We must seek to understand the gospel before we can properly understand or pursue Christian living. So often we get this backward. We are satisfied with having only a surface understanding of the gospel and seeking to understand how to live daily as a Christian becomes a more important and practical endeavor. The problem is, though, that if we do not fully understand the gospel (or at least continue to grow in our understanding of it), the pursuit of proper Christian living will ultimately result in two very ugly manifestations.
First, without properly understanding grace, we stand the chance of becoming frustrated and stop pursuing Christian living altogether. Grace reminds us that there is absolutely nothing that I can do today to earn the favor of God. It reminds us that the only righteousness we have and can ever hope for is the righteousness of Christ that is wrapped around us that he earned through his sinless and perfect life (1 Co 5:21). We are reminded that the reality of sin remains because of the Fall, yet the Holy Spirit drives us to confession and that Jesus is continually faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jo 1:9). Only through his work can we be restored to the light as he is in the light and continue to have fellowship with God and each other (1 Jo 1:5, 7). We will sin today; yet, because of Christ, our adoption as sons and daughters of God is secure. Even though our sin brings consequences and discipline, even then we are reminded that God is changing us through his grace and the power of his Spirit he has placed within us (Heb 12:5-11). Without understanding this, we will become more and more defeated as we fail the test of morality over and over again. We were not saved through works; therefore, we can not expect to gain God’s approval through our morality now. We are justified not by our works but exclusively through our faith in Christ, the one who earn God’s favor for me (Gal 2:16-21). We must preach this message to ourselves every day and allow it to both humble us and exalt us because of standing before God because of what Jesus has done!
Second, without properly understanding grace, we stand the chance of becoming a legalistic pharisee. We will become slaves to our own morality. We will begin to gauge our own performance based on everyone around us, instead of in light of the holiness of God. We will become puffed up as we find reasons to believe that we are better and more morally exceptional to them and forget that Christ has earned everything for us. Demonizing others will be become the status quo as we begin to judge their religion as inferior to our own. We will become, as Jesus called the Pharisees of his day, “whitewashed tombs” (Matt 23:27-28) continually polishing our own morality instead of exalting the glory and holiness of Christ. Our own glory will be displayed at the expense of his. Others will become obstacles and objects of our elitist scorn. And even as we continue to gaze into the mirror of God’s glory in his Word, we become like the man who leaves the mirror, forgetting what he looks like and failing to be a doer of the Word (Js 1:22-25). Simply put, we become the reality of what has become the majority view of the church from outsiders today: we become hypocrites.
So, how do we avoid this? We must radically pursue the gospel and seek to grasp every ounce of its truth. We must not shy away from understand the radical nature of grace. We must seek to truly understand our standing before God–that our justification has absolutely nothing to do with us and absolutely everything to do with Jesus and what he has done for me. We must determine to proclaim the excellency of Christ (1 Pe 2:9-10) by proclaiming his worth in our lives and our desperate need for him as our Rescuer. And as we come to understand this radical gospel more and more each day, we must continually preach this gospel to ourselves every day.
May we be captivated by this grace at the beginning of each new day, and may the world around us be captivated by a Savior who is worthy of everything I am and have. May the world around us be clearly shown a Christ who has completely and gloriously redeemed even a sinner such as I and a Christ who has accomplished everything necessary to save even them.
His grace still amazes me!