Imagine yourself in debt. Imagine yourself in two kinds of debt. The first is your electricity bill worth 750 KES. The second is a tax bill from the government for arrears worth 8million KES. Imagine by some unfathomable reason, you incurred both. You can afford the electricity bill but you cannot afford the tax arrears. If you don’t pay your electricity bill by the end of the month, your power will be cut. If you don’t pay your tax arrears, you will be incarcerated and probably face life in prison. Now imagine two friends come along and they see both bill statements. One friend offers to help by paying for your electricity bill without receiving anything in return. What do you say? You say “Gee, thanks. That was thoughtful.” You smile at him or her and pat them on the back. The other friend picks up your tax arrears bill and walks to the Government Revenue Authority and clears your 8million debt. They too do it for free without any obligation. Now, what do you say? I’ll tell you what you say. You fall to the ground and say, “Command me!” The reality of the truth is that we will spend a lifetime feeling indebted to this person and could willingly sacrifice our time and resources for them. That is a small picture of a term called grace.
What is grace? What happens when we hear the famous Ephesians 2:8 that we are saved by grace and not by our works and performance? What happens when we hear that even though we mess up so bad, God’s grace forgives all our sin? Some may not even know there’s a concept like this. Let me try to summarize it. Imagine the worst thing you’ve ever done in life? Now, thank God because he forgives you for that. How does that make you feel? Good, er? Now imagine that you will do something worse than the worst thing you’ve already ever done. Now imagine that God will still forgive you for that even though you may ignore him and proceed to do that nasty thing. How does that make you feel now?
The biblical reaction is to marvel at the love and mercy of God and feel free from the need to earn our salvation and perform to be accepted into his Kingdom because Jesus Christ cleared the job on the cross. However there is a second reaction that I’ve heard. It’s not uncommon but it is unvoiced many a times. It’s about taking grace for granted. I mean if God is like that won’t grace be abused by humanity? If grace is truly like that, that no matter how bad I mess up today God will forgive me, won’t I lose any incentive to do good and live a holy life? I mean I will just sin and God will forgive me. Won’t my human nature take that for granted and lose incentive to do good?
Ever thought of that?
Well, let’s get down to it. You need to understand the operating principle of grace as found in the gospel. The operating principle of general religion is if I do good I will be accepted by God. The operating principle of the gospel is I am accepted by God, therefore I do good. There’s a difference. The former’s incentive to do good is propelled by the need to be accepted into heaven or to be in good terms with God. Therefore they do good in order to earn their salvation. The latter’s incentive to do good is propelled by the fact that they have already been accepted and for that they are indebted. Doing good to be accepted by God is a performance system that cannot reflect a powerful God. How? If your good deeds are enough to appease God then the God you serve must have really low standards because after all, you’re but a human. Humanity’s good deeds are good but they’re merely human standards for righteousness. If you do good because you’re indebted to a God you couldn’t repay, then that God has standards that are super-high, or should I say super-holy. That is a powerful God. The former isn’t.
If you do good to be accepted by God, Jesus is your example, he is your role model, he is your standard but he is not your saviour. Your good works are your own saviour. Grace changes all that. Grace tells you that your God has standards that are too high for any human to achieve. His standards are so high that he calls a lustful glance adultery. His standards are so high that he calls hatred murder. They are Godly standards too high for any human to achieve. If you can’t achieve them, you can’t have salvation. Well, since nobody can achieve them, the million-dollar question begs, “Can anybody be saved?” The answer is yes. You see, God can achieve God’s standards. And that’s what he did. God achieved it by living as one of us and not breaking any of the high standards. Then after he achieved them, he gave you all the credit. On account of that perfect credit, you are saved. That is grace. Does that encourage you to do good or does it make you lose incentive to do good?
If the concept of grace makes you lose your incentive to live a holy life, then you must ask yourself, “What is propelling me?” What motivates me to do good? Intrinsically you may discover that your entire life is propelled by fear and not purpose. You only do good because you fear you will not go to heaven. You fear you will not be accepted. You fear. Beloved, Christ’s grace and love removes all fear. The incentive to do good and pursue holiness is simply because it matters. It pleases God, it’s purposeful and because it makes a difference in your life and in the life of those around you. Grace never makes us lose incentive to do good; it gives us incentive to do it. And if it doesn’t, then probably you’ve not understood it well. Let me demonstrate it to you.
Timothy Keller once said that when Christ was crucified on the cross, he didn’t cry out “My hands, my hands!” or “My feet, my feet!” Notwithstanding the ripped flesh, the punctured skin, the holed limbs, the pierced brow, the split veins and the 110-pound crossbeam on his weary shoulders, the pain of the cross was not a mere physical torment. The separation of a son from his father because of an infraction-your infraction, was a heavier burden to bear for Jesus. Why? The separation caused by our sin went against the intimacy the son and father shared. It shattered a divine relationship, it fractured a holy union, it broke an eternal bond, it tore a spiritual muscle and it ruptured sacred tendons. And for that overwhelming pain of separation that no physical suffering can match, it prompted the Son to cry, “My God, my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” The father forsook him for you. Christ was not only tormented and separated physically from the father, but also in every other way and mostly spiritually, so that you would be painlessly (in every way and mostly spiritually) rejoined to God.
The cost of repair for your soul was staggering, beloved. If the cost to make reparation for your soul was so great, could you have the guts to admit that your sin that caused that restitution is equally great? Beloved, our most moral acts could still put Christ on the cross and make him go what he went through. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And by all, we mean EVERYONE (even the “good guys”) are hell-deserving as far as God’s standard is concerned. The cross wasn’t a mere substitute that you would have endured if Christ didn’t come. The cross was a solution for a price too high that you couldn’t afford. It was atonement for a debt too high that you couldn’t recompense for. It was a clearance of your errors that you couldn’t mend so that you would receive a clean sheet and not stand accused. It was a divine shedding of blood that is a cost too huge to compensate with any human moral effort, worldly riches or saintly kindness. The cost for the repair of your soul was staggering. And if you know that, you realize that he loves you. You realize that he cares so much for you. You realize that having full knowledge of what it cost God to reach you doesn’t make you lose incentive to do good. It’s called grace, and if anything, it gives you incentive to not only do good but to also lay out your entire life to Christ and let him do as he pleases with it. You owe him.
The God of the gospel is both infinitely holy and infinitely loving. He killed two birds with one stone on that cross, self-righteousness and sinfulness. He humbles us out of our false sense of morality and he affirms us out of our inadequacy of righteousness. The former restructures our hearts, the latter reverses our values and they both remove our sin. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works so that no man can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9) If you would like the gift of grace, go before God, confess that you are a sinner, confess that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, confess that you need the help of Christ and ask him to take control of your life. And when you have done that, rejoice and be free because you got the greatest gift in the entire Universe. You got grace and you got God.