Peace among one another is the golden rule for Christians in order to maintain fellowship as well as a positive witness to the world. However, Paul prefixed this instruction with “If it’s possible”, which means that Paul understood that there were times and reasons when “peace” among the brethren would not be possible. Respect, yes. Tolerance, perhaps. Love, always—but not necessarily peace. Paul understood this truth first hand through personal experience, not once, but twice with men who he respected, tolerated and loved. The first occurrence was with Barnabas when they ultimately went their own ways after years of travelling and ministering together as church planters. They had a “sharp contention”; a major disagreement which forced them to separate. (Acts 15). Paul’s second experience with the inability for peace was with Peter when he had to be confronted for hypocrisy that was causing gentile believers to stumble over his double standard. (Galatians 2). Peter easily fellowshipped with gentiles in this new found freedom, but when Jewish church leaders came on the scene, Peter quickly disassociated himself with his fellow Jewish Christian brothers and sisters. Paul rebuked Peter openly and severely for his dissimulation that threatened to destroy the faith of the new believers by vacillating on the truth of the liberty that no longer required the rite of circumcision to be saved .
St. Augustine is noted as being the author of this excellent quote, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
It’s debatable where the “grace” issue lies regarding this philosophy of creating and maintaining peace. Over the last few months, almost out of nowhere came this contention regarding the believer’s “grace”. I have read numerous articles, quotes, and comments over this hotly disputable topic. Some notable leaders in the Body of Christ are dead set against it, calling it “hyper grace”, while others cling to it ready to take on the “legalists” unto death. What is the sharp contention all about? What exactly is grace and how does it apply to our everyday living for Christ? While we are to love one another regardless of differences, major or minor, is this matter of grace an essential that requires both sides to be on the same page for the sake of unity or is it a non-essential where we can simply agree to disagree and continue on in fellowship? When you consider the doctrinal differences, it’s apparent that both sides can’t be right. Do we have to confess our sins in order to receive forgiveness, or is forgiveness a done deal? Are we forgiven for future sins automatically or must we repent at the time of the sin to maintain forgiveness? Are all men saved and they just don’t know it, or are all men sinners until they receive the transforming grace of God through Jesus’ blood? Is there a “second chance” after death, or does a final judgment await all men after they die, sealing their eternal fate? Will all mankind ultimately be with God in heaven in the end, or will unrepentant sinners be tormented forever in the fires of hell? Can a Christian lose their salvation, or are they safe no matter what? Again, I say, both sides can’t be right. These are essential matters of God’s Word that require absolute unity without room for compromise. Based upon the seriousness of the outcome of those opposing questions dealing with salvation and damnation, I am persuaded to believe that this is a matter where peace is not possible and separation is necessary.
First of all, let me say that I am not a legalist—I am a man who fears the Lord, called to be a watchman to the Body of Christ. We have been warned by Christ in Matthew 24, by Paul in 2Timothy 4 and by Peter in 2Peter 2 that major deception would infiltrate the last days Church to the point where even the very elect would be deceived if it were possible. Hebrews 5:12 shows us that there are ignorant Christians who have not yet matured as they should have in their knowledge and understanding of God’s Word at their own detriment to be able to distinguish between truth and error. “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.”
The matter of grace is one of those first principles that we trip over because of our wilful failure to understand what grace is all about. There is “saving grace” where we all begin, there is “dying grace” where we all end and then there is “living” grace where we find ourselves right now, having to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling. This is the grace necessary to please God with holy living that is acceptable to Him. “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).
We can expect there to arise false teachers today who sow their seeds of doctrine laced with deception to undiscerning and immature “baby” believers unskilled in the Word of truth. In fact, Jude 1:4 gives us a strong warning that we need to heed—“For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ”.
How do they deny the Lord? By spreading their malicious lies of unsanctified grace—radical grace that wrongly relieves the Christian from any sense of responsibility or effort or works to maintain salvation. Titus 1:16 makes that so clear—“They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work”. A tree is known by its fruit and so is a false prophet. I am so alarmed by this radical grace teaching today that is leading multitudes down a slippery slope of deception that denies the Lord through a lifestyle of worldliness, carelessness and sin that is only covered by grace through confession and godly repentance. John was writing to believers when he wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Yes, we have been given the ultimate gift of grace unto salvation by faith alone in Christ, and not by works of the flesh. Now we are required to work that salvation out through “living grace” as we maintain good works with clean hands and a pure heart. I close this trumpet call with a sober warning from Titus 2:11-13—“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”.
"In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”. Though this is an essential message where peace is not possible and leaves no room for liberty, it is given in love.