I invited John Long from Souring in Grace / Grounded in Truth to speak on my blog about grace. He is an insightful man who follows the Holy Spirit and a good friend. I am privileged to know someone so wonderful who is helping to pioneer the movement of grace.
Jon Paul in black
John Long in orange
Greetings John Long! I’m so glad I get the chance to hear the life changing message you carry. I really appreciate you taking the time to address this interview and show me and my readers your heart in the message of grace.
Well I have a list of questions I want to ask you, perhaps we’ll have time to address a few, but either way, I’m sure it will be fruitful!
I see a lot of people talking about the message of grace or the grace movement. What exactly does this mean? Why do they call it a grace movement? Why do we call the message of grace the gospel?
You know Jon, I think many people, including myself, have found that God has been pointing them towards a deeper understanding of grace and as they start to follow this revelation, they find themselves in the midst of this thing that many are calling a movement. But they never went to a meeting or bought a book on how to go deeper into grace. They may have even thought, as I did, that they already knew about grace and needed to mature into the “deeper” things. But then they start to see that others are catching this as well and that rather than being part of some big new flashy looking thing, they realize that their whole understanding of the gospel has radically been changed. So yes, you could say it is a movement because it is moving in people’s lives, but I think a better word is reformation because people’s foundations and perceptions are being reformed rather than having something new added to what they already have.
So why do we call the gospel grace? Well to start, in John’s gospel, it begins by making the point that whereas Law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ and that this was God’s revelation of Himself to the Earth (the law failed to reveal God’s heart for us). Combine that with the beginning of Luke’s gospel, where the angels proclaimed that this Savior being born would be good news to all people. That equals the gospel. It is the revelation that God is good and shows that goodness in the form of grace at His own expense. He gave to us what we could never give to Him according to the Law’s demands. One of the best definitions I have heard of grace came from Watchman Nee, who simply said that law is when something is demanded from us but grace is where God gives something to us.
Thank you John. I like how you said that God has been pointing us to a deeper understanding of grace. I too have found that to be true. Most of what I learned about grace was by the Lord, if I dare say. When He would speak to me, He would teach me grace. It was shocking for me at first, but then I started finding others who had encountered the Lord in the same way. What was it like for you when you first began to embrace the message of grace? Tell us your your background and what happened so that now you are writing articles on this message?
Well its funny Jon, but I have been writing posts on my blog: Soaring In Grace / Grounded In Truth, for about 4 years. But I don’t consider myself to have truly embraced pure grace until about 2 years ago even though I had a powerful encounter with the Father’s love that changed me back in 2000. I was even known by some to be a “grace guy” and always held that God was incredibly good. But there was this mixture that I had been caught up in that would say, “yes we are under grace but…” So what I and many others had was this sense of having to put the brakes on when it “too much” emphasis was placed on grace. It wasn’t that I “liked” to believe that way or considered myself very legalistic, but I did not have the clear understanding of truth necessary to break free.
At the time, the teachers and influences in my life had mostly been from the whole charismatic/prophetic circle, which I still greatly appreciate. But I came to realize that even though this branch of the Body of Christ was very open to God and had wonderful encounters with God, there was not a clear distinction made between Old and New Covenant. Things became very blurry when it came to where the line was. One day you are basking in love and grace and the next trying to avoid the curses of Deutoronomy through rigid obedience.
The way that this mixture became apparent to me all started one night when I was looking for something to watch on Youtube. I came across a video called “Grace and Truth Revival” by Revival or Riots ministries out of California. As I listened to the message, it was very different than the types of teachings I had been accustomed to. There was such a clear revelation of the gospel being presented. Things like our forgiveness for past, present, and future (all) sins and our righteousness apart from what we do were boldly proclaimed rather than a flaky “well, we are forgiven and righteous but we still have to do x,y, and z or else that goes away maybe” kind of gospel. I felt a stirring inside similar to what I had experienced when I first was born again. Little did I know that this was the beginning of something huge.
Within the next 2 days, I heard about Joseph Prince from 3 totally unrelated sources. Over the next few months I ended up hearing about all kinds of preachers from all across the world and church who had this fresh experience with grace that I was having. It was amazing. Like you Jon, I would read something in the Bible or hear it in prayer and then hear a message about it the very next day. And yes, some of these things were shocking and challenging, but thankfully God helped me to embrace these new realities that were bringing such freedom to my life and accept that the preachers I had so looked up to might not have had it all right doctrinally.
