You hear the word all the time- extremist- and it is almost never used kindly. Extremes in whatever form are simply not healthy or productive. History is full of damage done by those with extreme views acted out.
Extremists did damage in Christ’s church of the first century. Some saw personal merit as the answer to their approach to God. Others saw a cheap kind of grace as their ticket to heaven. Neither represented the balance of God embodied in Christ. One of the earliest descriptions of the Savior identified him as being “full of grace and truth”. (John 1:14) His ministry and life was a perfect blending of the gift of grace and the power of truth. The extremists who came later lost sight of that balance and consequently lost sight of Christ himself.
The law keepers who prided themselves by their ability to define down truth and justify themselves before God through acts of their own merit had an illusion of godliness but still came up empty despite all of their efforts. Paul addressed some of them and their extremes in the book of Colossians.
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules; ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack an value in restraining sensual indulgence. (2:20-23)
Then there were those who saw grace as an easy out to sin. Grace to them was a permission slip to do what they wanted. Jude said of them:
They are godless men, who change the grace of God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (vs. 4)
Their approach failed too. Paul dealt with a similar attitude in 1st Corinthians 6:12-13. Here he even quotes the approach of this failed philosophy. “Everything is permissible for me.” was the idea. He added that “everything was not beneficial” though and concluded that this extreme will only end in destruction.
Paul knew as we should that extremes nearly always end in destruction of some type. This brings us back to the balance of God- the perfect blend of truth and grace.
Listen to Paul once more:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. (Titus 2:11-12)
Accepting grace without honoring truth is extremism that results in a skewed view of who God is and leads us away from him. A truth focus not balanced by God’s grace is equally extremist and results in a harsh misrepresentation of what God expects of us and turns his commandments into burdens.
Either way we lose. Either way we are not equipped to handle temptation God’s way. Either way will not testify to the God of heaven.
Grace through faith (another balance statement of God) saves us. This is God’s work so that we will not fall back on the human tendency to boast about what we have done. But grace does not stop there. It leads us to become God’s workmanship “created in Christ Jesus to do good works“. (See Ephesians 2:8-10) It prepares us to handle temptation, exercise spiritual discipline and model our life after Christ.
This does testify of heaven.
Our challenge is to avoid the dangers of extremes and embrace the beautiful balance of “grace and truth” in Christ.