At an early age, I became captivated by measuring up. I was mesmerized by achieving and striving. I remember in grade school, getting my first straight-A report card. And after that, anything less was unacceptable. Not that anyone told me so – my parents certainly didn’t pressure me, nor did my teachers. But in my mind, well heaven forbid I got a B (gag, I know!).
I was also the swimmer in high school who wouldn’t settle for anything less than 100-percent effort. I wasn’t a star athlete, but I knew I could ruthlessly compete with myself. And that became the game I played for three years, which ultimately led to another destructive battle: an eating disorder.
And when it comes to my relationship with God, I confess there have been times when my life hasn’t looked much different – whether it was the idea of doing more for God, doing the so-called “right” things, or keeping track of my moral failings.
I knew the Lord and loved Him from an early age. I knew I had been saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). In fact, I thought I was pretty freely grace-giving with others. But when it came to myself, it was as if grace didn’t apply.
I was practicing grace avoidance.
And can I be frank with you? That response cheapens the Gospel. That response shines the spotlight on self – my responsibility, my actions – rather than what Christ did for you and me on the cross.
Philip Yancey in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? says it well: “You can know the law by heart without knowing the heart of it.”
The Apostle Paul understood the heart of God’s grace perhaps better than anyone else. Having been a zealous persecutor of Christians, on his way to Damascus one day, Paul found himself face to face with the Living God (Acts 9:1-22). His life was never the same. With grace-healed eyes, the one-time oppressor of Christians became one of the biggest advocates of God’s transformative grace. Grace was so pivotal in Paul’s life, it’s no wonder the word appears in all of his epistle greetings.
You can know the law by heart without knowing the heart of it.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a powerful reminder of this truth. The churches in Galatia were struggling with finding justification in the Law and traditions in addition to faith in Christ. It was a battle of Jesus and ______. These early converts knew they had freedom in Christ but were being influenced by a group teaching that Gentile believers needed to also submit to Jewish Laws – a distorted gospel.
Paul rebuked the Galatians: “Did you receive the Spirit by 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?” (Gal. 3:2-3)
Paul then goes all Braveheart William Wallace on his readers: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1)
If Paul were to walk into many of our living rooms today, would he have the same message? I know he’d have had the same kick-in-the-gut conversation with me. I’ve needed the rebuke – the girl who sat crippled in guilt and shame more times than I’d like to admit, or has been self-consumed by fears of my own failures. Maybe some of you can relate?
Paul redirected the Galatian churches’ sight to the Good News of freedom found in the Gospel. Freedom to live by faith working through love (Gal. 5:6) and freedom to be led by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:25). That’s the same Spirit we believers have residing in us!
Remember: all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But the Good News is this: we are justified by God’s grace as a gift – (and what a gift it is!) – through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:23-24).
I absolutely love the book The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. And Manning states it so much better than I could: “The moment the focus of your life shifts from your badness to his goodness and the question becomes not ‘What have I done?’ but ‘What can he do?’ release from remorse can happen; miracle of miracles, you can forgive yourself because you are forgiven, accept yourself because you are accepted, and begin to start building up the very places you once tore down.”
Friends, will you join me in not just being hearers of this word, but also doers of this word? To stop believing the lie that we’re out of the reach of God’s grace? To not rely on our own efforts, but in Christ alone? To not dim the Good News of the Gospel by turning the attention away from our Lord’s astonishing and atoning work?
Lord, help us to better understand the depths of your grace – that there is nothing we can do to make you love us more and nothing we can do to make you love us less.
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Image Credit: Llima Orosa, Creative Commons