It is really a simple problem in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I think it’s pretty hard to believe in many other denominations as well, but it may just be a little extra hard with our heritage.
For decades we have held public evangelistic meetings. Members have been encouraged to bring friends to these meetings and some do, but many only have friends who are already part of the denomination which reduces the opportunity to have “friends” to invite. In addition, the community is blanketed with mailers inviting people to attend the series (crusade, effort, lectures, etc.).
Attendees of these meetings are presented a carefully crafted series of messages to present truth in a seemingly irrefutable way. Those who begin buying into the speaker’s worldview and understanding of scripture are subtly, or not so subtly, led to see their new understandings not just as truth, but as a teaching which affords them a superior status in spiritual knowledge.
The novice in prophecy, hermeneutics, and maybe spirituality in general, gets this rush of moving rapidly toward expert as compared with the general population. Finally, agreeing to become part of the “remnant church” of Bible prophecy. the new member senses they are on the inside track and part of a favored group, those who are “right”.
We challenge new believers to leave family, friends, churches, workplaces (when Sabbath is an issue), to step out and be separate – to walk by faith in this new light that has come to them. So it isn’t hard to imagine that, over time, they may be tempted to believe they deserve God’s favor. After all, look at all the things they sacrificed: from alcohol, caffeine, sugar, meat, maybe even cheese, etc. in their diet, to their old wardrobe, jewelry and overly expensive clothes, to friends, family and workmates, to hobbies and Sabbath activities, and of course the burden of knowing all the “right” answers to all the end time events. Not that any of these choices aren’t necessarily “good” but there is a risk.
Having behaved, obeyed, believed, and chosen all of the above and more, there is a damning temptation to which we may succumb. We may block the freedom that God’s grace brings. Why? Because grace, in order to be grace, must be undeserved by the recipient, and when a person is tempted and then begins to believe that they deserve grace, it is no longer grace they receive but rather something they imagine they are owed. And to not receive grace is to not receive life.
Whether you are the worst person, literally the most diabolical person who ever lived, or whether people would wish to confer sainthood on you because you seem so holy, in either case you deserve nothing but death eternal, and you get life eternal only as an act of God’s grace which you do not deserve.
Maybe, just maybe, sometimes we Christians aren’t very gracious dispensers of grace because we have fooled ourselves, with the devil’s assistance, into believing we somehow deserve grace and that there are others around us who do not deserve it, so we don’t deliver it.
Getting grace right is acknowledgement that we don’t deserve it, and giving grace right is to acknowledge that to whomever we extend it, the only qualification for receiving it is not deserving it. That’s what makes it grace. And that’s pretty amazing.