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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Part 3 - What Does Living in Grace Look Like?

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What Does Living in Grace Look Like?

I'm David Guzik, and I'd like to welcome you to this third recording in our series that we call "Getting Grace." It's all about the grace of God, and it's especially for you, part of our Blue Letter Bible family. I'm so pleased that you have an interest in our resources at Blue Letter Bible. I can tell you firsthand that a lot of work goes into making that website as good as it can possibly be. And the people who work on the website, they care about you and your walk with God, and as part of that, well, we hope that maybe in some way, some of the things we talk about in this three-part series, "Getting Grace," can be of some help to you in your walk with the Lord.

Today, I want to talk about this third aspect. We began by talking about what grace is. Then, we talked about how to receive God's grace. Now, in this third time, we want to speak about the idea of what it means to live in God's grace. And for this great theme of living in grace, I want to call your attention to Romans 5:1-2. Let me read those two verses to you right here. We read:

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Romans 5:1-2

To me, the key words in that verse that I really want to spend some time considering with you today are the words "through him," in other words, "through Jesus," "we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand." And, what do I emphasize in that? It is simply this—that we stand in the grace of God. Now, we understand, or at least we should understand, that we are saved by the grace of God. As it says in Ephesians 2:8-9:

"For [it is] by grace [that] you have been saved through faith. And this is not [of] your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

We talked a lot about Ephesians 2:8-9 in our previous recording. So, understanding that we are saved by grace is a wonderful beginning point. Yet, for too many Christians, the idea of salvation by grace is pretty much where grace ends. The idea is something like this—that you and I should get saved by grace, and then we find some other way to live with God and to live for Him. I remember hearing a story many years ago about one evening, the famous scientist Albert Einstein was at a dinner party. And as Einstein was at that dinner party, he talked with a young neighbor who asked the old professor, "What do you actually do by profession?" Einstein didn't meet very many people who didn't know that already, so he answered, "I devote myself to the study of physics." Well, the young lady next to him looked at him in astonishment. She said, "You mean to say that you study physics at your age?" She said, "I finished mine in the ninth grade."

And, you might have the same attitude towards the grace of God. Many Christians get the message that they finish with grace soon after conversion, and then they should move on to deeper truths. They don't seem to understand that we're not only saved by grace, but according to what Romans 5:1-2 tell us, we stand in grace. And this theme is persistent throughout the Scriptures. Let me read to you a couple other passages. Acts 13:43 speaks of the work of Paul and Barnabas, where it says:

"And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God." Acts 13:43

Did you hear that phrase? " continue in the grace of God." Then, we have Galatians 5:4, which warns:

"You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace." Galatians 5:4

Well, the idea is that grace is something that we are to continue in our entire Christian life, and to never fall away from. And then Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:12, he says:

"By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it." 1 Peter 5:12

In other words, God has given us His grace. Now, we must stand firm in it. I think it's pretty plain to see that to the early church, grace was to be the constant standing of a disciple of Jesus. It wasn't just the entry method into the Christian life. But, for some reason, many Christians find it all too easy to leave grace in the name of growth. When the church seems troubled by some kind of crisis, an emphasis on grace might seem like a luxury. But sadly, many Christians soon departed from a simple teaching of a life in grace. I mean, after all, we're told in 2 Peter 3:18:

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 3:18

Notice, we're never told to grow from grace. We're never told to grow beyond grace. We're told to grow in grace, "the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Now, speaking from something of a historical perspective, we can say that very soon after the Apostles died, writings began to appear that showed a departure from the New Testament's teachings on grace—writings that tended to promote legal listed principles in the early church. You see, those early Christians meant well. They wanted to promote a strong morality, so that the church would have a spotless reputation in the world. But, in their emphasis on personal performance, they neglected the grace of the indwelling Jesus as the foundation for right living, or at least it seems so to me. Before long, there were certain sects that taught that there could be no cleansing or return to God's favor if a Christian sinned in any significant way after being baptized. Other groups believe that the Christian was allowed one significant sin, but after that, there could never be forgiveness or restoration. Other people taught that Jesus had paid the first installment on our moral debt to God, and by this, He freed us from the moral bankruptcy court. But, then they said that, now that we're set free, we have to keep up the payments on that debt.

