Almost every church will say they believe in grace. They will talk about it, preach about, and even sing about it. But if you listen a little longer and deeper into what is being said, you’ll often discover another message. And what you hear may be contrary to the truth about grace.
The Bible’s message of grace proclaims that while we were still sinners God demonstrated the fullness of His love for us. He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins. There, payment was made for our sins so that our guilt could be taken away. Also righteousness was given so that the pressure to have to be good enough could be taken away. Forgiveness and righteousness gained for us by Christ! Those who receive this grace by faith can experience the freedom and joy of being made right with God! No more guilt. No more pressure. No more laws to fulfill. Love comes bursting forth and fulfills more than the law ever could! What grace!
Is this what your church says about grace? Sometimes what sounds like grace in many churches is only window dressing for a very different message that they call “good news”. They believe in Jesus, His death on the cross, His resurrection, and faith. They say that coming to Him by faith is one thing and living by faith is something different. This other message says that God is only pleased with you when you do good things. It says that He is generally angry and waits for us to do what will please Him and unlock the blessings of heaven. It comes in messages that sometimes sound like this:
1. The more you read your Bible, pray, give, and serve, the more God will be pleased with you.
The essence of the “Good News” is that while we were not pleasing to God because of our sin, Christ died for us. As a sacrifice for us to God, He fully satisfied the Father. His sacrifice made us fully pleasing to the Father. There is no more blessing to give beyond what was expressed at the cross! To say that there is something else that I must do to be more pleasing is to insult the sacrifice of Christ! To say that there is more to receive beyond being made pleasing to the Father is to call unholy what He accomplished!
2. God will honor you if you will honor Him.
There are so many messages that the church sends out that sound right. This one is similar to: “God helps those who help themselves” and the more subtle version that says, “The more you do to please God, the more you will receive from Him.” Each of these is rooted in the idea that God gives good based on good behavior. This is how the world thinks. This is how employers think, schools think, governments think, and how we naturally think.
The wonder of grace is that God sacrifices for those who are undeserving of His love. He pours out the fullness of Himself on the unfaithful, sinning, and unrepentant. He does what is unexpected. He invites the broken and rejected to receive what He has overwhelmingly done. He gives rightness with Him through His grace shown to us and received only through the avenue of faith. We think, “Do to get”. He removes the barrier and overwhelming gives what we could never get.
3. You need to be constantly evaluating whether or not you are doing enough for God.
Many Christians live with the obsessive concern that they are not doing enough for God. They live in fear of His judgment, withdrawal of blessing, and in missing out on His will. They approach Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, witnessing, giving as duties that must be accomplished to appease God. The messages they hear in church confirm their greatest fear. Gone is genuine desire for any of these or any other dimensions to the Christian life. Relating to their spouse, kids, family, and neighbors are reduced to guilt-based commands that have to be done “for God”. And when they realize that their motivations are not always sincere, they are filled with even greater depths of guilt and promise to do better.
It was for this reason that Jesus said He had come to set the captives free! Grace says that the Father has made perfect what I never could! Grace sets me free from the pressure to have to be righteous enough! He has made me holy, blameless, and without fault!
4. God tests you to see if you will be faithful.
Many take the words from the first chapter in the book of James in Scripture as indication that God brings trials in our life to test our faithfulness. Like an employer, teacher, or military leader they assume that they face trials to see if they will pass the test and find the favor of God. The reason that Jesus went to the cross is because we did not measure up! We could not pass the test! We had failed! The Good News is not that we are given a second chance at being good. The Good News is that we are set free from having to measure up! We are filled up, leveled off, and overflowing with the righteousness of Christ!
Trials are not to see if I will be faithful. Trials reveal that He is faithful! They break my addiction to self-obsession, guilt, and my attempts to be good enough. Grace fills you completely! Faith grows in my as I receive more of the wonder of what He has done for me! He is faithful!
5. You need to become more like Jesus.
One of the most common expressions to come out of churches today is the charge that we should do all we can to become more like Jesus. Many live their life of faith according to this scale. The problem is you are left to either conclude you still fall short or even worse that you somehow have achieved some level of being more like Christ because of the things you do.
The greatness of grace is that through faith I am made fully whole, perfect, holy, and as much like Christ as I could ever be! The life I now live is lived by faith toward the Son of God! I live learning who I have been made. I learn to live out what has already been made true.
As you look for a church and body of believers to build you up in the faith, look for one that will affirm the fullness of what Christ accomplished on the cross. Look for one that will remind you of the greatness of what has been given to you by grace. Look for one that will encourage you to humbly grow your faith. Look for one that will motivate you to receive what has already been given!