My lopsided upbringing
The religious tradition I grew up in was a contradiction at best.
On one side of the pendulum, sermons were typically all about the grace of God that saves sinners. It’s glorious news, to be sure – and for my church it seemed like the only news. “Soul winning” was huge… and everyone was, ummm, “expected” to be a soul-winner. I attended the same church for my first 18 years, and don’t remember ever hearing a sermon about the importance of prayer, how to biblically deal with conflict, how to live in a healthy Christian marriage, or the reality of “Christ in me.” It was all the grace of God, that saves sinners through faith. Wonderful – for as far as it went.
On the other side of the pendulum, things weren’t so wonderful, because there wasn’t much talk about grace once you moved beyond the topic of salvation. Then it became the infamous lists – women can’t wear pants, nobody should attend movies, alcohol is evil and should never be touched, and smoking will not only give you cancer but could also cause God to hold you at arm’s length. Even as a kid something about that attitude smelled… I mean, beyond the nicotine smell on the music minister’s fingers and breath.
In short, though my church majored on grace for salvation, it was not one that most people would say was characterized by grace regarding the Christian life.
An extreme reaction
From what I’ve observed since then, I wasn’t the only one who was raised in that kind of religious culture. Many people saw the error of such “legalism” and began looking for something more, something different, something a little less… well… legal. As a result, the overall Christian culture reacted quite strongly to those imbalances. Instead of making everything into a list of do’s and don’t’s, Christian leaders began talking almost exclusively about “being under grace” and not “under law.” Biblical terms, to be sure – and powerful concepts when understood and applied rightly. But the meaning poured into those phrases over time became as imbalanced and dangerous as the mindset it was trying to correct.
When lovingly confronted about potentially unwise or ungodly choices in movies, or music, or speech, or (fill in the blank), Christians could routinely be heard to say, “Oh, but I’m under grace!” Or another common one, “I am free in Christ.”
TRANSLATION: “My actions don’t really matter, because I’m forgiven by God’s grace.”
or with a little more tongue in cheek:
“I’m free of any obligation toward obedience, because God’s given me a ‘get out of sin free’ card.
What’s wrong with this picture
To be clear:
- Yes, we are forgiven (past, present, & future) by the grace of God, through faith in Christ.
- Yes, it’s a wonderful thing, and we should wallow in it like a pig in a mud-bath, until grace soaks into the pores of our souls.
- But it doesn’t mean that we are to think, act, speak, or do anything we want, and think that it’s O.K.
Sin still matters.
Obedience still matters.
The holiness of God, expressed through the imputed righteousness and indwelling Spirit of Christ still matters.
The reason we are still alive
God saves us, entirely by His grace. We do nothing to deserve it, and nothing to keep it. That’s all Him.
But that wonderful, matchless grace of Jesus is not impotent. It has an effect (outcome), because it affects our inner being. When Jesus saves us by His grace, we are made into something we weren’t before – saints. We are literally, not figuratively, temples for the divine Person of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).
He lives in us. He desires to live through us. Ponder that colossal truth for a while… and your mind will go “tilt!”
You – Mr. or Miss “saved-by-grace-Christian,” are still on the planet to be a testimony, a proof, a witness to the saving grace of God. You are here to give Him glory by your new life that He has given to you. To use a modern phrase from the online world, your changed life is God’s “social proof.” As others see Him making changes in you, from your attitudes to your actions, they begin to believe that there just might be something to this “Christian” thing.
You are not very effective “social proof” for God when you live by an “I’m free to do what I want” attitude – because your life says that God is impotent, and Jesus came into your life to no avail.
Here’s a challenge for you, and for me: Daily strive to submit your entire mind, will, and emotion (your soul), to Jesus’ use and leadership.
- That means sin does matter… because it is a contradiction to who Jesus has created us to be (Ephesians 2:8-10).
- That means that obedience does matter… because Spirit-empowered obedience demonstrates that God’s grace to us was not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:10)
QUESTION: How have YOU seen the word “grace” misused or misapplied? What difference do you see that making?