I started reading quite a few books this morning. Well, rather I read parts of different ones. I’ll share what I found here. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because I have been struggling with this topic for years and I am not sure how to go about rediscovering it. Maybe you can help me. Maybe I can help you. I don’t know.
This topic is God’s grace.
The Bible is full of examples of God’s grace, from the promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3:15, to the final rescue of God’s people in Revelation. So why is this such a hard concept to grasp?
Because of one little idea that we are taught from childhood.
Nothing in life is free.
You want nice things? Work for them. You want privileges? You work for them. You have to earn what you want. And this spills over into our relationship with God.
In his book “Transforming Grace”, Dr. Jerry Bridges tackles this very issue. In the first chapter, he draws some very good parallels between what happens when a person declares financial bankruptcy and what happens when a person is saved. After describing the differences and levels of Chapter 11 (temporary) bankruptcy and Chapter 7 (permanent) bankruptcy, he compares it to our faith in this way:
So what kind of bankruptcy did we declare? To use the business analogy, did we file under chapter 7 or chapter 11? Was it permanent or temporary? I suspect most of us would say we declared permanent bankruptcy. Having trust Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, we realized we could not add any measure of good works to what He has already done. We believe He completely paid our debt of sin and secured for us the gift of eternal life.There is nothing more we can do to earn our salvation, so using the business analogy, we would say filed permanent bankruptcy. (p.15)
This is what we should have done. This how God offers grace and salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
However, this is not what we, I, seem to hold too. As I come to grips with this concept of grace, I found that Bridges very accurately describes what I have done instead.
However, I think most of us have actually declared temporary bankruptcy. Having trusted in Christ alone for our salvation, we have subtly and unconsciously reverted to a works relationship with God in our Christian lives. We recognize that even our best efforts cannot get us to heaven, but we do think they earn God’s blessings in our daily lives.
After we become Christians we begin to put away our more obvious sins, We also start attending church, put money in the offering plate, and maybe join a small group Bible study. We see some positive change in our lifestyle, and we begin to feel pretty good about ourselves. We are now ready to emerge from bankruptcy and pay our own way in the Christian life.
Then the day comes when we fall on our face spiritually. We lapse back into an old sin, or we fail to do what we should have done. Because we think we are now on our own, paying our own way, we assume we have forfeited all blessings from God for some undetermined period of time. Our expectation of God’s blessing depends on how well we feel we are living the Christian life. We declared temporary bankruptcy to get into His kingdom, so now we think we can and must pay our own way with God. We are saved by grace, but we are living by performance. (p.15-16)
This is something I have struggled with all of my Christian life. I was raised in charismatic churches and went to a fundamental baptist university. But I saw and experienced the same disturbing thing in all places. The idea that God cannot use you unless you have reached a certain state of perfection.
As a child, I took this very seriously. I remember for a short time, whenever I met someone new, one of the first things I asked them was were they a Christian. I seemed to have this idea that if a person was not a Christian, I could not be friends with them.
But at no other point in my life was this teaching of a performance-based salvation and earning grace more damaging then when I was in college at a fundamental baptist school. I was struggling with a particular sin that had a firm grip on me. I wanted to get free, but it seemed like I couldn’t. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, because I was afraid I would get kicked out of school. I thought that God could never use me because I was too dirty. I thought that because of my falling into this sin over and over again, God would never let me get married and have a family, because I did not deserve it.
I spent 6 years dealing with feelings of worthlessness. It is debilitating.
But when I graduated, and got away from the culture that bases salvation on performance, I began to see why I had not been able to shake that sin and why I was left with a feeling of worthlessness. I was trying to do it myself. I was trying to earn God’s grace and favor. I had forgotten this verse in Ephesians.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
I had forgotten that it is only God first showing me grace and favor that I have any worth and value at all. I had forgotten that He is the one who called me and pursued me, offering me this free gift, with no strings attached. I had forgotten this truth as well:
And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
God did not offer me salvation and then leave me to stumble along as best I could, figuring out on my own what He demands of me in order for me to work out my own salvation. I am a work in progress. In this life, I will struggle. I will fall to sin. I can’t even say that will “try my hardest” not to sin. It is impossible for me to not sin. But when I do sin, the right thing for me to do is to truly humble myself, realize fully what a great gift grace is, and to seek the Father’s forgiveness.
So, I have started to rediscover His grace. I hope you will too.