Christian - Is There a Problem With Grace? (part 1)
If you are a Christian, did you know that God’s grace is the nature of your Christian life?
Paul, one of Jesus’s disciples and apostles of the first-century church, was a man who could proudly boast in his personal and religious credentials (Philippians 3:4-6). Like his fellow Pharisees, he was convinced he had a special relationship with God. Out of grace, God chose from among humanity a special group of people: Israel (Deut. 7:6-11). Yet, Pharisees (which means “separatists”) were the special among the special because of their rigorous compliance with God’s Law as they interpreted it. They were Bible students and Bible teachers who were the evangelists of Israel. They were convinced that though God was gracious, it was imperative that they be the most upright, pious, and holy people of God by doing good works and being super moral. No one could ever fault them for their sincerity in doing everything they could to honor and please God. Nor could very many outshine their zeal to be pure and righteous (Matt. 5:20).
Paul was one of them. The absolute best, he wrote in Philippians 3:5-6,
If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
But then he had a radical, life-changing encounter with God. He came face-to-face with Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1-9). That experience changed everything. He would come to a deep understanding that approaching God was by grace, knowing God was by grace, and living for God was by grace. This understanding was what he would call meta-knowledge (epignosis in the original Greek language).
This life change came from a mind and heart change. The entirety of living in and for Jesus is by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-10). This was essential to the good news he preached and was central to the doctrines he taught. However, his life, preaching, and teaching put him in conflict with his former Jewish friends and peers. It also put him in conflict with followers of Jesus during his day. Both groups opposed this mercy, grace, and freedom talk because they were concerned about honoring and pleasing a holy God. They argued, “If you preach and teach grace then people will take advantage of that and live for themselves. If they live for themselves they will live immoral, lazy and lawless lives!” Paul was not the only one to deal with that charge. It’s been an on-going protest in Christianity ever since.
Paul addressed this serious concern in the letter to the Romans. In Romans 1-5, he explained the tension and challenge between law and sin versus grace and holiness. Yet, after all that, he knew people would still object. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” he asks in Romans 6:1. So he explained how to understand this life of grace in Romans chapters 6 and 7. How, as believers in Jesus Christ, do we live by grace is then fleshed out in the rest of Romans.
Paul even had to confront this matter head-on with Jesus' original disciples, Peter and James (Acts 15). He came down pretty hard in his letter to the Galatians. As you may know, in that letter, Paul answers those people who claimed to believe in Jesus but said that while we might come to God by grace we remain with God by works of the Law. This was a very similar teaching of the Pharisees.
As Christ's Church moved through history, this tension between law and grace continued. Every now and then God would raise up men who set the story straight: all of the Christian life, from start to finish is by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. This was the key debate that sparked the Reformation of the church (and European society) starting in the 1400s that lasted into the early 1700s.
Here’s the crux of the matter: the Law of God is the model for holy living but it is not the mode for holy living. The Law of God is the measure but not the means for the Christian life. How do we know we are holy and righteous enough for God? The Law tells us. Failing to keep every single, itsy bitsy part of the Law means we have failed. This is what it means to be a sinner. Sin is the lack of conformity to and stepping over the bounds of the perfect, high moral standards of God. The Bible is clear that there is nothing you or I can do to earn God’s favor because we are sinners. All that we are without Christ is poisoned by sin. This pollution corrupts our:
· Hearts (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Isa. 64:6-8; Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; John 12:40).
· Minds (Eccl. 9:5; Rom. 3:11; 8:7; II Cor. 4:3-4; Eph. 4:18).
· Wills (Prov. 8:36; John 3:19; 5:40; 8:44; Eph. 4:19).
· Abilities (Prov. 20:9; Jer. 13:23; John 6:44; Rom. 3:11; 8:8; I Cor. 2:14; II Tim. 2:24-25).
· Souls (Eccl. 7:20; Psa. 51:5; 53:1-3; 58:3; Isa. 64:6-8; John 3:19-20; Acts 26:18; Rom. 3:9-18).
