What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? – Romans 6:1-2 (ESV)
Where grace exists, there is always a chance that it will be taken advantage of or misunderstood. But if our response to grace is to abuse it, then maybe we haven’t truly understood or embraced it. And where grace has not been understood or embraced, the solution is to proclaim grace all the more. That’s counter-intuitive. Limits and caveats seem like the way to curb the misuse of grace. What we really need is to encounter grace in all of its fullness. We need to see the deep cost at which God extends his grace to us. Only then do we realize that the old self is gone, the new self has come, and with it our identity has been fundamentally transformed. How could we continue to live as we did before our encounter with this kind of radical grace?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)
Grace. One word sums up the message of salvation. One word addresses our deepest need. One word shatters every categorical distinction.
Grace is for those who think they are beyond the reach of grace.
Grace is for those who think they don’t need any grace.
Grace is for those who think they are unlovable.
Grace is for those who think they are inherently lovable.
Grace is for those who think grace is only what “the other people” need.
Grace is for those who think they have grace figured out.
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven-for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” Luke 7:47 (ESV).
We have a tendency to minimize our need for forgiveness. It’s human nature to assume that others are worse sinners than we are. I do it. You do it. Simon the Pharisee did it. And it caused him to miss out on a potentially life-changing truth. The depth to which we experience the transforming power of God’s forgiveness depends on our ability to see the depth of our sin. Only when we grasp what we are really like can we appreciate the richness of God’s mercy and grace.
What is our motivation for obeying God? For some of us, it might be fear. We obey God because we are wary of what might happen to us. For others, our motivation is rooted in guilt. We know that we have fallen short in the past and we feel bad about it. In Titus 2:11-14, Paul talks about the salvation-bringing grace of God which teaches us to say no to what is wrong and yes to what is right. He highlights the important truth that God’s grace is the motivation for our obedience.
When we ground our obedience in anything else, we start to go sideways. Only grace provides lasting motivation to pursue a life of holiness. Fear and guilt can change behavior for a season. But over time they lead to resentment and rebellion. They do not have the lasting power to change us. Only God’s grace can do that. And when we experience the radically undeserved grace of God, we discover that obedience to him is our natural response.
It’s usually said that we can all identify with one of the two sons in the parable of the Prodigal Son. We are either bent toward reckless, immature living like the younger son or self-righteous rule-keeping like the older son. I typically see more of myself in the older son. I’m prone to think that my obedience somehow makes me more loved and accepted by God. I tend to be judgmental of those who aren’t as “good” at following the rules. The fact is I’m just as much like the younger son as the older son.
Asking for an early inheritance was akin to saying, “I no longer care if you’re alive. Just give me my due now.” The younger son was more interested in having his father’s stuff than he was in having the father. And this is where I see myself. It’s all those times when I choose and desire the things of this world more than the Father. Paul says in Romans 1 that the essence of sin is preferring the creation to the creator. I’m guilty of doing that. We all are because we’re all prodigals. Thankfully, we have a Father who loves prodigals.
“Prone to wander Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” Anyone who has been a Christian for a while has felt the truth of these lyrics at some point. When times are hard, it’s easy to wander toward sin. When times are good it’s easy to miss the fact that we have wandered or are about to wander toward sin. Even on our best days our natural inclination is to go our own way.
But in his grace, God does not allow us to stumble and fall completely away from him. He alone keeps us from stumbling. He alone has the power to keep us in his grace. And not only does he sustain our faith, he delights in doing so.
“Live like it’s Christmas all year.” Some form of this phrase is said in churches all over America during the month of December. It sounds nice – living with joy, hope, and generosity toward others throughout the year. At least I think that’s what they mean. Sometimes it’s not entirely clear.
But that idea misses the point of Christmas. Christmas exists precisely because we don’t live like it’s Christmas all year. That’s why a Savior was sent as a baby into this broken and sinful world. To save people who are otherwise incapable of living like it’s Christmas all year.