You see, the way I see it, in trying to keep Christians pure, many people started thinking that the path to Christian maturity was a matter of earning our way before God. It's important we remember the child of God is not only initially saved by grace, but he is also kept saved by grace. Paul rightly insisted that he does not nullify the grace of God. That's in Galatians 2:21. The Christian stands in grace. It's not the starting block—it's the place where we stand. And any thinking that the start of the Christian life is in grace, but the maintenance of our life with God is our job, well, that's un-Biblical. It's graceless. And please remember as well, that Romans 5:2 tells us that our access into the standing of grace is by faith. I'm not going to dwell so much on the word faith, because we talked about that last time in our session emphasizing how we receive grace. I want to emphasize the word "access." When Paul used that ancient Greek word for "access," he took a word that describes the introduction of someone, or perhaps the ushering of someone, into the presence of royalty.

You see, by faith, we have access into the favor of a king. And that's important ground for us to walk on. We need to receive God's grace, and receive it all the time, and stand in that grace. You know, we receive this grace, understanding God's favor is towards us in Jesus Christ. You see, we learn to find favor from other people in a lot of ways. A child that's hungry for acceptance learns very early on what they must do to gain a parent's approval, because we want to know we're in somebody's favor. In school, we all learn that to gain the favor of a teacher, you have to be a good little boy, or a good little girl, who earns good marks in school. Later on, we learn that if you want to gain the favor of a politician, you've got to contribute a big check to his or her campaign fund. And, we find out that again the favor of a popular person, let's say in junior high school or in senior high school, that you got to do things that make them feel even more popular. You see, these kind of methods are generally successful in gaining the favor of other people, and sometimes influential people. But, none of them work in obtaining favor from God. We can never again the grace of God by being good boys and girls. Nor can we contribute enough money to His work so that we earn His approval. It's true that we can gain the praise of others by praise and flattery, but, though God is worthy of our honor and worship, even the sweetest praise can't give us the special status before God that His grace grants us freely in Jesus Christ.

So, remember that phrase from Romans 5:1-2. I'll read the verses to you again. Paul said:

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him [in other words, through Jesus] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Romans 5:1-2

Paul used very emphatic wording there. Most literally, he wrote, "We have access as a permanent possession." You see, our path of access to God is permanent. It'll never be denied. It's not temporary. Our right to entry will never be revoked. A standing condition of favor and acceptance is ours as those who trust in Jesus Christ. You see, in contrast to the gods of the pagan world, who could be sort of temperamental, and that always had to be satisfied because they might be in a grumpy mood, the Bible knows nothing about that kind of grumpy, temperamental God. The position of grace and favor that is ours in Jesus is a secure standing place. The good news is this—because of who Jesus is, and what we receive because of what He did on the cross, and His victory over the empty tomb, we don't have to poke upwards into a dark heaven and hope that we find the grace of the Lord. On the contrary, His unmerited favor has found us, and it simply needs to be received by a believing heart.

This has very practical application, friends. If the devil tells you you're a sinner, you can't go in before God, then you and I as Christians can answer, "I know that I'm a sinner, but I am justified in Jesus Christ." That's some firm ground from Romans 3:23-24. If the devil tells you that your sin is too great or too horrible, you tell him of the greatness of Jesus' righteousness because that is your standing. If the devil reminds you of your failures, of your backslidings, tell him that you know all about them, but that you also know a Savior who came to save sinners. The great truth of Romans 5:1-2 tells us that your access to standing in God's grace can't be denied. Jesus paid the ultimate price by His sinless life and His absolutely sacrificial death. He paid that price to make sure that you have a clear path to the throne of grace. And so, despite that, if you are tricked into thinking that you don't have a right of access, then you really don't benefit from the privilege that Jesus gave so much to bestow upon you.

Now, notice this. When Paul wrote about Grace in Romans 5:1-2, he wrote about the grace in which we stand. Let's remind ourselves again—we stand before God on the basis of grace and not on any other basis. Not on the ground of our own works, whether those works are in the past, in the present, or whether they're only promised, it's not on the basis of works. It's not on the principle of our own worthiness, even our own worthiness as God's children. You see, if it weren't for God's grace, we would not even stand before God—we'd grovel before Him. You see, to stand before somebody, it sort of speaks of a measure of confidence. There's some security and boldness. And could you really stand before God if you came to Him on the basis of what you have done? But, on the basis of what Jesus Christ has done for us and given to us freely, we can come to the throne of the greatest King. And that would be enough to make any of us tremble with fear, but we realize that this throne of the great King is also a throne of grace. And He welcomes us because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, with His perfect life and sacrificial death. So, we stand, but we stand in grace. I want to go back to a few themes that we spoke of in our first recording.

