Twisted Grace

Eric Ortlund | Oct 14, 2009

Something interesting going on in Paul's final speech to the Ephesians in Acts 20. Quite poignantly, Paul knows he'll never see them again, and the Spirit himself is telling Paul that nothing but suffering and imprisonment awaits him. Paul doesn't lay about a basic gospel message in this speech, but does talk about faith and repentance (v. 21) and repeatedly talks about the gospel and grace (vv. 24, 32)--strikingly, in the same context speaking of how he declared "the whole counsel of God" (v. 27--does "the gospel of the grace of God" count as a kind of summary for "the whole counsel of God"?). But then he tells the Ephesian elders that wolves will come in teaching twisted things (v. 30, perfect participle), without explaining what those twisted things are.

In context, I can't help but think if these twisted things are things that twist grace. Note how the motivation is to draw disciples after themselves--to create disciples who will honor them, take them seriously, inflate their egos. But grace is the opposite of that, isn't it? It levels us all into beggars.

Strikingly, Paul is certain these people will come, although his warning doesn't sound like a prophecy--he just knows people like this will show up--and from the Ephesians themselves (v. 30). And he doesn't say anything about how to get rid of them. They're going to be there. He just warns them not to go after them, and says he's innocent of their blood (v. 31)--if they wander into quasi-legalistic ways of being a "Christian," it ain't Paul's fault. And then he commends them to God's grace as their only guide and defense against these twisted things (v. 32).

Two thoughts: I'm one of these wolves, or at least I have been. I can't end this by saying, Blast all those legalists among us, or whatever. I've been in church for many years, relating in quasi-legalistic ways, "encouraging" others in semi-legalistic ways, without the simple, leveling clarity of grace. Hopefully I'm not like that any more.

Also, these wolves are going to be there. It's inevitable. No way to neatly get rid of them. Church is going to be a "live" environment, not the laboratory environment of the classroom, where things are usually fairly orderly. But that's exactly where the grace we're commended to will work--not in some sanitized, quarantined place where only gracious people show up.