If grace is free, can it be abused?
Imagine yourself in debt. Imagine
yourself in two kinds of debt. The first is your electricity bill worth 750kes.
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?
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
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.
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.