All of grace
Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)
Grace, God's unmerited favor to us, is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the thing we need more than anything in this world and the unique part of the Christian message that sets the gospel of Jesus Christ apart from all other religion, ideology and philosophy. Grace be to you! With that grace from God available, why is it that everyone doesn't run to Jesus? It isn't just that they don't believe in that grace. It is also because they don't realize they need it.
This must be the starting point - there must come a crisis in a person's life where he looks long and hard in the mirror and realizes he is in trouble. The recognition of our state of sin, of short-fallen and falling short, is the beginning. Without that there is no desire to seek God's grace. Man, his heart full of pride and self-importance, fails to recognize his need of God's grace and so never seeks it. The first part of God's grace, as strange as it may seem, is that He shows us the true condition of our soul. The horror of that condition, lost, fallen, failed, causes us to cry out, "God, Help me!" This only comes when there is an abandonment of the false-self of ego. We have to get past the idea that if we do more good than bad, then we are OK. We have to come to the realization that any failure results in death of the soul and left on our own we will fail. The only way out is to throw our self-will out and cling in complete trust in the blood of Jesus. We take it by faith that there is forgiveness for sin. Then, and only then, the realization that there is a way out is good news indeed!
Good News -- that of course is what "gospel" means and what it is. The word used in the Bible is "euaggelion" and is where we get our word evangelist from. This word has an interesting history. Originally it simply meant good tidings, but by the time of Jesus, it had come to have a special meaning. When the Emperor won a victory against an enemy, he would send out a proclamation of victory. That idea of a proclamation of victory was picked up and used by Jesus and His disciples to describe what it was that Jesus did. The gospel is a proclamation from the King to us that He has won a victory over sin and death. Good News indeed. He has conquered sin and because of that we have hope of forgiveness.
Sadly, we so often think of grace only as forgiveness for sin. Look closely at what Paul says to the Galatians. Did you notice that it is not just that he provided the payment for our sins, but also delivers us from this present evil world? The complete gospel goes beyond just covering our past, present and future sins. There is more to it. If all Jesus did was provide payment for our sins, that would be an enormous gift. However, it still leaves us with a problem. While we are in this mortal body we are constantly under pressure of the desires of the flesh. No matter how hard we try eventually we get tired, distracted and weak and the flesh takes over for a moment. As Jesus said about his disciples, "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." So what do we do?
What most preachers I have heard say is that you have to avoid any sin. To continue to sin, so they say, indicates there is something wrong with you. Well, I KNOW THAT! But do they ever tell you how to deal with it? Just TRY REAL HARD? It is not enough to tell me do-this-don't-do-that because I understand the weakness of the flesh. That is the problem to begin with. If I rely on my will power to avoid sin, I know I will fail just like I failed before.
This is the second crisis of ego that must be dealt with and the one that most saints get stuck in. Not only must we realize our dire condition and seek God's forgiveness for past sin, we must also get rid of the idea of relying on our own will power to overcome sin in the present and future. (This is subtle and hard to explain, so bear with me.)
I have heard them my whole life. "Grace is NOT license to sin!" they yell in their snide prideful little attitudes. (I never said it was.) "If you are TRULY saved, you better change your ways!" (I can't.) The horror of sin, combined with that remaining ego leads to the idea that, although we are forgiven our sins, we must now follow a guide of proper behavior. (This is the root cause of all the trouble that comes from demanding outward signs of conformity to the group.) Every denomination has its own pet list of BIG sins. Usually it is something to do with sexual immorality, but can also be alcohol, drugs, food, clothes, language, etc. And so they preach and preach and preach against this thing just so you won't forget. Unfortunately it's like the old joke of don't think about elephants. Pretty soon all you can think about is elephants. A preacher yelling at you all the time about sexual immorality leads to the point where all you think about is sex! Then the point comes where a moment of weakness leads to failure. On top of that, all the other sins such as gossip and backbiting are ignored.
The failure and falling back into sin isn't the worst part either. Once that happens, if you don't understand how to deal with it, the further temptation is to hide it. That's ego again. The ego doesn't want others to know. It creates a bunch of hypocrites and the Adversary jumps on it. Guilt, guilt, and more guilt. He stands ready to whisper to you, "you are no good, you can't be a witness and example for Christ, you probably aren't even really saved." End result: ineffective saints without the full power of Christ in them, constantly beat down by the devil. I'm tired of it, aren't you?
The misunderstanding comes from a false alternate. On the one hand, there is the don't worry, Jesus will forgive you attitude, which sounds like "sin more so that grace will abound." So they set up the opposite. Do worry, or Jesus won't forgive you. Nonsense. Jesus lived in the flesh and understands the temptations you face. He has overcome them. That is the victory that is proclaimed as the gospel and in that is the key. Just as we obtain forgiveness by laying down our ego and relying on faith, we also overcome temptation and the evils of this world by getting rid of the self-will and relying on faith.
The false doctrine has been in Christian teaching all along. Paul fought it again and again, but despite his best efforts, it remains to this day. Since they only understand grace as "forgiveness for sin" they don't understand how Jesus delivers us from the temptations of this present world. Our forgiveness comes from the power of the blood of Jesus - His crucifixion and death. Our power to overcome temptation and evil comes from the resurrection and ascendancy of Jesus. He now sits at the right hand of the Father as our intercessor, counselor, and helper. The whole gospel is BOTH the power of forgiveness and the power to overcome. Both are God's grace to us.
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:26-28)
That same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will dwell in you. That is the power to deliver from the evil of this world. When we face temptation and trials we must quickly turn to Jesus in faith. The moment we try to overcome in the flesh, we have made a free-will choice to cut ourselves off and are limited to our own knowledge and will power. That is what the Adversary wants. But if we rely on the spirit of Christ to overcome temptation, we have a way out. This is the other part of grace that is forgotten. God not only gives us the understanding of our sin and forgiveness for our sin, He gives us a helper and will place in us the spirit to overcome. When the saints get rid of this ego-preserving, hypocritical attitude of I will/must do it myself, they finally lift up into the power to overcome that is in Christ. He will lead us away from temptation and deliver us from evil when we turn to him in faith. Result: No more hypocritical, conform to be approved, attitudes. And, No more weak, beat down, ineffective saints.
It is ALL OF GRACE, obtained by faith, and I call that Good News indeed!