35: Love is More Than Grace

In this episode John compares grace and love.  Specifically, John contrasts a listener’s story and Gregg’s story (both being fairly radical departures from the Christian norm) with his own path of not overtly departing from these norms.  John’s epiphany is that the message of love makes far more sense than the message of grace (to him), because grace seems to begin with the notion that someone is horrible.

Gregg notes that grace implies a jarring sense of contrast with what one believes one deserves and so grace seems to show up better in relief, against a backdrop of wrongs committed.  So Gregg contrasts grace and love: experiencing God’s grace is typically framed as receiving what one does not deserve, but Gregg’s experience of receiving God’s love was receiving what he needed but considered to be impossible.  So the upshot is that if one sees oneself as being thoroughly undeserving of God’s love (God’s love is nonsensical to that person), they will necessarily experience God’s love first as grace.  But the pardon and gift implicit in grace find their source in God’s love–they are an expression of love.

Ultimately then, in Gregg’s view, the purpose of grace is to habituate us to being in a love relationship with God: first to accepting God’s love for us as love (so that we may see ourselves as deserving of God’s love), second to be able to give that love back (so that we see ourselves as capable–capable of being rightly related to God, to ourselves, and to others).

Gregg likens this to the “serve-and-return” behaviour between parent and child that is so important in brain development in young children.  This ongoing behaviour of serve-and-return between us and God is meant to establish our trust in God, trust that God has our best interest at heart (as one who loves us and knows us better that we do ourselves).

Overall, Gregg argues that grace is a subset of love, not the reverse.  And so if one cannot but focus on the things that one has done wrong, then grace is the route to God.  But the message that we should understand from God is NOT to be preoccupied with our wrongs.  Instead, God’s message to us is: “Be preoccupied with me, because I am terribly preoccupied with you.  I have been waiting for, calling to you, watching for you from a long way off.”

And so Gregg wonders: if grace is important to you but grace is a subset of love, how much more important might love be to you?  Or, if you are focusing on grace but your spiritual life is frustrating or unsatisfying,  might you need to re-focus on love?

2 thoughts on “35: Love is More Than Grace

  1. Melinda

    A. Wow. So much good stuff here. I am glad you again mentioned the illustration about the parent risking his life to save his child from an oncoming car. I see what a different orientation toward God I would have if my response to His sacrifice was, “Well you love me so much, of course you did!” My focus would be on how great His love is, rather than on my worthlessness to deserve such an act. This is such a different way to think of it, and some may find it insincere or flippant, or fearful we will take it for granted….but maybe taking it a little more for granted would be exactly what we need to do?! (or at least internalizing His love more)

    My struggle is that the Bible/teachers don’t seem to always present it this way—Romans 5:8 says, 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. I vividly remember a sermon illustration—since a sinner was defined as someone in rebellion to God– Jesus’s sacrifice for us would be like someone giving their life to save the life of a person who was running toward them with a grenade. In that case, the person with the grenade, who was rescued, would say, “I didn’t deserve this, I am so unworthy.” (The attitude Christians seem expected to have most of the time). These illustrations are different but both seem to have truth to them…not sure what to do with that. Any ideas how to reconcile these?

    B. I can identify with the discussion that sometimes Christians are encouraged to get in touch with their “badness” in order to feel close to God. If God feels far away, just realize anew how Holy He is and how sinful you are, and then His grace will seem more amazing and you will be more thankful and in love with Him. True how grace shows up more in relief, in contrast. Good point that feeling close to God may need to involve being preoccupied with Him rather than our wrongs—reorienting to love.

    It has been interesting to sit in church and hear sermons and sometimes notice the amount of weight grace is given over love. I have never noticed or thought about this distinction before. So in these settings I am finding it helpful to remember “the why of it all”…His love for me. And I really like how Gregg said it in response to my first comment, “In other words, grace is that mode of expression by which God most truly expresses God-self: grace shows God’s love in its truest and best light.”

    C. In the few random podcasts I have listened to, I have heard Gregg mention “self-love”, or “loving oneself rightly”. I would appreciate more discussion on this topic (what does it look like, why is it important, biblical/experiential evidence). How does a negative view of oneself impact your relationship with God? What steps are involved in loving yourself rightly?

    Interestingly, in the past month a bible teacher explicitly said that love of the self is not biblical. She said none of the 10 commandments relate to loving the self, whereas some of the commandments do relate to loving your neighbor. She discussed the verse “love your neighbor as yourself”. The impression I get is that she thinks the “as yourself” is just a reference point (don’t harm others because you wouldn’t want to harm yourself, etc), not an explicit command to put time and effort toward loving yourself.

    1. Gregg Monteith Post author

      Hi Melinda,

      I’m not sure how it’s happened, but both John and I overlooked / did not receive notification of your comment. So a very belated “Thank You” and I am starting on a reply, where appropriate, this week.



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