We’re saved by grace, not by works. (Ephesians 2:8-9).
This is not only a scripture nearly every Christian knows and loves it’s a doctrine that the evangelical church holds extremely tightly to, and for good reason .
However it’s one that we often don’t take far enough.
It seems most of us have an intellectual belief in “by grace alone” salvation but a works driven practical theology that leads us to believe that while I “enter” the door of Christianity through the gospel, in order to make myself at home I must perform up to a certain level. In other words my position as a Christian is a work of God’s unconditional grace, but my progress or growth as a Christian is a work conditioned upon my effort.
This works driven “sanctification” (the progress of being made more like Jesus) appeals to our fallen proclivity toward rules and pragmatism.
We really love rules, as Justin Holcomb wrote recently,
“rules make sense because they give us conditions. In essence, you could say we are natural-born legalists. It goes like this: if you do a, b, and c, you will get a reward. But if you break the rules, a bad result will follow. Rules give us a sense of control because if we can make good on those rules, then we can stay in control and master our destiny. But God’s economy is different. God, in the gospel, says you get exactly what you don’t deserve. Grace.”
Christianity isn’t about rules, it’s about the gospel. The good news that while you are more sinful than you could ever possibly conceive you are more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope.
Most of us were raised with the understanding that if we obeyed we would be accepted, and if we didn’t play by the rules we would be rejected. Therefore we take this paradigm into our relationship with Jesus, thinking that if I can just obey and follow the rules I will be accepted. But Jesus’ gospel (good news) declares just the opposite; it doesn’t tell us to obey so that we will be accepted, it compels us to obey because we’ve already been accepted.
So then how do we grow? How do I take the truths of the gospel and practically work them out in everyday life. Too often this question misses the point because we’re looking for somebody to give me 3 steps to Christian growth, a “get holy quick scheme.”
So what is the point?
Simply put the point is Jesus. If our growth as Christians involves more consistent victory over sin and a lifestyle of bringing God glory with our thoughts, actions, and attitudes then it’s critical that we recognize that this can never be achieved by working hard or following the rules, because what we’re talking about here is worship, it’s about the worship of a Person not a system or a program. If I want to live like Jesus (the goal of Christianity) then I need know Him, and it starts with recognizing that as a Christian I already know Him, as Paul would say, “I’m in Christ”. It’s this relationship that then shapes my growth and progress as a Christian. Herein is the key to Christian growth, transformed affections. Once I’ve tasted of Jesus and His overwhelming love and acceptance I can then properly eschew sin not as a legalist looking for moral acceptance, but as a Christian who realizes that whatever that sin is offering me at the moment pales in comparison to what I already have in Jesus.
Here is where growth is found and cultivated. It’s about worship, we worship into sin (the lie that a person, idea, or thing will bring me ultimate satisfaction) and we worship out of sin (the truth that only Jesus can bring me ultimate satisfaction). When I grasp this reality it helps me to see the why behind the what of my sin, giving me the freedom to run after Jesus instead of any number of counterfeits.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)
For further reading on this I highly recommend Jared Wilson’s new book Gospel Wakefulness
You can read chapter 7 of this book, where Jared talks about Gospel-Driven Sanctification here for free!
*Thank you Dr. Tim Keller for helping me to understand many of the truths contained here.