One of the things that gets to me the most are misunderstandings about grace. As Christians, we know that our salvation is something God gives, and no matter what we do this is something we can never earn. We can never be good enough to earn salvation.
When I write things about how as Christians we should not take grace and use it as a cop out for sin, then I go on to write about how we are to be fruitful as we grow in the righteous ways of God, this almost always angers people. The first thing many want to do is shout, “Grace!!” Or, they misunderstand this as works-based salvation.
Grace is “unmerited favor.” All things we have from God are unmerited favor. Any existence at all is unmerited favor, how much more is forgiveness of sins and the promise of resurrection and life eternal? Of course it is all grace, and there is nothing we can do to earn grace. However, there is an element to the gospel that is often twisted and confused, and along with these we often get an incomplete teaching on grace.
By grace through faith, we are literally freed from the snares of this world and all things that kill, steal, and destroy. We are made free from sin. When the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, this creates a new nature that will grow overtime. Overtime, if we are sincere in the faith and seek the Lord, we will naturally grow in righteousness. It is the work of the Lord in us, not something we have to burden ourselves with. It is not contingent on our ability or works, because any growth in righteous living we experience is of grace by faith.
There are many scriptures in the Bible showing us that faith that is sincere will be fruitful. If our faith is not fruitful, then we are not really God’s and we will be cast out. Doing things like making verbal professions of faith, or even becoming baptized, and then saying we are now “saved” is works based salvation. The will to “accept Jesus” and the work of making a “declaration of faith” or reciting a “sinners prayer.” This is not salvation by grace through faith in the strict and legalistic sense, though it can be the first steps towards salvation if we are sincere and if we continue in the faith.
If we sincerely respect the sacrifice of Jesus and believe in the lessons Jesus taught and the righteousness he stands for, we cannot help but become fruitful. However, we have to always know that any good thing in us came from God, so we have no cause to boast in our righteousness because we know the transformation taking place is the workmanship of the Lord (Ephesians 2:9). We are sinful creatures without the healing power of Jesus working in our hearts.
There is much to grace. Much to that unmerited favor Jesus gives us. Life is grace. Faith is grace. Forgiveness is grace. Healing that leads to a new nature over the course or our lives is grace. Resurrection is grace. Everlasting life is grace. Understanding these basic concepts affect much, for example, the notion of free-will salvation cannot exist along with grace. Faith is given to us because God predetermined our salvation from the beginning of time.
What grace is not is an excuse for living sinfully, though it does mean that as we strive in the faith and make mistakes, we do not beat ourselves up because we know we are graciously forgiven. The work of our salvation was finished on the cross, but we each have to see that work fulfilled in our individual lives as Christians. We must work out our own salvation with “fear and trembling” rather than becoming complacent because we know that though God is merciful and gracious, salvation is not something we are entitled to (Philippians 2:12).
We must go “from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17) from “righteousness to righteousness” (Romans 6:15-23) always knowing that Jesus will perform this work in us, and this is not something we must do to earn salvation (Philippians 1:6). Righteousness is the fruit of salvation. The natural result if our faith is not dead (James 2:14-26). The fruit of sincere faith, given by grace.
The righteousness I write and speak of is liberating. It is healing. It is freedom from the forces of destruction that lead to sin. This is meant to cause joy, thankfulness, and hope for our future. However, if we love our sin and we do not want to be free, then this will anger us. We would rather justify ourselves, and if we are Christians we might use mercy and grace to do so. That is not good. We might even begin to hate those who try to teach us otherwise. That is not good either.
However, even if we love our sin but know that it is wrong, are true with Jesus and confess, He is merciful to forgive and He is patient with us, not willing that we will perish, but that we would come into conformity with Him and live eternally. It all comes down to our hearts. Whether we are sincere or not, and only God can tell.
Salvation is not a get out of hell free card. That isn’t even an effective form of Christian motivation. It is the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom that comes to our very hearts and is “within you” (Luke 17:20-21). If the kingdom is within you, your nature will change and you will be faithful to Jesus and all he stands for and taught. Only then are we made fit, by grace through faith, for the everlasting kingdom of heaven to come.
I hope this makes things clear. For further reading, please take a look at:
Understanding Saved by Grace Through Faith
Avoiding the Legalistic Faith Trap
I cannot help but think that when we continue to use grace as an excuse for sin and then we even go so far as to persecute those who encourage us to lay hold of the promises of salvation so we can be “free indeed,” then we are not really receiving grace at all. We are deceiving ourselves, and we will be as the many parables Jesus taught. We will be as the seed on stony ground or among thorns, as the foolish virgins who took no oil for their lamp, as the man without the wedding garment, as the man who buried his talent, as the vine that was cast into the fire and burned. Jesus taught these things for a reason, and we should listen carefully.
On the other hand, it could be a faith issue that is rooted in the horrible teachings and preaching that prevails Western Christianity. It is hard to go against the grain or question what we have always been taught, but we should consider what Jesus said about his teachings being corrupted. Study for yourself. Pray. Seek Jesus and ask him to show you what is true. There are many false ideas that have invaded Christianity, but most are just incomplete. One of the most important concepts being that of grace.
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