Imagine you’re a cave man and you’ve just brought down a woolly mammoth. Maybe you were hungry before but now you’ve got food for months. That’s how I felt after reading Grace Works: Letting God Rescue You from Empty Religion, by Dudley Hall. This isn’t a good book. This is five good books! It’s a woolly mammoth. It’s a twenty-year old, 275-page brick with 23 different messages in it.
Let me give you an idea of how meaty this book is. I usually take notes when reading grace books and these notes typically run to 5 or 6 single spaced pages. This time, 16 pages and 10,000 words. I kid you not. My notes from this book are longer than some books!
The writer in me is appalled – it’s too much – but the grace addict is grinning – there’s a lot of good stuff in here. If you were to go plant a church in some restricted access nation like Saudi Arabia and were allowed to take just one teaching book, this’d be the book to take. It covers so much.
This isn’t a book; it’s a department store.
So what’s in it?
Grace Works has a fine exposition of the gospel of grace; it offers a clear picture of the legalistic mindset and the misguided sacrifice mentality; there is a brilliant chapter on the futility of dying for causes and a nice contrast between human zeal and divine passion; divine simplicity is contrasted with the complications of dead religion; and there are chapters on finding your calling, defining sin and righteousness, walking in the spirit, living by promises rather than principles, and overcoming addiction. Phew!
You can probably tell that I got a lot out of this book. But if I was to single one thing that resonated with me at this particular point in my life, I would focus on what Hall says about causes:
A person who dies for a cause only, no matter how great the cause, has paid too great a price. To put it another way, a person who gives his or her life for the cause has misjudged the value of his life and the cause. There is only one thing worth giving your life for, and that is a relationship motivated by love. Love does not look for causes; it looks for persons.
Having lived in Hong Kong for many years, I know a lot about causes. You can’t walk down the street without bumping into a protestor or some organization trying to enact change. There’s nothing wrong with a good cause, but causes sometimes consume people like fuel and this is wrong.
Brace yourself – I’m going to say something that may shock: There is no cause more important than people – not even the gospel. Jesus didn’t suffer and die for the gospel; he suffered and died for you.
This is so obvious when you see it but many of us in ministry don’t see it. We see the church but not the people in it. We see the harvest field but not the individuals. We get so consumed by the problem, need, or vision that we make unholy sacrifices, even in pursuit of noble ends. The fruit of putting causes ahead of people speaks for itself.
The zeal for a cause is often motivated by anger. Over the long run, anger-driven behavior will not produce godly results… It has often been said that causes unites people. A look at the history of causes – “worthy” and “unworthy” – will show that the opposite more often is true. Love unites people. Causes divide people.
This is heady stuff and I’m still processing it. I plan to put up a few quotes on GraceQuotes.com if you’re interested in reading more.
So what do we do with a woolly mammoth? Who is Grace Works for?
This is not a book I’d give to new believers for the simple fact that most people don’t read any more. Most of us have the attention span of a gnat and this is a book that rewards serious study. It belongs on the shelf of serious men and women. If you are such a person, you’ll find Grace Works is a resource you’ll want to come back to time and again. And if you are a preacher or Bible teacher with no time to get your own sermons, you can steal them from this book. You’ll have enough for a year!
Update (December 2013): I have just received an updated version of this classic book. It has a slightly different title from the original – Grace Works: Rescued from Senseless Rebellion and Lifeless Religion. Look for the updated version on Amazon.