Classic Reprint: Does Grace Cancel Holiness?

Okay, this is a re-posting of a classic piece from last High Holiday season. I wrote it in an informal style. It could use a little polishing and could be the basis of a first rate article. But here it is in all of its raw, unfiltered, rhetorical glory. The issue is as important now as ever.

I pray you all have a productive season this High Holidays.


Several things led me to write on this topic. First, I was reading the blog of a well-respected Christian intellectual who holds a high-visibility post in Christian media. He espoused an idea I hear sometimes which troubles me greatly: that grace means we should be realistic and not expect too much holiness in Christendom as a whole. That is, we should not be surprised when we hear surveys showing that Christians are no different than non-Christians in areas like marriage, sexual sin, and so on.

Second, I am writing about this because I think it is something our community, those of us in MJ, struggle with. We are people in between two worlds. On the one side, is our Jewish world in which our people are making long prayers of repentance. Some are seeking to earn a good year by pleasing God with much repentance. On the other side, is our Christian world in which our brothers and sisters emphasize grace sometimes to the exclusion of holiness. I want to clarify some things for my Christian friends and try to help others with me in MJ who wonder: How seriously should I take the High Holidays and repentance?

First, for my Christian friends, let me start with two disclaimers:
1. I believe that we cannot merit God’s love or acceptance by our own goodness.
2. I believe that we cannot grow in godly character merely by willpower or self-determination.

Yes, I believe in grace. I just think many Christians and Messianic Jews are tragically anti-New Testament in their view of grace. Would Paul agree with any of the following statements?
a) I have the righteousness of Christ in me and God does not see my sin.
b) I cannot do anything good except believe in God, and even that is God’s gift and not my choice.
c) I will always be a failure, so I need to revel in grace and accept that I am going to fail God again and again.
d) God never intended that his people would actually become holy and as soon as we think this should be our goal we have left grace.

My answer? No. Paul would not agree with any of these statements. The third one comes close, but even in it there is subtle error: a casual acceptance of sin as though holiness does not matter to God.

If you are a Christian and struggle with the boundaries between grace and holiness, can I recommend Jerry Bridge’s excellent volumes: The Pursuit of Holiness and The Practice of Godliness (both available at

You see, for us Messianics, it is a troubling and vital issue right now: should we sorrow and lament over our sins or should we casually assume that our holiness is in Messiah and not take this repentance thing too seriously?

I’d like to share a little biblical light on things. First, two sayings of Yeshua have bearing on this question:

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:7

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus:

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1 Response to Classic Reprint: Does Grace Cancel Holiness?

  1. bobcharters says:

    This is the type of blgpost that should be broadcasted from the rooftops, Rabbi.

    IMHO, people mistake grace for mercy. Mercy is what’s been holding back G-d’s hand of judgment on the Western Church for not taking advantage of grace. Grace is there to enable us to become holy. Proper use of mercy is to seek forgiveness when we fail.

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