- The Eight Spiritual Essentials, Part 1: Ambition to Please God
- The Eight Spiritual Essentials, Part 2: Love Jesus
- The Eight Spiritual Essentials, Part 4: Practice God’s Presence
- The Eight Spiritual Essentials, Part 5: Trust & Obedience
- The Eight Spiritual Essentials, Part 6: Grace Rather Than Law
- The Eight Spiritual Essentials, Part 7: Gratitude & Contentment
- The Eight Spiritual Essentials, Part 8: Living Each Day Well
If I were asked to explain how Christianity is unique compared to every other religion in the world, I would say it boils down to this one verse:
By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
Every other religion of the world, and every cult that claims to represent Christianity, is works-oriented and thus rejects the teaching of this verse. At their heart, all other religions have the same message: humans need to do something to bridge the gap between man and God, and to achieve or attain merit.
At their heart, all other religions have the same message: humans need to do something to bridge the gap between man and God, and to achieve or attain merit. In direct contrast, Christianity teaches that we’re saved by grace through faith, not as a result of works.
In direct contrast, Christianity teaches that we’re saved by grace through faith, not as a result of works. This is a difficult idea for many to accept. It is an offense against the human heart to be told that we can carry nothing before God, that we offer nothing and instead come with empty hands. But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). It is only by God coming to us in our spiritual impoverishment that we can obtain His blessing—His gifts of mercy and grace.
We Need Grace, Not Justice
Scripture teaches that we can never be right before God according to God’s law. We don’t want to ask for God’s justice for ourselves, because that would condemn us. What we need is not justice, but grace.
One of my favorite scenes from Les Misérables is when Jean Valjean, having become a hardened convict after his 19 years of hard labor in prison, is caught by the police for stealing some silver from a bishop. But when they bring Valjean before the bishop, the bishop cries to Valjean, “Here you are! I’m delighted to see you. Had you forgotten that I gave you the candlesticks as well? They’re silver like the rest and worth a good two hundred francs. Did you forget to take them?” This is the moment that transforms Valjean’s life, when the bishop shows him mercy and grace. Throughout the story, Valjean always keeps those candlesticks with him as a reminder of the grace he was shown and as motivation for his new way of life. That is a wonderful picture of what grace is.
Growing in Grace
According to the Christian gospel, your whole life is a gift of God. He gave His life for you so he could give His life to you so He could live His life through you. Not only are you justified by grace through faith, but you are also sanctified by grace through faith.
Many people who finally grasp that the gospel is by grace through faith then try to grow by their own efforts and hard work. This contradicts Paul’s teaching to the Galatians:
Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2–3)
But the principle that brought us to life in Christ is the same principle whereby we grow in that life.
According to the Christian gospel, our whole life is a gift of God. He gave His life for you so he could give His life to you so He could live His life through you. Not only are you justified by grace through faith, but you are also sanctified by grace through faith.
Your mission is to become in practice what you already are in position. If you’ve placed your trust in Jesus, you have been declared righteous (that’s your position, your justification); now, you are meant to grow into that by becoming righteous in your practice (this is your sanctification). Since both justification and sanctification come by grace through faith, you are not on your own to try and live righteously; this is why I tell people, “Stop trying to live for Jesus; stop doing good things for Him. Instead, let Him live His life in you and through you as you.” To be sure, there must be a willingness on your part, but He, not you, produces the fruit of good works n your life.
Paul in Romans 6 and 7 emphasizes the impossibility of living the Christian life on our own:
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (7:22–23 ESV)
God gives us the Holy Spirit as the means of our sanctification. God doesn’t just say, “I’ve saved you, now here’s how you should live.” He says, “I’ve saved you, and not only am I going to show you how to live, but I’m going to give you the power to do it.” This power is the Holy Spirit, and it’s His empowering presence that enables us to now live the life to which He calls us.
There’s a constant tension between law and grace in the human heart. We all have a tendency to fall off the horse on one side or the other. Many lean toward the law side—resorting to checklist living or legalism. Others, emphasizing grace, might downplay sin and be tempted to use their freedom “as an opportunity for the flesh” (Galatians 5:13), to sin more boldly that “grace may abound” (Romans 6:1).
Meditate on 2 Peter 3:18, making it your prayer to “grow in grace”—in dependence on Him for all things. Also, ask God to help you see others through the lens of grace, rather than in a law-based manner (mentally ticking off whether they’ve met certain standards, or comparing yourself to them—since the reality is, we ALL fall drastically short of the glory of God in comparison to the One perfect standard, Jesus Himself).
… but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity.
(2 Peter 3:18)
The next post in this series is about the seventh essential: Gratitude and Contentment.