This pollution is a spiritual and a physical DNA problem that goes back to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3; Psa. 51:5; Job 14:4). We can never be pure enough for God’s perfect holiness. This pollution is worse than the Ebola virus in the sense that it contaminates everything we are and all that we do, and every relationship we have with God, others, and the planet. Actually, the picture the Bible presents is more like the fictional virus that turns people into zombies - the living dead (Eph. 2:1-3).
When Adam and Eve failed to live perfectly (they only had one law to fulfill), the infection of sin resulted in judicial death (Rom. 5:16), spiritual death (Eph. 2:1-5) and psycho-social death (Gen. 3:19). The effects of this sin-virus are seen everywhere: in our own lives, in history, in the world around us, and in the Bible’s descriptions (Rom. 3:10-18; 8:6-7; 1 Cor. 2:14).
Since then, men and women have attempted to cure this sin disease on their own terms by creating new standards and ways. If we only redefine the virus then it will not affect us. Yeah, right. Some even took God’s Law and added to it saying that by our efforts we can remove sin and make ourselves acceptable before God. The fact is, we have a total inability to remove sin and become perfectly holy and righteous before pure God (John 1:13; 3:5; 6:44; Rom. 7; 8:7-8; 2 Cor. 3:5; Heb. 11:6).
This is where God’s grace comes in. Before the history of mankind, God took the initiative to be gracious to you and me. By amazing grace, he chose to save us from sin’s viral effects and to make those who believe in him whole again. He did that in order to bring you and me home as his long-lost and once-diseased son or daughter (Eph. 1:4).
For more, check out: Exodus 33:19; Psalm 65:4; Isa. 43:1-2; 45:5; 64:6-8; Jer. 1:4-8; Ez. 18:4; Matt. 1:21; 11:27; Luke 4:25-27; 18:7; John 5:21, 40; 6:29-40; 63-65; 10:14-16; 27-29; 15:16; 17:1-2, 6-9; 24; Acts 9:1-16; 10:39-42; 13:48; Rom. 9:11; 19-24; 11:1-6; 11:18-23; 8:28-30; Eph. 1:1ff; 2:10; Col. 3:12; I Thess. 1:4; II Tim. 1:9; I Pet. 2:9f.)
Grace comes from God (Rom. 1:1-2; 5:8). God demonstrates his grace by sending Christ to the live a perfect, holy life on our behalf and sent Jesus to the cross to die in our place for our sin and guilt (Matt. 1:21; 1 Pet. 2:9-10).
For more, study: Isa. 53:1-12; Psalm 11:9; Matthew 1:21; 18:11; 20:28; 26:28; Luke 19:10; John 6:37-40; 6:63-65; 10:14-16; 27-29; 17:1-2; 6-9; 24; Acts 9:1-16; 10:39-42; Rom. 9:11; 19-24; 11:1-23; Eph. 2:10; I Thess. 1:4; II Tim. 1:9; I Pet. 2:9-10.
It is by God’s grace Jesus saves us from his purifying fire and from our guilt (Eph. 1:1-2:7). By grace, Jesus paid the price to purify us of our sin disease (Psalm 41:4; 103:3; Isa. 53:5; 1 Pet. 2:24; 1 John 1:9) and paved the way for us to come to our loving Father-God. Trusting in what Jesus has done and is doing for us makes us whole and holy.
So, you see, there is no problem with God’s grace. Like the Pharisees of old and many others throughout history, we should and need to be convinced that God is gracious. He is gracious to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). God’s grace through Christ makes us holy and pronounces us righteous. At the same time, we should be as convinced that God’s grace keeps us cured and gives us the desire and strength to live lives of holiness (Rom. 5:15; Rom. 5:21; Eph. 1:4-6; Phil. 1:6). Like Paul, we should come to a deep understanding that approaching God is by grace, knowing God is by grace, and living for God is by grace (more on this in Part 2).
Let me know what you think. Do you struggle with law and grace in your own life?