Thursday, August 13, 2015

Made Perfect by Grace

    I've remarked before that man's default religion is self-help gospel, focused on my own works and ability to please God through my own actions. However, while that is a problem in the church today, there is another twisting of the gospel that is similar, but much more innocent looking. This is the what I believe to be a Christian's default religion.

    It's the idea that I am saved by grace, but I must work and try really hard to fight sin in order to please God. Otherwise, God will be displeased with me, and I will remain carnal and stuck in sin. Honestly, this is a much more comfortable religion than a religion of radical grace, because again, my job of keeping God happy is once again firmly  in my own hands.

    Paul fights this concept throughout the entire book of Galatians, but particularly in 3:3, where I want to spend time tonight. "Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being perfected in the flesh?"

    Paul is asking a very relevant question. Having admittedly been saved through the Spirit, do we honestly believe that now we pursue Christ-likeness by our own flesh and in our own strength? But that doesn't make any sense at all. In our strength, we still fall far short of God's standard, as we've discussed before through Romans. By ourselves, we cannot make ourselves pure.

    My pursuit of Christ after salvation is still all of Christ and none of me. My good deeds and good actions are the result of Christ working in me, not some excellent pursuit of my own. So any attempts to become more righteous in my own strength apart from Jesus becomes simply vain moralism.

    Paul is quick to point out that just as our righteousness at salvation is brought to us by the working of the Holy Spirit, so is our edification after salvation. Again, our pursuit toward Christ-likeness is all Christ working in us, none of our own effort.

    What so many of us tend to do is fall into our default setting of throwing ourselves into making us more and more pure rather than letting the Holy Spirit change our desires and wills. And while that sounds all good and well, what follows is an attempt to purify ourselves rather than follow the Holy Spirit as He leads us toward Christ-likeness.

    We are not made perfect by our own supreme effort, but by the work of the Holy Spirit. And when we conclude that we must make ourselves perfect, we turn straight to legalism, pleasing God through actions of my own rather than through the grace of His Son. Rather, Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit is the one making us perfect, and we simply follow Jesus as He guides.

    This is a burden off us. What we tend to do when we hear commands of Scripture is to summon up our will, muscle up our endurance, and push ourselves to do it ourselves. But what is then missing is reliance on God, something that is only necessary when we realize how far short of Christ-likeness we are. As long as we think we can attain it on our own, God's grace is only necessary to cover my sinful past.

    But when we realize that we can't be what we should be by ourselves is when we begin to appreciate God's grace and the working of the Holy Spirit all the more. My pursuit of Christ-likeness isn't accomplished by mustering up all my moral strength and plucky self-will to push forward. It's by a reliant trust on the all-sufficient grace of God that is gradually changing me into the image of His Son!

    So rather than pushing and shoving, twisting and beating ourselves into shape to become like Christ, rest! Rest in the finished work of Christ and always-conforming work of His Holy Spirit to change you! Rest!


  1. I really appreciate how you focus on grace so much! I've got a question... when I hear the message, "don't try to fix yourself, God will do it," my sinful mind tends to turn it into one of those, "go on sinning that Grace may increase (or at least, give in to sin and let Grace do everything)" deals, the type that Paul condemns in Romans... 8, I think? I know that these doctrines coexist because they're both in the same Bible, but I haven't found the balance... any thougts?

    1. Excellent question that I'm not sure I'm fully capable of answering. Trusting in God to change us lies somewhere between "muster up all my strength to change" and "well, heck, let's just have fun!". We're talking the difference between legalism and license.

      Any Christian who has attempted to do good works in the flesh can attest to the hopelessness it brings. You don't stop sinning. We simply fall, over and over again. I think what Paul is emphasizing is that trust in God reflects a confidence that God is truly changing me. So as I pursue God and come to know Him better, He is conforming me into His imagine and changing my desires to want to know Him more and follow in His steps.

      As God sanctifies us, we continue to grow in Him, this time through Him rather than through our effort. So I'm not advocating sinning all the more. I'm advocating following in the steps of Jesus, but doing so in a confidence and reliance on God for strength rather than self. Does that make sense?