The Difference Between Law, Liberalism, and Grace

There is a big risk for church planters like me who move to the West Coast. Everyone is watching and waiting -- they want to see if we will go liberal. This is a valid concern. In the bible, Paul, the original church planter warned against teachers that stray from the Truth. I'm spending a lot of time in Portland engaging people in conversation. Last week, I talked to a pagan named Spike who drank out of two jugs while we spoke.  One was filled with pumpkin-spiced eggnog and the other had rum. We talked a little about Jesus and a LOT about everything else.

It's hard to meet people like Spike and not walk away changed. (If you like to pray - please pray for Spike.) If transformation is inevitable on this wild church planting journey, I want to make sure it is happening in a way that pleases God. To this point, I think I've been struggling against a false dichotomy (law vs liberalism). For far too long, I've ignored that fact that there is a third option in all of this (grace). I'm doing my best to understand the differences between the three.  I'm beginning to suspect that finding the answer might change everything. I'm looking forward to that.

I think it's helpful to frame this conversation in a hypothetical situation. If the law, liberalism, and grace all ran into a person living in poverty, how would each one respond?

THE LAW SAYS:  They deserve it, so I can't really help.

  • Under a strict interpretation of this view, the law is permanent and inflexible. Right is right, and wrong is wrong.
  • Compassion is very flexible. Sometimes in order to apply the law to culture, I have to rationalize the pain that others are going through.
  • A person with a law point of view would say, "even if I did try to help, it wouldn't really help."
  • It sounds harsh to say, "they deserve it," but it isn't a belief that is totally outside of scripture.
  • A law-based approach embraces systems that reward hard work. Many people who embrace this view have worked very hard themselves.
  • People who embrace the law-based view are not bad people. However, they get really frustrated with people who they feel are bad.


LIBERALISM SAYS: They don't deserve it, so we have to help.

  • Under this view, the law is flexible and negotiable. The law can change over time with the trends of culture. 
  • Compassion is non-negotiable. In fact, the only thing that becomes outlawed is the adherence to any set system of rules.
  • Many times, liberalism puts feelings first.
  • There is a great biblical case to be made for liberal amounts of compassion.
  • A liberal person system seeks out broken and disenfranchised people, and compels others to help (even if they don't want to help).
  • Liberals embrace a set of values of their own, and they get really frustrated with people who don't agree.


GRACE SAYS: They deserve it, and I have to help, because I deserved it too. 

  • Grace is an equalizer.
  • Jesus didn't change the standard of the law. He kept the law perfectly in every way. He calls His followers to holiness, but He also makes it clear that this is impossible to achieve without His Spirit.
  • Jesus didn't reduce the penalty for breaking the law -- He paid the price Himself.
  • Grace brings Jesus into the picture, and we all fall short of his image. Somehow, for some reason, He wants us anyway. He gave his life to give us life. If we are Christians, grace is the power that unites us all.  It humbles us all.
  • Grace calls us to love those who hate us, and sacrifice our comfort so that others might find truth.
  • Grace never allows us to compromise God's standard. We are all equally in need of forgiveness and mercy.
  • Grace never allows us to ignore those who are hurting.
  • Grace is the force that has lead prisoners to pray for their captors and to rejoice in all matters of suffering for the sake of the Good News.
  • Grace calls me to die to a broken life in order to find a life that will never fade.
  • Grace calls me to do everything in my power to help others find the same.


Grace will never build a great government (until His Kingdom finally comes), but it can build an incredible church. Grace challenges us to change our framework. Maybe life isn't all about what's happening in our systems. Maybe life is really about what's going on in the hearts of those we are surrounded by. If that's true, grace will win.  But only if we let it win in us.

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
— Colossians 4:6
For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
— James 2:13
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
— Luke 6:36
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
— 2 Peter 3:9
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
— Colossians 3:12
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
— Hebrews 4:16


check out these verses on Grace




Aaron is the pastor of Spring of Life, a new church in Portland, Oregon. He's the owner of Amplify Creative.