A western pastor friend told of taking a drive down the main road in his small town. Coming through an intersection with a considerable dip, he noticed a vehicle in the passing lane. A strange looking vehicle. Turns out his horse trailer came unhitched and was gaining on him! I think that event somewhat resembles what I’ve been noticing lately. The trailer (grace) is in the passing lane, ready to overtake the driver (Christ), all the while losing its intended direction.
A Facebook status that I saw from a grace-focused page said something to the effect that grace means we no longer have to walk on eggshells, fearful of falling into sin. I went back to find it later, and it had disappeared, so either the author thought better of it and removed it, or someone (or more than some one) said something to help that person see how it could be perceived. It’s a dangerous mindset.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” ~Romans 6:1,2
This is “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”…with a little different spin. We would never verbalize this regarding our besetting sins, but it’s there. The sort of inner shrug. We know we’d never gain permission for those things, and we can’t picture ourselves asking in the first place because we understand some about His holiness. So, if we don’t dare ask, and we already know the answer anyway, we “turn every one to his own way” (because I deserve this, because life is hard, because no one understands what I’m going through…you fill in the excuse) and figure His grace is sufficient to handle it. Grace is not freedom to do what I want, but rather freedom to do His will, unencumbered by my wants.
But, see, that same grace that has given me a perfect standing before God right now, today (because on the cross He became the satisfaction, the perfect payment for all my sin, and I have received that free gift for myself), is also what is responsible for my awareness that there is a school master at all (Gal. 3:24). I would not have come to Him, had He not first instructed me. Not only that, but grace is responsible for my understanding what the school master has taught. Furthermore, it is grace that enables me to obey the commands of scripture…or even to want to. Paul said, “in me, that is, in my flesh dwells no good thing”…and that goes for all of us. Those who have been caught up in some sort of works salvation have been duped by Satan’s deception. All good things come from God.
Paul said in another place, “by the grace of God, I am what I am.” Everything. Start to finish. As the hymn writer said, “his grace has brought me safe thus far, his grace will lead me home.”
So, is God unwilling to forgive when I fail? Oh no.
For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. Psalm 86:5
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isaiah 55:7
His love is not fickle and does not change because I have sinned, although it will strain the communication and the relationship. This is why, even in their yet-unrepented sin, I strive not to give a “cold shoulder” or hold our children at arm’s distance. I need to exemplify unconditional love. But the message must also be clear that I will never ignore or gloss over sin. I must always speak the truth in love, and endeavor to woo my children’s hearts back to the Savior, remembering that I have the same struggles.
I think the key word in the above verse is “forsake”. What is the heart attitude? Do I cherish that thing and hold it close, or do I despise it and yet find myself choosing it over and over again (note that I said “choosing”…it does not just “happen”…we choose)? Again, listen to what Paul said:
…for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.~Romans 7:13b
He was challenged in his journey toward godliness. He wrote of God’s holiness, and we know he had a good grasp on grace. He realized the importance of striving to live a holy life, not because his salvation depended upon it, or because his struggles would change his position before God, but because his relationship demanded it. Paraphrased from J.C. Ryle’s book, Holiness– “when you love a person, you want to please him.” In short, love will change my want-er. Because of grace, I’ll want to live grace-fully. It is a good barometer for my level of devotion. Do I desire to do those things that please Him (even if the follow-through proves to be elusive at times)? Often my children will say “I love you, mommy” after a stint of disobedience, and I will lovingly say (often with a smooch), “Show me.” It is true that talk is cheap. Walk it.
If ye love me, keep my commandments. John 14:15
Grace is not an afterthought. It is the essence of the Savior. It was His idea, and He fleshed it out. It is tightly woven into everything He did and everything He is.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John 1:14
We will celebrate His incarnation soon. But it is important to remember that God’s ministry of grace continued after Christ had ascended. He had given the Holy Spirit. This third Person of the trinity guides us into the truth of Christ. Why? So that we might be changed by it. He also makes intercession for us, when we can’t find the words. I believe when we have failed, and we are speechless and grieved and disappointed in ourselves, it is He who interprets all of that. If it is sin in ignorance, it may even sound like, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But do not presume. If your life is typified by willful, habitual sin, there is reason to consider where your devotion lies.
Should we be walking on eggshells regarding sin? Nope. I think we should be boldly confronting it. Not in a swaggering way, but certainly in a humbly confident way. We are to be fearful of the potential of our sinfulness. “Desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9) is pretty strong language. We are warned that our hearts are deceitful, and that we can’t comprehend the depth of that deception. We can’t lean upon our own understanding regarding sin. We’ll excuse, redefine, blame shift. We are told that we must put on the armor of God to be able to stand.
14Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 15and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 17And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 18praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
All this stuff in Ephesians 6 is not designed to weigh us down, but to bear us up, to equip us, to make us able to stand instead of shrug! Why is this not our go-to plan…our Plan A? It’s God’s Plan A. There is no Plan B. I think sometimes the problem lies in the fact that we are forgetful hearers. If the Lord Jesus saw the need, in His condescending grace, to institute the Lord’s Supper, it’s pretty obvious He knew what we are made of. That is grace. He knows what we are, and He knows what He can be for us. We forget who we are. Regularly. We forget who He is. Routinely. We need to remind ourselves. We need to be in the scriptures.
Is grace the new “morning after pill” (the packaging of which includes phrases like “Plan B” and “A Second Chance at Preventing a Pregnancy”…don’t get me started)? Absolutely not. It is designed to equip us before the day begins. This is not about do-overs or second chances. His mercies are new every morning.
*For another post on this topic, click here to go to my friend Barbara’s blog.