This post is part 27 in a blog series that I have entitled “the wilderness between legalism and grace,” in which I share how I came to realize that I had an incorrect view of God and self and how I became free of the system of legalism whereby I was trying to earn God’s favor. You can read prior posts to this series here:
Introduction: some self-observations about legalism
Part 1: what is “legalism”?
Part 2: standing under the broken heart
Part 3: hiding in shame, packing up my dreams
Part 4: when you “trust and obey” but your heart still gets broken
Part 5: when you’ve been hurt by legalism, hold onto faith
Part 6: What do Brad Pitt, Josh Groban, and Sleepless in Seattle have in common?
Part 7: perfection is not possible
Part 8: finding healing and freedom in secular music
Part 9: “I will keep believing that God still has a plan”
Part 10: Plan A, 2.0
Part 11: Modesty: a picture of grace
Part 12: Disconnect: when God just doesn’t seem relevant
Part 13: Roses in the dumpster: seeing God in everyday life
Part 14: Cheating on my church
Part 15: Can you hear Jesus calling?
Part 16: Checklists, control, and motherhood
Part 17: forget where you “should be” and “give God your ugly”
Part 18: When your church isn’t meeting your needs
Part 19: on being “in your place” in church
Part 20: when your spiritual journey doesn’t look like his
Part 21: “Well…it feels comfortable…”
Part 22: There are no “entry level positions” with God
Part 23: “Sitting on the premises” – sometimes, it’s okay not to serve
Part 24: The real me
Part 25: “You are God, You are God, Of all else I’m letting go
Part 26: Leave it all behind…
I was no stranger to grace.
For six years my family attended a church named Grace.
When I planned out baby names when I was a girl grace was always one of my favored picks for a middle name.
I knew what it meant before I made it out of elementary school.
“Grace is God giving you something you don’t deserve. Mercy is God withholding something that you do deserve.”
It was that simple…but somehow, I totally missed it.
My own goodness got in the way.
I knew that my salvation wasn’t earned. It was by grace, through faith. But that’s where grace stopped for me. Everything else beyond salvation was up to me. It was all my responsibility, all on my shoulders. If I felt that God was happy with me because I was “living right,” then I was at peace. If not, then the shame and guilt of not being good enough for God weighed me down.
Either way, Christ and his grace had very little to do with it.
Galatians 5:4 states it this way:
“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”
Justification is the doctrine that at the moment of salvation, we are declared righteous before God. But somehow I lost sight of that doctrine – or felt it only mattered at that moment when I stood looking for entrance into heaven. That’s when justification would matter. I’m not good enough for heaven, so when I stand there before God, THAT’S when he looks at me as justified and lets me in.
But what happens in between the moment of salvation and that moment of judgment? All God sees is my dirty sin, my ugly. And he can’t have that. So I had to clean up for him every day to make sure he’s happy with me.
I had fallen from grace.
But here’s what the Bible says:
…we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
And having an high priest over the house of God;
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
(Hebrews 10:10-22 portions)
Isn’t this just beautiful? Mystifying? That at the moment we place our faith in him, we are sanctified once for all? We are perfected forever? Our sins are remembered no more? There are NO MORE OFFERINGS for sin? We have boldness to enter the very holiest because of Jesus – just as we are?
Wow! I mean…wow. Can you get ahold of this? Because I still have trouble wrapping my brain around it.
We tend to think that doing right = being righteousness. But it’s simply not true:
…for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Galatians 2:21)
“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5)
This is what I see:
Doing right = debt, not grace
Faith = righteousness
In other words, the ONLY thing we can do that is worthy of “counting” as righteousness is simple faith.
Everything else? That’s just an offering of thanksgiving, an outpouring of love back to the One who has done so much for us.
At the beginning of this series, I defined “legalism” this way:
“Legalism is a system whereby a Christian believes he must earn God’s every-day favor, acceptance, and fellowship through strict adherence to a behavioral code which most often is based on fallen man’s interpretation of Scripture.”
Grace is the complete antithesis of legalism.
Legalism is all about you. What you do, how you behave…and how good you are. Being good enough to approach God, being good enough to serve God.
Grace is all about Him: how good HE is, when there’s nothing good in us.
The most simplistic definition of grace I have ever heard is “God’s unmerited favor.” And for purpose of this series, I believe it to be a great definition.
Just let it soak in.
God’s unmerited, unearned, I-had-nothing-to-do-with-it favor, acceptance, and love.
A phrase I have used a lot in this series is “accepting grace” – as something I was unable to do for a long time and then finally had a moment where I could.
What do I mean by that? What does it mean to accept grace?
We accept grace for daily life in the same way we accept grace for salvation. By simple faith.
You can’t truly accept God’s sacrifice as your salvation until you let go of your own goodness by admitting you are a sinner in need of a savior. That much we seem to accept easily. “I can’t go to heaven because I’m a sinner who has fallen short of the glory of God…Jesus is the only way to heaven.” We seem to get that so easily. (Or at least it was easy for me.)
But this idea that we have to let go of our own goodness to live our daily lives? And live by faith that God’s grace is sufficient? That’s mind-boggling!
But I submit to you this statement that has been running through my head since the beginning of this series, and what I have been working toward in my writing all along.
If I could give you one thing, and only one, to take away from my series, this would be it. This is what I want you to remember when my name and my story is long-forgotten:
You cannot accept God’s grace for your daily Christian life until you let go of your own righteousness.
God’s grace and your own goodness are incompatible.
It’s one or the other, and you have to choose.
Legalism and grace cannot coexist. If you are depending on your own goodness, whether it be for salvation and entrance into heaven or daily sanctification and entrance into God’s throne, then you have fallen from grace.
Over my next few posts I will be discussing what grace is not (avoiding the pendulum syndrome and sinning “that grace may abound”), the true motivation for good works in the life of a Christian, and some of the blessings of legalism in my life. As always, I welcome comments or personal emails if you would like to discuss things more in depth!