You see, grace means, among other things, that God's attitude towards us is gracious, it's filled with favor. You see, when God sees us, something in Him is happy. He sees beauty in us because we're in Jesus. To put it plainly, and I hope I'm not speaking to simply or, God forbid, irreverently here, but, to put it plainly, standing in grace means that God doesn't only love us, He likes us. It can be difficult for us to understand that God likes us, that He's well pleased with us in Jesus. We often suffer under the thought that God barely tolerates us because we're unworthy, or that, most of the time, God is irritated with us. You see, we're so familiar with our own sins and shortcomings we are easily convinced that God is always half-angry, or maybe I should say three-quarters-angry, or seven-eighths-angry, that God is at least half-angry with us, and He's always disappointed in us because we're unworthy.

Brothers and sisters, those who stand in grace, their position before God is a standing of favor, it's a standing of acceptance and beauty, not one of unworthiness or irritation or mere toleration. Now, stop again. I've got to repeat something I know I've told you before in this series. Before you pat yourself on the back, remember that your standing in grace has nothing to do with what you have done. It has nothing to do with what you are. It has nothing to do with what you have promised to be. Your standing in grace is only because of God's freely given favor in Jesus Christ. Though we may enjoy the privileges of a favored standing before God, we cannot take the credit for that privileged standing. It is the free gift of God's grace. By the way, we can also take comfort in the fact that God has established this standing in grace as a permanent feature of our relationship with Him. God deals with His children on the basis of grace. And it stays that way. Grace is not grace if God withdraws it at a later time because of some lack of deserving. Standing of grace realizes that all the reasons for His loving us are in Him and they're not in us.

Now, let me talk to you about two important principles. When we come to God by faith, trusting in Jesus' merits, and expecting love and blessing for Jesus' sake, that is, by grace, when we come to God on that grace basis, it's very different than when we come to God by works. When we come to God on the basis of works, we're trusting in our own merits. We expect only what we feel we have earned, that's law. This principle of law is familiar to most of us. You could describe it with a simple phrase. Ready for the simple phrase that describes the law?

"You get what you deserve."

What I want you to understand about these two principles is that they cannot be reconciled with each other, because they contrast. Because the principle of grace and the principle of law contrast, they can't be reconciled. We cannot come to God on both principles at once, or even on a mixture of the two principles. They are different from one another at their very root. You see, the law speaks to us as members of the old creation, as people who are stained by sin and bound by sin. But grace makes us members of a new creation. It cleans us from the stains of sin, and it releases the chains of sin that bound us. Law displays what's in man—that's sin. Grace displays what's in God—that is love. Law demands righteousness from us. Grace brings righteousness to us. Law sentences a living man to death. Grace brings a dead man to life. Law speaks of what we must do for God. Grace tells of what Jesus has done for us. Law gives us knowledge of sin. But, grace puts away our sin. And, law brings God out to us. But, grace brings us in to God. You see, the contrast there?

Now, connecting to the principle of law is the root of a graceless Christian life. If we forsake the New Covenant, and if we desire to relate with God on the basis of what we deserve, then the results are a disaster. Many problems in the Christian life find their root back to a failing to stand with God on the basis of grace. We can know if we're living a life of law instead of grace by again looking at a brief profile of the graceless Christian life. In other words, the big theme of our talk right now is about living in grace. Let's look at the opposite of living in grace to understand more what we're really talking about. The person who does not live in grace, the person who has a graceless life with God, first of all, will live under a constant and regular feeling of guilt, because they can never be certain that their lives have enough devotion and good works to truly please God. You see, they may desperately want to please God, they may desperately want to be good Christians, but because they believe that God's opinion of them was based on their performance, then their minds are rarely at ease. They always feel the pressure of being under the watchful eye of a God who is ready to punish them at the first sign of disobedience. The Christian who lives by law never finds a lasting rest in the Lord.

