Grace has never been easy for me to understand.
As a perfectionist, I am driven to do everything with the utmost care and precision – in the hopes of receiving favor in return. Whether that is in schoolwork, professional work, relationships, or anything else, it is a lifestyle controlled by a merit-based mentally. In other words, everything is based on my performance.
As Western people, we are accustomed to merit-based living. Promotions. Raises. Grades. Team Success. In our culture, people are known for what they have done, not who they are – and price (or value) is based on production.
Unfortunately, I have found that this causes problems in my walk with Christ. I’m a workhorse, and I always have been – and of course, that has carried over into my faith. I always felt (either consciously or subconsciously) that I needed to do something to be in right standing with the Lord; it is as if I thought that my salvation or relation to God was contingent upon my own efforts of righteousness. Without fully realizing, I was trying to earn God’s forgiveness. I based my Christianity on my actions. For example, I was a Good Christian if I wore the right clothes, sang the right songs, watched the right movies, posted the right Facebook statuses, went to the right Church services, and stayed away from drugs and sex.
The funny thing is that merit and effort play no role in redemption. In fact, Scripture says the exact opposite!
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.
He saved us — not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.
I like the way Tim Challies summarized Ephesians 2:8-9 when he said, “We are saved by grace through faith, not through reading the Bible and praying.” Ironically, we often find our thoughts drifting toward the notion that things such as spiritual discipline keep us in right standing before God.
Ultimately, our position in Christ has nothing to do with anything we have done; your redemption is only in existence because of Christ’s sacrifice as Calvary. Jesus is the reason that salvation is available to man, and man can do nothing to work his way into a justified relationship with Yahweh outside of the blood of Jesus Christ!
Grace is the granting of favor from God, which we do not deserve; it is completely unmerited kindness! In fact, the Greek word (χάρις) that is translated as grace literally means free, undeserved favor. We have done absolutely nothing to make ourselves worthy of redemption through Jesus Christ – the grace of God! Jesus sacrificed himself before you were born, thus providing salvation before you had a chance to “earn it” (talk about undeserved kindness)!
Let’s be honest though. We don’t like that; it makes us uncomfortable. We have the mindset of merit-based living! We want to earn everything and make ourselves worthy of all the favor we receive. Thus, grace is hard for us to understand – and we often continue living as if grace was a nonexistent reality.
Can I offer one encouragement? A single suggestion?
Lay down your efforts! Enjoy God as you live under His grace. You don’t have to perform to please God – in Christ, you are already pleasing to Him. Living under grace severs the legalistic mesh of ‘I must do this’ or ‘I should do that’ to gain God’s acceptance. You are accepted by grace, and His favor is extended to you freely! God has forgiven you, so start living as if that is true!