When people talk about the grace of God, it doesn’t seem to be an uncommon thing for qualifications, and maybe outright objections, to fly. Usually, the qualifications put on grace have to do with our obedience. “Yes, grace is true in the Bible, but we need to obey God.” Ever heard something like that? Is that true?
I think the heart from which we say stuff like this can be understandable. We don’t want to talk about the grace of God in a way that makes sin out to be, well, not sin anymore; something that doesn’t matter anymore; something that God doesn’t care about. In talking about grace, we want to maintain that some things are still sinful and we ought to avoid sin. Whether you are a Christian or not, sin remains what it is: sin. God’s commands don’t change. However, we often go further, if not in our words, then in our hearts, when we think and talk about obedience.
Slowly and subtly, we begin to think that obedience is necessary for salvation. We don’t actually believe that on paper. We maintain that we are saved by grace alone, but on a day to day basis, we buy into the lie that we must add to the cross of Jesus. We don’t trust that the cross of Jesus is enough to purchase us God’s total acceptance and love, so we must add to it our earnest commitment, radical surrender, and submission to the commands of God. Thus, we buy into the lie that God loves us because Jesus died for us and because we are submitted to God’s Law, God’s commands. This is not the biblical gospel. And this is not good news at all.
If I am saved by Jesus’ blood and my own righteousness, I have absolutely no assurance, no certainty, and no peace that I am really loved by God, and forever saved. If I am saved, in the tiniest bit, by my righteous surrender, commitment, submission, and obedience to the Law of God, I am hopeless. I am hopeless because when I look within myself, at my obedience to God, all I find is imperfection, sin, unworthiness, and guilt. I do not find, and neither will you find, perfect surrender, commitment, submission, and obedience. And that is what God requires; nothing less.
In fact, the very act of offering to God a “good work” to purchase His love and acceptance is in itself an act of sin. Is. “…all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment…” (Is. 64:6). Man, just when we thought we were doing good stuff, we are called sinners for it! But take heart, the gospel and grace of God for you and me is bigger still! Where our immorality abounds, grace abounds all the more. Where our religious arrogance abounds, grace abounds all the more.
In looking to yourself to find the perfect righteousness God requires, you are believing a false gospel. You are believing something the Bible never teaches, namely, that you can be saved by Jesus plus your own righteousness. For “…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law…” (Gal. 2:16). So, to do such a thing is actual sinful, thus adding to your sinfulness. Yikes.
So, as it concerns your salvation, justification, and righteousness before God, your good works mean absolutely nothing. Despair of them. Forget about them. Your heartfelt surrender, radical commitment, and willingness to obey earns you nothing. God doesn’t care. He doesn’t love you based on your performance, but on Another’s performance. He doesn’t accept you because of you and your works. He accepts you because of Jesus and his work, alone.
Everyday we wake up to this temptation to believe we must add to the work of Jesus. Martin Luther knew this weakness in himself and in us. He said, “The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.” In other words, we must hear constantly that God loves us because of Jesus, not because of anything in us. The good news is that God knows we are weak and he understands, and He sent Jesus to pay for all our sin.
If you find you struggle to believe the gospel in all its radicality, join the club. By the way, guys like Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and John Calvin were in the club as well. May God, today, help you believe that you are far worse than you realize, and that God’s grace in Christ is far more powerful and abundant than you could ever dream. It is more than enough for you.
Now, as far as obedience and disobedience goes in the Christian life, God cares, but He will never punish you for your sin. He will never abandon you. He will never forsake you. Because He loves you, He will teach, correct, discipline, and guide you in righteous living, just like any good father would with His kids. But your sin will never make Him love you any less.
In short, I believe God’s commands are not optional now that you are in the grace of God. Here is a way to think of God’s commands as not-optional: God’s commands are not like a father suggesting that his child go play outside, but not demanding him to. “Hey little Timmy, its sunny out, you should consider going outside to play.” That is a suggestion. “Hey little Timmy, its sunny out, go play outside.” That is a command.
The fruit of being made a child of God by the free, ridiculous grace of God, is an ever-changing heart, growing to love more and more the righteous living God calls us to. We learn to love the commands of God, because we see them as from our Father for our good. We make slow, slow beginnings in this process, but one day will forever be made perfect.