I remember reading once about, in the early days of aviation, air travel was kind of this dangerous, new thing. There were these pioneering pilots that would travel around the country, and give people airplane rides. Well, one of these pilots offered to give an old man a birthday plane ride over the little West Virginia town where he had spent all of his seventy-five years. The old man accepted the offer, got into the airplane, and circled around the town for twenty minutes. And then, he landed back on the ground. Well, his friends were ecstatic. They all asked him, "Were you scared?" And he said, "No, but I never really did put my full weight down." Well, that story makes us smile, right? Because, whether or not he put his weight down, he was carried in the plane, and carried quite safely.

But many Christians who live under law instead of grace have the same sort of hesitancy to really trust God. They have a hard time relaxing in His presence, and they find it difficult to sit down and enjoy what He wants to give. You see, instead of experiencing righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, their lives seem to be marked more by guilt, doubt, and fear that God will find out just how bad they really are, and treat them as they deserve. You see, the greatest tragedy in this is that, in almost every case, that law-living graceless Christian really does have a genuine heart for the Lord. They have a sincere passion to please God. Yet, they suffer under the haunting awareness that they don't measure up. What they want more than anything is to know the love and acceptance of God, but they think that this assurance of God's favor will come through their performance. Grace says that the love and acceptance we long for from God is a gift given to us freely in Jesus. It's not something that we can earn by what we are or by what we do. Graceless Christianity is a powerful, subtle weapon; it's a damaging weapon against Christians who really do love God.

Now, here's another thing that's often a mark of a graceless Christian life, is they often experience inconsistent victory over sin. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to imply that, on this side of heaven, that we can ever live in some kind of perfect state of victory that. The Bible says that we're always going to have to contend with the flesh until Jesus completes our salvation with resurrection and glorification. But, I think you know what I mean. There is a dynamic of struggle with sin that some people feel much worse than others. And this whole dynamic of a very inconsistent victory of sin often gets traced back to law instead of grace. Because, under law, our eyes are on ourselves. You see, if I believe that God's opinion of me depends on my own actions, then I have to analyze every thought, every word, every deed, so that I can predict how God's going to treat me. This kind of self-focused introspection takes away from my ability to rest in and to rely on the strength of the Lord, and I need that strength if I'm going to walk in any kind of victory over soon.

You see, the child of God who lives by law does experience victory, it can be so. But, when they do, it can be even more dangerous, because that victory will tend to feed their pride. They begin to think that they have conquered the monster of sin, and made themselves pleasing to God, instead of seeing that Christ in us conquers sin and makes us pleasing to God. You see, if that were to happen, then Satan has caught his greatest prize—a saint who is sincere, but acts in a self-righteous manner. Under law, our eyes are on ourselves, and not on Jesus. And this makes victory very difficult to grasp, but it's dangerous if we ever do grab it under the principle of law.

Here's a third principle of people who tend to live by law and not under grace. The Christian who lives under law might show little desire to get together with God or His people. See, there's two ways that an emphasis on law defeats the desire for Christian community. The first way is that law often makes a person say, "I'm not worthy, I don't belong." When somebody feels like that, the last thing they want is the company of Christians who seem to be so right with God. It just makes them feel worse. But then, there's a second way this can work a legalistic attitude make me may make someone feel, "I'm the only one who is worthy in this bunch, and they don't belong." You see, an emphasis on our own performance can make us conceited. Here's the truth—if we feel like nobody is holy enough for us or good enough for us, there's probably a problem going on in us. Either perspective, that we're too low to really enter into community, or we're too high to really enter into community, both of those are indicative of a law life-kind of Christianity, and they both work against the spirit of community and fellowship in Jesus Christ. Sometimes, you can tell a Christian who lives under law and not grace because they're always straining for the approval of other people. You see, because they're fundamentally lacking in the confidence of God's approval, then the approval of other people means more to them than honestly it should.

And finally, this will be my fifth point on this, the Christian who lives under law can sometimes be recognized because they have a fear of failure in Christian service and a lack of boldness in their Christian life. You see, they tend to fear failure because they believe that, in everything they do, God's approval is on the line. If I'm going to reach out towards another person who is in need, that's a good thing. But if I fear that, if I'm going to make a mistake, God will think badly of me, then why reach out at all? The law-living Christian may be afraid to do much of anything for God because they feel that they risk God's displeasure if they serve Him poorly.

