One of the misperceptions about the “modern” grace message, is that it makes people lazy. As I explain elsewhere, nothing could be further from the truth. But the misperception is understandable, since grace teaches us to rest from our works and trust in Christ’s finished work.
“Is that it?” says the critic? “We’re just supposed to do nothing?” When it comes to saving you and sanctifying you, the answer is an emphatic Yes! Jesus has done it all.
That said, there is an aspect to grace which is not well understood, and that is the responsibility we have to ourselves to work out the good thing God has put within us. For example, the grace of God is supposed to teach us to say no to ungodliness (Tit. 2:12). If we’re not saying no to sin and ungodliness, something is wrong. We’re not walking in freedom.
“Responsibility” is a word that we need to take back from the works-preachers. It’s not a bad word, it’s just been misused. For years I have insisted that we have a responsibility to believe what God says about us, and that’s true. But that’s a bit like saying I have a responsibility to love my wife. It doesn’t answer the How question. How do we enjoy the gift God is given us? How do we overcome sin? How do we walk in righteousness without falling from grace?
I have been mulling over these questions lately because of something I read in Jim Richard’s classic book, Grace: The Power to Change. Richards writes, “Most Christians want to change. They just don’t know how.”
The holiness-preacher says personal transformation is found in a list of do’s and don’t’s. “Do this and don’t do that, and you’ll be on your way to victory.” The problem is, this approach is only as good as your flesh. As Richards explains, you might enjoy success for a little while, but it won’t last.
The closest thing to victory that many believers ever see is simply tenacity. Tenacity is good. It is better than nothing, but it is not victory… Tenacity and willpower involve using the best of our abilities. They will last as long as we do not get weary. (p.140)
The grace-preacher, in contrast, says you become what you believe, so renew your mind and change the way you think about yourself. For instance, if you see yourself as a sinner who sins, then you’ll sin because of what you believe. But if you see yourself as 100% righteous in Christ, you won’t. As Richards says, “You can’t give in to sin when you feel righteous.”
That’s all well and good, but how do we work that out in practice? What happens when the grace rubber hits the hard road of temptation and desire?
When something has you vexed, you must speak God’s truth out of your mouth. Proverbs 12:6 says, “The mouth of the upright shall deliver them.” Boldly speak God’s word until your thoughts and emotions come back in line and you do not frustrate the grace of God. (p.99)
Let’s say you struggle with unhealthy thoughts. How would you deal with those?
A thought is not cast down by our screaming at it in the name of Jesus. Second Corinthians says to bring our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. How do you do that? Simple! Jesus conquered every sin; therefore, you don’t have to try to conquer them. When the thought, “I am vulnerable,” comes, the question is not my obedience. The question is Jesus’ obedience. Did Jesus conquer this sin when he rose from the dead? Yes! Am I in Jesus? Yes! Then I am righteous and free from sin. When I begin to acknowledge that Jesus conquered sin and gave me righteousness by his resurrection, then grace to live that righteousness begins to flow through my life. (p.98)
Changing our minds is usually as simple as tossing out the devil’s lies and replacing them with truth. For instance, one of his most damaging lies is that sin brings pleasure. Another is that the will of God brings pain.
We were created to live in the pleasure of total provision and in a completely positive relationship with God. However, the average Christians belief system denies this truth. We do not see sin as destructive and painful. We see it as a list of all the pleasurable things that God will not allow us to do. We consider living a godly life as dull, unfulfilling, limiting, and painful. This is why we habitually gravitate back to sin. When we come under stress, or when hardship, pressure, or difficulties enter our lives, we begin to desire something pleasurable. Since we believe in our hearts that sin is pleasurable. We pursue sin instead of God. Then when the pain and destruction of sin begins to work in our lives, we think God is bringing that pain to bring us back in line. We will never conquer sin with this type of belief system. (p.158)
This is 100% true! The pleasures of sin are momentary and leave a bitter taste. But the pleasures of the Lord are without regret and last forever (Ps 16:11).
Why aren’t we preaching this from every pulpit?
In the past few months I have read two excellent books on how to walk in victory; this one, and The Power of Right Believing by Joseph Prince.
One book defines grace as “God’s ability working in man, making him able to do what he cannot do in his own ability.” The other says that defining grace as empowerment can lead us back into trusting our own performance. These aren’t contradictory statements. Both are true. Grace is the power of God that changes us but we need to take care that we don’t supplement God’s transforming grace with our own self-trust and effort.
The proof is in the pudding. As Richards says…
All lasting change is effortless. If change comes about by our efforts, then that change will last only as long as we put forth the effort. The moment we stop putting forth the effort, the change we made will stop… (p.170)
Both Richards and Prince would agree that while change itself is effortless, changing your beliefs is not effortless. We have to strive to enter the place of rest (Heb 4:11). The good news is it gets easier with practice.
God gives us grace to change us into the likeness of his Son. Grace turns a sinner into a saint. Grace fills a hard heart with love, generosity, hope, confidence, and abundant life. Grace makes us Real People.
If you want to change your life but know better than to follow religious formulas or try and make things happen in your own strength, then Grace: The Power to Change, is a book you’ll want to read. It will help you appropriate the grace of God that brings lasting change.