Christians are often surprised to learn that they have been mixing law with grace. People have said to me, “I’m not trying to keep the 10 commandments, so why do you say I’m living under law?” I doubt there are many believers who are trying to live by the 10 commandments. Yet the choices many make show that they are, to some degree, still enslaved by the law.
What does it look like to live under the law? In my last post I said that person with a law mind-set is one who…
- is not 100% sure whether they’re 100% forgiven
- believes they have a duty or obligation to serve the Lord
- thinks “God will bless me as I do my part”
- defines discipleship mainly in terms of giving up things
These and similar statements paint a picture of what Christianity looks like for many believers. But this picture is a caricature of New Testament Christianity. It is a powerless, faithless counterfeit that seduces because it appeals to human wisdom even as it denies the finished work of the cross. To live this way is to exalt the flesh and insult the Spirit of grace. These statements also describe what it means to live under self-imposed law. If you live like this you are in danger of setting aside grace.
Now, before you get offended and hit the comment button below, let me give you the best description of the Christian life I know:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
If that verse goes right over your head – what does it mean to be crucified with Christ? what does it mean to live by the faith of the Son of God? – then you might have a flesh problem. Instead of living by the Spirit, you may be trying to please God with your own resources and understanding. Keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll eventually fall flat on your face. You’ll end up worn out, burned out, and fruitless.
Or… you could abandon that dead-end way of life and start living by grace!
If grace sounds appealing to you, but you need a little help shaking off the shackles of self, then get a hold of Steve McVey’s brilliant book Grace Walk. This book has been around for about 15 years and has sold over a quarter of a million copies. Read this book and you’ll learn why living the life I described above is an inferior alternative to the new life that Jesus offers us. The punch line of Grace Walk is found in the first chapter:
Jesus Christ will do more through us than we could ever do for Him. (p.9)
The theme of Grace Walk is, stop trying to make things happen for God, and let Him live His supernatural life through you. God won’t bless the works of your flesh. Rather, He will allow us to come to the end of our self-sufficiency so that we might learn to rest in Him. He is the vine and you are the branch. Apart from Him you can do quite a lot, but none of it will last. So quit trying and start trusting.
Struggling or resting?
Many Christians today are struggling; they’re struggling to get by, struggling to get the victory, struggling to overcome. As Steve McVey warns in his book, there’s a red flag right there. If you’re struggling then you’re not resting, and if you’re not resting then you’re not living by faith. You’re probably walking in the flesh by trying to make things happen in your own strength. As McVey explains,
God never intended for the Christian life to be a struggle. The Holy Spirit should flow from the life of the Christian as naturally as breathing. But many Christians are hyper-ventilating trying to do something for God. (p.72)
If you are trying to live up to some personal expectation of what it means to please God (“I must pray,” “I must evangelize”), then you are living under law. If you succeed, you will be filled with self-praise. If you fail, you will feel self-pity. In either case, death will be the result because the law always produces death (Rms 7:5).
Maybe you know what it’s like to be crushed on the millstone of self-imposed law. You try, you fail, and then you feel condemned. You withdraw for a bit and then rededicate your self to God and try again. This is total lunacy! Why do we think that doing the same thing over and over will produce different results? The key to breaking out of this motivation-condemnation-rededication cycle, is to realize that your self has already been co-crucified with Christ. You must take this on faith (it’s in the Bible). Your self cannot live the Christian life. Only Christ can live the Christian life and He wants to live His life through you. Do you trust Him to do that?
The Christian life is not a set of rules or values or expectations; it is Christ expressing Himself through you. Two thousand years ago Jesus walked the earth in a human body. Today He still has a body – it’s His church! – and He wants to reveal Himself to a sick and dying world through that body. But that cannot happen when those in the church are on a flesh-trip preoccupied with self-effort.
Jesus doesn’t want your service; He wants you! Your job is not to produce fruit, but to bear His fruit. To the degree that we are walking in self-sufficiency, to that degree we are walking in the flesh. In Grace Walk Steve McVey puts it like this:
Before I understood that Christ is my life, my whole lifestyle was characterized by an obsession with right and wrong. Yet, if one is not abiding in Christ, every action is wrong. To abide in Him is to walk in faith; to fail to abide in Christ is to walk after the flesh. Anytime we do things on our own, it is sin, regardless of how our actions may appear. (p.108)
When you try to do the right thing you invariably end up doing the wrong thing. A preoccupation with right and wrong means you’re living under law. You’re eating from the wrong tree. What you’re doing may be outwardly “good,” but it’ll produce death instead of life. And worse, there will be no end to it for the law will never say “enough.”
A changed life or an exchanged life?
Jesus didn’t suffer and die to give you a new start, but to give you a new life – His life! It is idolatrous to reduce the life of the Spirit to a set of values and disciplines. Such things may appear helpful but they are not. They minister death and condemnation just as effectively as the tablets of stone. So how, then, are we to live? According to Steve McVey,
Real Christianity is not an imitation but an expression of Christ within us… As we abide in Him, we rest and work at the same time! We rest inwardly while He works outwardly. This is God’s designed method of Christian service. Anything else is empty religious ritual, regardless of how successful or spiritual it may appear. (p.174)
Jesus used words like “rest” and “easy” and “light” to describe the Christian life. If that doesn’t come close to describing your life, do yourself a favor and read Grace Walk. It will set you free!