3). He is our brother (Heb. 2:11).

Any relationship has boundaries. However, those boundaries are not viewed from a legal standpoint, but from a relational standpoint. I feel like some have turned God into this monster who is waiting on us to mess up just once so He can strike us down. This hasn’t produced a love with no fear, but a fear with no love! John 3:16 is a good reminder that Jesus wants us to be saved. He is on our side (1 Tim. 2:3-4)! I can know that God’s grace covers doctrinal error because I am judged based upon my relationship with God and not through a legal system.

Conclusion.

None of this should cause anyone to feel justified in continuing in willful sin, rather, it should cause the seeker to be confident because we can “know that we have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13). I am confident I am going to go to heaven. I know I am saved right now. No, not because I have all of the answers—not because I know I am right about everything—and certainly not because I am living perfectly. In fact, I know I don’t have all the answers, I know I am not right about everything and I know I am not living perfectly…but there is one thing I do know. I know I am seeking God and have a relationship with Christ. I know that for sure. I know I am going to heaven because of Who I know…I know Jesus.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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