Before long I realized: “hey something has happened to me”. I would go to listen to an old message that I would have really been into in years past and could no longer relate (because of the lack of grace). But that’s not all that was different. Bondages of fear, bitterness, and disappointment just seem to effortlessly fall of as I soaked in this fresh gospel revelation without me even praying or confessing or barfing up devils. No wonder it is referred to as “the power of God unto salvation.” (Rom.1:16)
Wonderful John. So you wouldn’t describe yourself as anti-grace or without grace before but it simply hadn’t been emphasized or “purified,” if that’s the correct term, in your mind. This is the way I think many people I know look at it. It’s like they don’t deny grace in word, but in practice they live as though it wasn’t practical. Because just like you said, in their attempts to “balance” the bible, they contradict themselves in their beliefs between works and faith, judgment and favor, wrath and peace. And somehow in a strange way we seem to make sense of it and end up with this up and down rollercoaster christianity. “I’m was ok with God yesterday, but now today I am not. Yesterday He was pleased with me and giving his favor, but today He has backed away to teach me to grow closer.” Christians describe themselves as going through seasons of dryness, testing, and the Lord’s absence, and then later describe seasons of God’s favor, goodness, and His presence. At least that’s just how it was for me for years. It seems the message of grace has a subtle difference, but its enough difference to be called by its own name and to turn all of that around. What is this message of grace? I’m sure people are not sure all of what we mean when we are talking about it. Some even are afraid that the message of grace is deceptive or dangerous. Does it deserve these titles that we give it such as “hyper-grace, anti-works, a license to sin, elementary teaching, avoiding real scriptures, or forgetting about good works?”
Well said Jon Paul. So let me break down what I mean when I say the message of grace. Its very simple actually. I am really just referring to the gospel: Jesus Christ and the finished work that He accomplished on behalf of mankind. In the 1st chapter of the book of John, in verses 14 -18, we see that the eternal Word of God became flesh. It says that He revealed the glory of the Father in that He was full of grace and truth. It then goes on to clarify that Law was given through Moses but that grace and truth came through Jesus. I find it interesting that in this passage it says that God revealed Himself through grace and truth rather than through law. His heart was revealed through the Son, not the stones. Although the law does reveal our need for Him, it does not say that we should balance law and grace in order to come to the final revelation of God. To further clarify this, Hebrews starts off by making it clear that even though God revealed Himself to the Old Testament saints in various ways, He is now speaking to us in the person of Christ (see Heb. 1:1-3). He did not just bring a revelation of God, but IS the revelation of God. So the gospel goes beyond a message of how we can be saved, but is a revelation of the heart of God to mankind. So at the end of the Old Testament, which gives the story of man’s sin, the law, and the temporary judgements of God, there might be some confusion about what the nature of God is like. The gospel is the clear look into the heart of God. And rather than being a philosophical or esoteric concept, this love was revealed through the climactic act of Christ’s sacrifice.
So to comment on what you said about the up and down Christianity you experienced: I think that people really need to grasp the gospel message. Paul said to the Colossians that the gospel was bearing fruit in their lives ever since they “heard and understood the grace of God in truth (see Col. 1:6).” But since we have mostly been taught a watered down gospel that lack the fullness of the truth of grace, we look for something else to fill the void in our hearts and to become fruitful, whether it be the latest revival meetings, a future “season” of blessing that we wait for, or the newest Christian sub-culture trend. But Christ is said to be the fulfillment, the substance of all of the good things God has for us. He is our Sabbath, our Life (revival), and our Year of never ending favor. By the way, Paul rebuked the Colossians for observing Sabbaths and seasons in Chapter 2.
Now to address the “dangers” of grace that are popping up all around. You know Jon, this is something I’ve given much thought and prayer. I’m well aware of how this fresh grace revelation is being blacklisted as “hyper grace” and “greasy grace” and such. I think this is all basically rooted in a misunderstanding of grace and scripture in general. You also touched on something that I have heard quite a bit that says, “yes there are scriptures on grace but you have to read the whole Bible with the wrath and judgments and all.” The funny thing is, this is exactly what I would say to the ones warning against too much grace. Yes there is law and judgement in scripture, but if you read the whole book you end up in the key of grace. Take 2 Corinthians 3 for example. Paul says that the glory of the law was destined to fade away but that the New Covenant has a glory that will ever increase. The whole point of the law and evil being allowed to run its course was to bring us to a revelation of the mercy and grace of our Father. To call grace dangerous in my opinion is to call the gospel dangerous. The only way humanity will be saved and transformed is through the preaching of the gospel (grace). There is no “ok that doesn’t work so let’s beat people into submission with the law” plan B.
