Grace in the New Testament, part 2
This is a continuation of our series concerning a Christian’s fruit of the Spirit. The last entry was on March 22nd. Therein we had given some initial definitions of grace and we concluded with a comment on how easy it is for Christians to often inadvertently slip into a “works mindset.”
This works mindset is often reinforced by our fellow Christians as we encourage each other to strive harder to be successful in our Christian life; as though it is basically up to us, with some help from God’s grace, of course, to get us through the rough spots.
We often and perhaps even subconsciously think that it’s our self-discipline, our commitment, our performance, our diligence, our zeal and our dedication that defines our success as a Christian. This is not the case. It is all of grace!
Now I would hasten to add that I am not saying that we are not to do good works and so forth, and we will address that issue later. But what I am trying to emphasize here is that our total salvation package—justification, sanctification and glorification—are all totally due to God’s grace. We have done and can do absolutely nothing to earn any portion of our salvation.
In one of the resources I have read on the subject of grace, the author uses the analogy of bankruptcy to illustrate one of the fundamental aspects of how we ought to understand God’s grace. Let me share it with you.
The word bankruptcy even today has a certain stigma and shame attached to it. When we hear of a business going bankrupt, it usually carries with it the connotations of failure, mismanagement, inability, lack of intelligence and so forth. That’s financial bankruptcy. We also hear of moral bankruptcy where a person is exceedingly wicked and possesses virtually no positive moral character qualities.
But, as we know, a person can be very successful financially and be a pillar of the community morally and yet be spiritually bankrupt. In fact, every person who ever lived—except Jesus Christ—was spiritually bankrupt. How do we know that? Paul tells us.
Romans 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
That is spiritual bankruptcy. We are sinners deserving of death. Now usually when a company goes belly up, they have at least a few assets that can be sold off to help pay something on their debts. But even our best works are as filthy rags in the sight of God, according to Isaiah 64. We have absolutely nothing to offer God that can earn or merit anything from him.
Then we learn that Jesus Christ paid off all our debts and that we can appropriate salvation simply by accepting this free gift (this grace) by faith. There is nothing more we can possibly add to it; it is not of our works, lest we would boast. And so we admitted that we were so far in debt spiritually, that we could not possibly save ourselves, and when we came to faith in the merits of Christ alone, we were in effect declaring spiritual bankruptcy.
But now comes the rub: what kind of bankruptcy did we declare? In financial bankruptcy, one can file chapter 11 or chapter 7. A business that files chapter 11 is saying that we still have a viable business, we just need some temporary relief from our creditors, and we need to reorganize and after a while, we will be a profitable business again. It’s a temporary bankruptcy.
Whereas in a chapter 7 bankruptcy, it is a complete wipeout. The business has no possibility of success even if it were granted a period of relief from its creditors; even if it were reorganized with a completely new management team. There is virtually nothing to work with and no market for its products, even if it could produce a product. The owners lose everything. It is permanent bankruptcy.
If we are led to Christ with a proper understanding of those elementary doctrines like Romans 3:23 (we are all sinners) and Romans 6:23 (the wages of sin is death) and Ephesians 2: 8 & 9 (salvation is a free gift by grace through faith); if we understood those basics, then most of us would agree that we declared chapter 7 bankruptcy. That is, without Christ, we are permanently spiritually bankrupt.
But guess what? Allow me to suggest that once we have been Christians for a time, we begin—even if subconsciously—to begin acting as if we had only declared temporary bankruptcy. After we have been Christians for a while, we noticed that we had gradually been improving spiritually.
We no longer committed the more serious or obvious sins that we may have been guilty of before we came to Christ. We started experiencing some real positive changes in our character. We also eagerly complied with what we were told was expected of us as Christians; things like church attendance, prayer groups or Bible study groups, perhaps “witnessing” and going on missions. Certainly, giving to the Lord’s work with tithes and offerings is expected. All in all, we begin to think after a while that we are making pretty good progress and we might even remember to thank God for it. And we come to expect abundant blessings from Him.
But then one day, boom—we fall into some old sin again that we thought we had conquered and we wonder how that could happen. We thought we were going along so well. Now we realize that our spiritual thermometer has just plunged below zero!
And because very subtly we have come to think of our relationship with God in a performance (i.e., works) mindset, we now feel like we have forfeited His blessings for some period of time, until we can gradually prove ourselves worthy of His blessings once again.
In thinking like that, we had, in fact, only filed temporary bankruptcy to get saved initially, to get in the door to the kingdom, and now we feel that we have to work our way through life and earn God’s blessings and earn positive results to our prayer requests. We were saved by grace but we are now living by works. If you think this is an exaggeration, give yourself this test:
Scenario #1: Imagine that you have been on a spiritual high for a couple of weeks. You have been faithful in church attendance and tithing, faithful in Bible reading, you’ve even been memorizing Scripture, you’ve been experiencing true marital bliss, and you’ve been kind, gentle and a wise parent to your children, etc., and tomorrow morning starts out exactly the same.
In fact, the day brings you to an even more spiritual high. Then you go to the mall in the evening and you run into a non-Christian friend, and suddenly you find yourself having the opportunity to witness to that person. How do you feel in terms of your confidence to share the gospel? (Just answer the question in your own mind for now.)
Now take the same scenario with a slight modification. This will be scenario #2:
You’ve been on the same spiritual upswing for two weeks but then tomorrow you get up late, so you skip Bible reading, and you suddenly feel discouraged about your progress in memorizing Scripture so you say to yourself “the heck with memorizing verses,” and then you have car trouble and are late for work, and you get irritated and blow up at the mechanic, and you find yourself in arguments with co-workers all day.
You come home and you and your spouse have a blow-up in front of the kids, and so you go to the mall to “walk it off” and cool down. On the way, you stop in at a bar, which you haven’t been to in years, and you have a beer, then another, then a third, and then you head off to the mall. You are not really drunk (but perhaps well on the way), but you are beginning to feel really bad about even stopping at the bar.
So there you are meandering about the mall, still fuming about the day’s events, and then you meet your non-Christian friend, and again, the door is open to share the gospel with him. Now how do you feel?
I will bet (figure of speech; I do not gamble) that in scenario #1, most of us would feel that when we open our mouth to share the gospel, that the Holy Spirit is going to give us precisely the right thing to say and we feel very confident that we can lead this friend to the Lord.
I will also wager that in scenario #2, when you have the opening to share the gospel, you feel like there is no way God is going to help you at this point; that after the way you behaved today, He’s going to let you on your own with this one. And so you mumble some excuse to your friend that you got to get going.
Now we can invent other scenarios to fit your life or my life, but if we see ourselves feeling differently in the two scenarios concerning our confidence in God’s grace, then we really don’t understand grace, and we actually are living under a legalistic and works-oriented attitude.
We need to understand that Jesus’ sacrifice on Golgotha not only bought our free pass into the kingdom of heaven, but it also paid for every blessing and every single answer to prayer that we will ever receive!
We must ask the Father to embed that fact into our consciousness: that the work was all done by the Savior, and that we do not have to work anymore.
But I think that many of us secretly are afraid to embrace that fact because we are afraid we might slack off and lose our salvation, or at least lose rewards. But deeper than that, it betrays the fact that we really don’t believe that we are permanently bankrupt.
But when we understand grace correctly, we won’t slack off. Notice I had said, “because Jesus paid it all, we don’t have to work.” The fact is that if we truly understand his grace, we will want to work, not out of a legal obligation, but out of love for what He has already done for us. (To be continued.)