Here's the wonderful truth for you to grab ahold of—God does not deal with the Christian on the basis of law. God deals with the Christian according to the principle of grace. The fact is you do stand in grace before God if you're in Jesus Christ. If you're in that place, then He sees you in terms of favor, approval, and beauty. And because you stand in grace, you can expect blessing and not cursing from God. Understand, under the system of law, blessing came from earning and deserving. But, under grace, blessing comes by believing and receiving. By His grace, God grants us undeserved, unconditional blessing, and it's in response to those blessings that we do good works. It's in response to those blessings that we seek diligently to serve and obey Jesus. But, even when we do respond to God's goodness to us with obedience, or respond with devotion, those works never repay God for the blessings He gives us. Because the gift of grace, it never requires repayment.

But, let me get one other point to touch on before we sort of wrap things up. I want to deal with the question of, "Doesn't God ever get angry with us as believers?" I know that sometimes as believers we feel like God's angry with us. And, let me answer the question this way. Most of us know how it feels to be disciplined by God, and it can make us wonder if that proves that God does indeed sometimes get angry with us, or that He doesn't always deal with us according to grace. Now, the chastening hand of God may come to us in different ways, but it's often some difficulty that God allows in our life to serve as a correction. Some people think that this kind of spiritual "spanking" from our heavenly Father proves that God gets angry at us sometimes, and that He gives us evil when we deserve it. Instead, the Bible tells us that we should regard the correcting hand of God as a special mark of His favor and kindness to us. When God chastens us, He's giving His best, when we may only want what's easiest. That's certainly a mark of God's grace, even though at the time it's painful or difficult.

You see, God is a loving and perfect Father. He corrects his children when they need to be corrected, but He always does it out of love, out of kindness, and out of a desire for their good and benefit. He doesn't do it out of anger. God doesn't do it out of a desire to cause pain. While at the end of it all, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are plainly left with a choice. The current standing of the Christian before God is one of grace. He loves the believer; He accepts us apart from any of our own deserving or merits. And the Father looks to the merits of Jesus, not the merits of the Christian. You see, we choose to relate to God, either on the principle of law, or in the principle of grace.

Here's my challenge to you. Are you going to agree with God, and see yourself as standing in grace, understanding that you must continue in grace throughout your whole Christian life? Or, will you agree with what gets shouted out as from the world, the flesh, and the devil, and choose to see our standing before God in the principle of law? This choice affects almost every area of our Christian life. How can we make this right choice? Well, let me help you just with some concluding resolutions.

First and foremost, we must resolve to accept this favor of God because He has promised it. Remember, I'll read it to you one more time, Romans 5:2:

"...we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand..." Romans 5:2

We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand. God offers us a relationship of grace and we must accept it by faith in Him, and by trusting His offer. We will cease from trying to earn God's favor, and we will not wait until we feel ourselves worthy to receive His love. That's first.

Second, we must understand that, because I stand in grace, I am not on probation before God. Since my salvation or acceptance before God is based on the merits of Jesus, I don't need to worry that God is waiting for me to fail so that He can cast me away from His presence. Grace provides a secure, eternal standing for the child of God, one that God will forever uphold. I am accepted in Christ, therefore I am fully accepted right now. If acceptance from God had to be obtained by my merits, then it could only be granted after my performance had reached God's standard, which it never really would. But, you see, with grace, there is no testing period where God decides whether He really wants me or doesn't want me.

Thirdly, we resolve that we will regard God's chastening hand as a mark of His goodness and favor, not as a mark of his anger and rejection. He only chastens the ones that He truly loves.

And then, finally, we resolve that our expectation will be that God will indeed bless us because He has blessed us. He's done it on the basis of Jesus' merits, not my own. Because I stand in grace, I will enjoy the favor and acceptance of my Heavenly Father. And I can expect that He will bless me according to the riches of His Grace. Dear brother, dear sister, that's my earnest prayer for you. And I know that you have a heart for these things of God, because, otherwise, you wouldn't have an interest in our Blue Letter Bible family if you did not. So, my earnest hope, prayer, and desire for you is that you would continue to understand the grace of God, you continue to receive the grace of God, and that, especially, you would know the blessing and the assurance that comes from standing in the grace of God.

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