Something that people will say about the gospel is that a true gospel is one of repentance and holiness being proclaimed. I think people take repentance out of context and also misconstrue the definition. It means to change your thinking and though Jesus did say “Repent or perish”, this was something He said to those under the law to show how all mankind needs a Savior (see Luke 13). But I see T-shirts and banners with this one-liner, which in my opinion puts the gospel in a false light. A New Covenant verse to take into consideration says that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance (see Rom 2:4). But we preach it backwards. We say, “repent or else you won’t see the goodness of God”. Furthermore, we are to repent from dead works, Hebrews says. This means I repent from trying to work for my salvation and spiritual success and trust the Living God instead. Not to mention that originally Jesus was telling Jews to repent about how they viewed the Kingdom of God (when it would come and how it would look) not their sin (see Matt. 1:17 & Mark 1:15). So you see how these things can get blown out of proportion.
When Paul was correcting the Galatian church, he said he was shocked that they were turning from the grace of God to another gospel. Did you see that? Grace = the gospel! So I think the heresy hunters are aiming their guns at the wrong culprit when they warn about grace, even though I am sure some people have perverted the idea of grace just like they could with anything else in the Bible. You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
And yes, holiness in terms of the way we live out the gospel is important, but Romans 6:22 says that this is the fruit of the gospel, not the message or the root. I don’t walk up to a sinner and say, “I have good news for you: you must be as holy as God.” Grace is the message because Jesus is the message and He just so happened to reveal grace and truth, not a God who was out for revenge and forced obedience. Just like we reject the idea of a “prosperity” gospel which says Jesus just came to make us successful, why do we not also reject the idea of a holiness gospel or a repentance gospel when Paul said that there can be none other than the gospel of grace.
What you’re talking about reminds me of Galatians 3:24-25 “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” So what you’re saying is that because people are only hearing a watered down version of grace mixed with the law, they are not seeing its effects in their life and instead find themselves in “seasons” of dryness or abundance instead of the year of unceasing favor. That was my experience. I had been in a church that taught grace along with concepts of law/judgment/conditionality and when I heard the pure gospel of grace it was as if I was hearing it for the first time; as if I had not ever heard it before. It made a noticable impact of everything in my life. It seems this message of grace will inevitably change some of our closely held philosophies or at least cause us to question them.
When you speak of repentance, you do not mean the confession of sin and beating yourself physically or emotionally, you mean changing our opinions and thoughts on a matter. Usually when I find repentance mentioned in the Bible, it’s used toward people who don’t believe the gospel that they must turn from their self-righteousness towards justification by faith in Christ. However, Hebrews mentions repentance in context of repenting of dead works, which we understand to be “useless rituals.” Those rituals that were required by the old covenant to purify the sins of the people. I believe its only once used to refer to sin in Corinthians. So now, I have two questions for you. What do you do when you find a scripture that seems to contradict the grace message? And what are some of the ways that the gospel can be mistaught or confused? Are there any warnings or comments that you would give people who are just now hearing about grace?
Well, to answer the first question: the Lord gave me a message a little while ago called “Keep Reading Until You Get To Grace”. What it basically says is that the whole story of the Bible culminates with the grace of Christ being revealed so we should be able to see how each scripture has its fulfillment in Jesus and His work on the cross. I’m not saying that we should only read scriptures that sound gracious to the naked ear, but that we can be assured of the grace of the Lord Jesus throughout all of Scripture. As you just mentioned, the law was our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. Law was fulfilled in grace, not the other way around. Along with Law came the devastating consequences of disobedience. But this was all to show man his need for a Savior. When grace is emphasized, the blessings that follow are also emphasized rather than judgments for those who fail to keep the law.
To expand on that just a little, there are still warning and judgement scriptures which addresses what happens when we reject Jesus and His gospel. However, I would not say that these contradict the grace message. Think of someone who constantly rejects love and is cold to people who reach out to them. This person’s actions do nothing to lessen the power of love, but their actions are preventing them from experiencing the power of love. In the same way, grace is truth, but for those who reject it, this truth will not be their experience.
