Do you really accept God’s Amazing Grace?

In our Bible class last night, we surveyed the book of Grace. Never heard of it? It is usually called the Epistles to the Galatians. What a letter it is. A key phrase is this – “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (Galatians 2:21, NLT) We are made right with God, not because we are good, moral, or keep a set of religious rules. We are made right with God by faith in Christ alone! While most evangelical Christians nod in agreement with this, and few are in danger of taking on the practices of the Law of Moses, a different kind of law frequently creeps into the Gospel presentation. It showed up in our class last night. After a 45 minute study of grace, one man called me over and asked, “But what about all those people who claim to be Christians who still do….” and he added the old familiar recitation of ‘prohibited’ behaviors.

I understood his question because my Christian background was one that mixed moralistic law and the grace of Christ, too. There was always a list of ‘do’s and don’ts’ that qualified a person’s claim to be a Christian. The ‘do’ part always included church attendance, tithing, and reading the Bible. In my teen years the ‘don’t’ list included drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and popular entertainment including movies and most TV shows. Of course, there were a lot of rules about sex, too, but at least most of those had some Biblical basis! The terrible tragedy is that keeping these rules became more important in the minds of many than truly knowing God and being filled with His Spirit. So many who find Jesus Christ and receive a new relationship with God through His grace subsequently turn to the Galatian error. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:2-3, NLT) It seems we are almost incurably religious!

This impulse arises from a desire to be holy, which is commendable. God wants us to belong to Him. He teaches us that we are to leave behind the filthiness of sin and to be remarkably different from those who are not filled with the Holy Spirit. But such holiness does not come from learning the rules and then putting ourselves under terrible pressure to squeeze into the ‘Christian’ lifestyle, while inwardly hating every minute of it. Near the end of the book of Grace, there is the often quoted passage that is equally misunderstood. “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT) What is the source of this new kind of way to live? The Spirit! We cannot consistently produce this quality of life by learning behavior modification techniques, by applying accountability principles, or through rigid self-discipline. It is ‘fruit,’ that is, evidence of God’s life at work in us, flowing out our faith connection to Jesus Christ. No fruit, no life!

For years I walked past an apple tree that stood in our front yard. Every year it produced a crop of red apples, but I never once heard it straining to create an apple, fretting about being around more apple trees, or saw another tree scolding it for failing to be ‘apple-ish’ enough. It produced apples because it was alive and living apple trees produce fruit. If a person is alive through faith in Christ Jesus and is opening his heart and mind to the Spirit’s Presence, he will produce fruit. If he is not fruitful, then the only conclusion is that he is not alive in Christ. Jesus says – “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant.” (John 15:4-5, The Message)

Grace is amazing, start to finish. We must not steal the splendor of God’s promise by adding our well-intentioned, but unproductive religious ideas to what He has started and finished in Christ. Look to Jesus and accept, day after day, His work of grace in your life. Let Him lead you to maturity. Yes, there will be hard moments, choices that require death to Self. But, if they come because you are following Him and obeying the Spirit, you will also know the grace to see it through. He never leads us into any place, and then abandons us there. We may run ahead of Him and find ourselves without comfort, but if we are listening and following, we have this absolute assurance – “Since He says, ‘I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,’ we can boldly quote, God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me? “ (Hebrews 13:5-6, The Message)

Turn to Galatians, the book of Grace, and read it again – as though for the first time! Don’t say, “Yes, but….” Just agree with the Word and receive, by faith, full and wonderful life that pleases God.
______________________

Grace, grace; God’s grace.
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within.
Grace, grace; God’s grace.
Grace that is greater than all my sin!

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