“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
Have you ever considered the total amount of resources and human energy spent throughout history on trying to please God, trying to earn His approval and favor, trying to bridge our separation from God?
That is the general goal of religion, and it just doesn’t work. Religion in that sense of the word (man’s ideas about how to come to God and receive from Him) is ineffective because we can never do enough good to erase our faults and stand rightly before God on our own.
How about in your life? Do you ever try to prove to God that you are worthy, that you are good enough to receive something from Him?
This topic of our own good works vs. living by grace through faith (BGTF) is not just about how to receive a salvation from an eternal destiny separated from the goodness of God. It is also very much about how to receive the power to live a holy life that is pleasing to God here and now.
How many people, after becoming a Christian by grace through faith, then try to achieve sanctification (right and holy living) by their own effort, that is by works rather than by grace through faith?
Could it be that the reason your life hasn’t been transformed by God in the ways you want it to be transformed by God is because you have been trying to achieve that transformation in a way that does not agree with God’s way?
Here is some very good news: you don’t need to earn His love, or forgiveness, or favor. In fact, you can’t. You can never do enough to earn it. That is why He tells us that it is by grace, because He gives us what we really need as as a free gift and we can obtain it in no other way. “…the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23)
Instead of trying to earn it, He wants us to receive it for what it is – a free gift of His grace for a people that have no other possibility to obtain it. The key is to make a choice to believe what He says – choosing to simply believe Him and let that belief turn us to Him – that is the essence of faith and it is absolutely essential for a good relationship with God. “..and without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
Faith is what is required to access God’s grace. “…we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5:2).
The first step of faith is to realize and agree with God that we are not able on our own to be acceptable to Him because of our imperfections and failures. Good works do not balance out wrong things we have done. “…he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:5)
If you are too proud to receive this gift from God without earning it, without acknowledging your hopeless inability to be perfect and worthy to be with God, then you will not receive it at all because you can never do enough to earn it by your own efforts.
But this “by grace through faith” way doesn’t just apply to receiving forgiveness and salvation – it is also how we walk in sanctification and super-natural power!
I’ve seen more and more in the past few years how a performance-based mentality has been pervasive in my own thinking, despite a long history of believing in salvation by grace, not works. It seems to me that it is common to be unaware of how this type of thinking affects the way we Christians approach God.
According to Titus 2:11-12 it is the grace of God that trains us to live right, godly lives. It is not our own determination and efforts. That grace has to be appropriated – it has to be received and actuated and that is done through faith.
“The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17) . It doesn’t say the righteous live by following a bunch of rules, that is the way that kills. Rather life and righteousness comes from Him, and we receive it by turning to Him in faith. There is great power available in this turning to Him.
Living by faith includes choosing to believe that what God says is good and right, rather believing what my old nature or the world or other contradictory sources tell me is good and right.
Contradictory sources say for example, that God should accept our efforts to try hard and be good and that should be enough. But that isn’t what God says – he says we fall far short of the mark we need to in order to be in His presence and to be clean, but that He has provided for free what we need to be with Him. Whom are we going to believe?
It is faith that gives me access to receive that gift of God to be righteous and to walk by His Spirit. It is in fact the Presence of God in my life that brings me freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17), freedom is not found in following some religious rules.
And it is the presence of His Spirit that bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, and so on (Galatians 5). Those are marks of a sanctified life and those good things are fruit of His Spirit in me, not my own works. Trying to do those things on my own is akin to manufacturing Christmas ornaments – they might appear nice from the outside, but they are not real fruit.
I am not saying that our behavior should not change as a follower of Christ. What I am saying is that authentic and permanent life change will only come by grace through faith. This is what brings us into agreement with God, it is how we walk in step with the Spirit of God rather than going our own way and following our own thoughts about what is good and right.
Here is a practical example of how sanctification By Grace Through Faith might look like in an area many people struggle with, lust…
In earlier years I would previously try to say no to lust thinking “I’m a Christian, I don’t do that any more”. But the power of lust is not broken by trying to follow a statement or rule like that. That is living in denial about the desire and not dealing with it properly and it will just lead to a lot of ups and downs.
Instead, when faced with a contradiction between what my flesh says is good and what God says is good, the process of receiving grace (God’s help, God’s gift to live rightly) through faith for me looks more like this:
“Lord, my flesh desires that, but I choose to believe you that it is in fact a deception – that that desire will not lead to fulfillment in my life but to death of one kind or another. So I sacrifice that desire of my flesh as an offering of obedience to you and I choose to believe you and worship you and walk in your ways”.
That breaks the power of the lie as I instead turn in faith to the truth. That type of turning to the Lord in the first moments of conflict is the result of faith in what God says, and that faith-based turning brings my heart into agreement with Him and His Spirit, and releases His grace for me to live in freedom from the lie.
If instead I turn to embrace the desire of my flesh in that moment, then I have expressed faith in what my flesh tells me and I have chosen to believe it instead of God, which is idolatry. What we feed gets stronger. So feeding the flesh for years often requires frequent sacrifices of obedience of this type of faith in what God says – but grace is real and available and the power of walking in His presence will break the power of deeply held lies. The stronghold of the enemy built up on the soil of our soul will be demolished by weapons like this that have divine power, weapons of Truth and the Presence of God (see 2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
I think that is why prayers simply to remove the desire generally remain unanswered, because instead of removing it for us, He wants for us to put those things to death through this type of faith that causes us to choose Him in those moments. Our faith would not be strengthened if it was never tested, and it is impossible to please Him without faith. Every temptation becomes an opportunity to grow in faith and express our love for Him and need for Him.
This type of walking by faith rather than by sight means walking according to a higher authority, a greater understanding in our spirit of what is true and right rather than by what we can discern with our deception-prone body. The beautiful thing is how He gives us grace to do it as we turn to Him in simple belief of what He says.
Comments? Other examples of what By Grace Through Faith means?