I think the gospel/grace is mistaught or confused when we remove the cross from the message. Paul said we preach Christ and Him crucified, not Christ and Him laying in a manger or Him coming back on a white horse. So what I have seen is that there are two ways in which the cross gets removed from our message. The first way is easily recognized. This is where people just preach that God loves us and accepts us (which is 100% true) but mention nothing about salvation through the cross. The church then becomes a nice charitable organization but without any power. In this kind of church, there is a fear of offending man and unity is sought after, but again, in a way that tries to bypass the cross. They will say, well we are all good people (which we can all be good people by having His nature birthed in us). They may also say, well we are all just sinners, God understands and has pity on us. Again, this is true apart from the cross; but that is why He died; to kill that old man that was contrary to our original design. So you see, all of these things are devoid of the cross. His cross is where God’s love was manifested and where we lose our sin nature and take on righteousness instead. The old acronym says GRACE is God’s riches AT CHRIST’S EXPENSE, not merely God’s riches.
But there is another side to this crossless gospel. But this one is more readily accepted by religious zealots. This is where our own obedience and discipline is emphasized over what Christ did on our behalf. In this gospel you hear things like, “Gotta die to self and crucify the flesh everyday brother.” “Gotta obey in order to see the blessings.” Now these things seem very spiritual and even pro-cross, but you see our cross, our sacrifice is not what saves us. His cross did! I find that people in this group can be very harsh and critical. It is because they are actually trying to keep the law and know that they are failing deep down. So they judge others they deem less spiritual than themselves. They counter that with even more self-discipline and effort to please God. I have been bit by this thing myself. They preach “we will do whatever God says”. This sounds great on the surface, but is that not what got Israel in trouble in the wilderness? They said “Whatever you command us, that we will do.” Then the law and judgements started coming and they fell short of their promise over and over without simply confessing their need for grace like king David. You’re much better off accepting Christ and His sacrifice and saying something like this: “I could never believe and obey God perfectly. This is why I need a Savior. By grace, I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I that live but Christ lives in me. Through His life, His faith, and His obedience, I will enjoy and manifest the good life in God.” So the cross is not all about us trying to die to self, even though self-sacrifice is woven into the nature of the Christian, but accepting the great exchange of His life for ours. The cross is supernatural, it is where we were mystically united with God.
As far as warnings to those hearing grace, I would say not to fear excess of grace, which will send you cowering back into law. But I would also say to let the Holy Spirit teach you about grace and expand your current revelation. Get this for yourself and don’t try to copy someone else. I would also say that this message comes with persecution. People may not stone you with stones here in the West, but they may stone you with words. But always run what people say through the Scripture and the fruit of the Spirit and you will not go wrong. If you are trying to control grace or balance grace, you won’t experience the true freedom that comes from grace according to God. If you are afraid of getting into error, you already are in error because fear is error. But the love and grace of the Father will set you free from these fears.
I would also add that grace will set you free from bad habits but it usually brings them to the surface first. This is because when grace is present, we quit hiding under a religious mask. We might think that we have been really holy trying to keep a religious form or law, but many times we are actually suppressing these negative things inside whereas grace will deal with them in love. You will lose your false humility that tries to make itself look spiritual as you realize that all goodness comes from Him. You lose the fear of being rejected by God under grace but you also lose the desire for sin. So I like to say that Grace is God’s all purpose solution for life on Earth. What is this grace? It is not a spiritual energy drink to help us perform better, it is not God ignoring our sin. It is the gift of Christ Himself living in us.
Wow! Excellent John. In my own study, I have purposefully examined scriptures that seem to contradict grace because I have the same conviction as you, that eventually we will find grace in them because that’s the core of the gospel. It also seems we’ve taken some of the scriptures of judgement (written to unbelievers) and applied them to believers and condemned ourselves. I might need to look again at the bible and see if there are scriptures where I do that.
