I was 19 sitting in a college Bible study the first time I was confronted with it face-to-face. The more God had taught me about his grace-driven interference into our lives and the more time I spent around people that reflected those beliefs the more I saw it. The excuses. The defensiveness. The theological justifications.
The student leading the group told us that holiness is just an ideal, that holy living isn’t attainable. He went on to explain that not only was God’s command to be holy not actually intended to be obeyed but also, since our sins are covered by Jesus’ death on the cross, we needed to not be so worried about trying to obey everything He commanded us. Life was to be fun, not burdensome, he said. Whatever habitual sins each of us dealt with—the idols, the pride, the attitude, the addictions—they were bound to get the best of us.
Why always be fighting what was going to inevitably happen when you’ve already been forgiven for it? God’s got you covered.
It is often the habit of an up-and-coming generation to overcompensate for the weaknesses of the previous generation. And in doing that, they create their own new set of downfalls. Especially among twentysomething believers, this can be seen in almost epidemic proportions by the way we treat the Gospel of grace.
We’re fleeing an older generation’s judgmental, legalistic, work-for-your-salvation mentality. That much is good. We’ve rebelled against their theology by adopting the idea that grace actually excuses the sin we want to practice. After all, we’re saved by grace and not works, right?
We have taken a few truths about Grace and distorted them, thinking freedom means we can do whatever we want instead of seeing the beautiful freedom of living like God intended. Had we actually been paying attention to the teaching we so like to abuse, we would find a few truths about Grace would smack our often self-centered theology in the face:
We’re freed from sin, but freed to righteousness
We’re unable to be righteous by our own merit. But when Jesus died on the cross He gave us His righteousness. Grace frees us from the enslaving sin that made us unable to be righteous, but it doesn’t free us from our call to be righteous. Where we once could choose nothing else but sin and our own desires, we now are free to live life for the real purpose we were created: to know Christ and to make Him known.
Paul delves into this issue in Romans: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! … But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:14-18)
Being a slave to righteousness is a long way from the “anything goes” mentality many of us have adopted. It’s also an exponentially better way to live.
We’re saved by faith alone, but our faith should lead to obedience
While we shouldn’t obey God to earn His love or out of fear, we neglect that we are to obey out of faith. We believe, and His Word proves, that what He says is better than what we want.
Spurgeon, in his sermon “The Obedience of Faith,” said, “The more of faith in Him you have, the more of obedience to Him will you manifest.” We tend to use the phrase “we’re saved by faith and not works” as an excuse for not living “holy” lives. In reality, our faith should be what drives us to holy living.
Although disobedience certainly doesn’t make us lose our salvation, it should create conflict in our hearts because we are acting in a way that is contrary to what we believe. Trusting that God’s wisdom and knowledge are superior to our own thoughts and desires will lead to obeying what He says.
The Gospel is inherently life-changing
A true encounter with saving grace will naturally radically change your heart to reflect more righteousness—not to permit more unrighteousness.
This doesn’t mean you will immediately stop sinning or never struggle. It just means that we shouldn’t stop struggling. Accepting defeat isn’t living as a slave to righteousness. Actually, it’s laziness.
Again, Paul points this out: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
You can’t intimately know the God of the universe and experience the extravagant grace He has poured out and yet, still be convinced that your sin is not a big deal and you’ve got something better going on than what He can offer you with righteousness.
Grace is mind-blowing in that it shows us God loves us based on the simple fact that He has chosen to love us, not because we can contribute anything to Him or have earned His love. That’s the actual story of grace, and it’s a million times better than the cheap “sin now/pray later” mentality many of us settle for.
An encounter with this grace drastically alters your life. The understanding of what it has accomplished for you gives you a perspective beyond just your own pleasures and habits. Even more than just changing the way you view life, it changes the way you live as it works in your heart over the course of your lifetime.
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 2:4). Grace strips you of your idols and sinfulness, beginning the process of making your life reflect the righteousness that was declared over you at the cross. Grace doesn’t cover up the sinfulness in your life—it shines a spotlight on it and gently prompts change because of the price at which you were bought.