You might remember when you first realized salvation is by grace through faith alone. That’s a wonderful experience—but we all need to grow over time in our understanding of everything it means. I know some Christians who’ve been saved for years, but their lives are characterized by discouragement over failures. They keep repenting and promising to do better if God will just forgive them one more time. But the “better” only lasts a few days. Then, overwhelmed with guilt, they come back to the Lord, begging for forgiveness and another chance to do it right.
Could this describe you? If so, I’d like to assure you that it’s not what our heavenly Father intends for us. In Christ we’ve been set free from bondage to sin and guilt. This is our spiritual reality, but being free doesn’t always guarantee that we’re living in that freedom. There are obstacles that can hinder us from experiencing a free life in Christ. One of the biggest hindrances is legalism.
The church in Galatia found themselves in this situation. They had responded to the gospel and were saved by God’s grace through faith, but some false teachers, called Judaizers, had infiltrated the church. They didn’t deny that salvation was through faith in Jesus, but they added another condition by teaching that obedience to the Law of Moses was also required (Gal. 5:1-12).
Have you added anything to your salvation? Those who do often feel extremely guilty and fearful of what the Lord may do to them when they fail. These additional requirements might be man-made rules with no basis in Scripture, or even good things like reading the Bible, pray- ing, attending church, sharing the gospel, or giving—all of which the Bible tells us to do. But if we’re trying to appease God, we’re living in bondage.
In order to live in the freedom of grace, we must first understand God’s purpose for the Law. The Ten Commandments were not given to achieve salvation or make us good. The Law of God functions like a mirror. When you look in the mirror first thing in the morning, it doesn’t make you beautiful or handsome; it only reveals the facts regarding your appearance. In the same way, God’s commandments reveal your sin but can never make you righteous; they only condemn (Rom. 3:19-20).
Next, we need an accurate understanding of God’s grace. It’s defined as His unmerited favor toward those who aren’t worthy of it, which is all of us since no one can live up to the perfect standard of God’s law. But Jesus did. He obeyed every command perfectly.
It’s on the basis of Christ’s obedience that the Father can now extend grace to all who trust in His life and death for their salvation. Why would we try to add law back into our lives after being saved by grace? Paul told the Galatians, “If you have yourself circumcised (in obedience to the Law), Christ will be of no benefit to you” (Gal. 5:2). In other words, you can live by Law or by grace, but not by both.
Why do Christians so readily accept salvation by grace but then try to grow spiritually by following rules in their own strength? The reason is because they don’t understand that grace doesn’t end after salvation. God continues to lavish grace on us throughout our earthly lives and into eternity. Do you know why God saved you? “So that in the ages to come He might show the boundless riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).
Finally, to fully experience the freedom Christ won for us, we must constantly live in God’s all-sufficient grace. John described it this way: “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Think of it as waves from the ocean. As one wave breaks on the sand, another one follows. We never run out of God’s grace, which means we never have to revert back to the ineffectiveness of law and self-effort.
One of the reasons we don’t rely on grace as we should is because we don’t know what it does. It’s the means by which we live the Christian life (Titus 2:11-12). It works within us to empower obedience to Christ, enable service, overcome sin, produce holy conduct, transform our character into Christ’s likeness, and strengthen us to endure hardships and suffering (2 Cor. 12:9).
Are you walking in the freedom of grace, or are you trying hard to live the life of a Christian the best you can in your own strength? You can tell the difference by examining your motives. Does your obedience flow from love for Christ or from fear? Is it a delight or a heavy burden? John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
God’s grace is His love in action. He pours it out on us to provide everything we need for the Christian life. I pray that you will discover the freedom and joy that comes by walking in God’s amazing, lavish grace.
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. One of my greatest joys is to know our listeners and readers, like you, are growing closer to the Lord every day. My hope is that God has used In Touch Ministries to encourage and strengthen you with the truths of His Word. Thank you for being a part of our In Touch family.