I can also understand the crossless gospel preached. In some sermons I listen to, I never even hear Christ mentioned nor any concepts of what he did. However, they also speak on things that are trivial or contradictory to the message of the cross and claim that those things are the messages of true importance. And its not that obedience and good deeds shouldn’t be taught, but we have to remember their context. Genuine love is not our love for God, it is God’s love for us. When we lose sight of that, emphasizing our love, our good deeds, our obedience rather than or in replacement of God’s, we don’t see God’s love. And if we don’t see God’s love, our good deeds or love become like a shadow of true fruit. Good fruit comes when we are drinking in good resources. It’s amazing how ministries like Joseph Prince will emphasize Christ and secondary to that obedience and yet the people in their church are being set free from some of the most difficult addictions whereas other churches emphasize obedience and disregard the cross (unintentionally) and yet see people struggle with many problems. No church is without problems, but it seems when grace is preached, people become truly willing and eager to do good out of gratefulness rather than reluctance, self-discipline, and fear.
Thank you for those warnings. I think the fear ministers have is that if they preach grace, their members will want to live sinful lifestyles. But just like you said, we all are surprised to find that sin un-becomes us when our hearts are overflowing with gratitude. Obedience should still be taught but only secondary to grace and not in replacement of it. And you’re right, we can never preach too much grace. It seems the more gracious it is, the better the fruit is. The danger is when we stop preaching grace and still expect gratefulness. That’s when we start to see unintentional fruits such as judgmentalism, harshness, criticalness, rudeness, inner strife, rebellion, and people falling away. Grace is what makes people loyal to God. When they forget about grace and put their trust in how good they’ve been they will eventually realize that they still mess up. And every time their trust will be shattered. So they come to realize their trust is unstable and they will sometimes chose to walk away from the faith because of that. I have many friends who started walking away from the faith because they were burnt out of their religious backgrounds but then the message of grace took hold of them and now today they are the most dedicated christians.
You said, “grace will set you free from bad habits but it usually brings them to the surface first.” This is somewhat what happened to me when I came to grace. Unfortunately when you live under a religious system, though outwardly you are doing all the right things, inwardly you struggle with yourself. You find yourself ambitious to do good works outwardly, but inwardly your heart regrets it and finds no pleasure in it. You think it does, you try to make yourself want what is good, but secretly you entertain wishes for sinful freedom. When grace is not well taught (taught without Christ), sometimes that rebellion that has been harboring in people’s hearts will use that message as an excuse to entertain sinful lusts. However people who think that way have completely missed the message of grace. Grace does not make sin ok, it makes you righteous despite your sin. And when you are righteousness always, you exhibit your identity in your behaviors. Its actually a promise of genuine change. So people who rebel that way eventually realize that there is no reward to their sin, and in humility they truly accept the grace of God. Their very rebellion becomes the catalyst by which they are truly bound to grace. Meaning, it becomes the avenue by which God forgives them and makes them truly grateful. Then they find their behaviors not merely outwardly doing what is right, but from deep within they find a great joy and eagerness to do what is right from their heart. Their heart doesn’t betray them when they do good. No one has to convince them of the good they need to do, they find it coming naturally.
Thank you so much John for your time. This has been a wonderful introduction to the controversy of grace. I really enjoy your thoughts and the revelation that the Spirit gives you. I pray that our readers will be blessed and know deep within that they are loved. I pray that God’s grace would be accepted in them and that they would be truly grateful. John, it’s been a blessing having you. Hopefully we will do another interview soon. Do you have any closing thoughts?
Thanks Jon Paul. It’s been a pleasure. Well, to close I would just encourage and bless everyone in the same way that the early church fathers did; which is to grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and see it multiplied in your lives. Don’t back off of your pursuit of the genuine gospel message. If your gospel doesn’t sound too good to be true, well then it probably is not the gospel. This fresh grace revelation, call it a movement or whatever, is not some passing trend in the church that will fade away or be replaced in a few years.
Over the past few decades, the church has gone through times of focusing heavily on such topics as faith, spiritual warfare, the prophetic, etc. These have all been beneficial in their own way and had been neglected by much of the church. But grace is different. It is not merely a doctrine or principle amongst many others, but is the essence of the gospel. So with this movement, we are actually simply returning to the true message and seeing Jesus for who He really is. I’m going to be bold and say that the whole message of the Bible is Jesus Christ and His finished work. We must see the whole before we can understand each part. We have compartmentalized the Bible over here in the West into many separate topics that are supposed to help us live successful spiritual lives, but if we miss the simplicity of Christ, what have we really gained? Jesus is the answer. Simple enough for you? It is my desire to see people filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, which is Jesus and the grace that He brought to mankind.