I will never forget one Sunday after the worship services when I was about eight years old, my always-insightful older brother took me to the “pulpit”, to observe something that he described as, “you have got to see this!” He positioned me in the same spot that the pastor typically stood. At that point, my brother instructed me to look closely at the top of the podium, which was made of some sort of Formica © product, that was matte black in color. I looked and then turned to my brother and said what only a little brother can say with the proper intonation, “what?” My older, more perceptive brother then gestured towards what could only be described in the mind of an eight year old as, “eew.” There, splattered all over the top of the podium was obviously the dried saliva of our exuberant pastor. Clearly, our pastor’s ‘hellfire’, condemnation preaching was further illustrated by his dried DNA covering the podium.
Having grown up in an atmosphere where Romans 8:1 wasn’t heavily preached, I came to believe that my only hope for salvation was to not simply bow the knee, but then work my butt off to appease God.
Consequently, walking away from that environment wasn’t too difficult. In fact, it was quite easy and enormously freeing. Nevertheless, God’s grace was heavy in my life and drew me back ‘into the fold’ in due time. Upon resuming the journey of faith some years later (in a different church), I began to hear lots of teaching on God’s grace. Admittedly, I liked this concept. Grace. Grace for salvation (Eph 2:8-10); grace for security of the believer (John 10:27-29); grace for daily living (Romans 8:1); what a concept! I loved this ‘grace’ thing. Why hadn’t someone brought this up before?
However, after the “Grace Awakening” took hold I noticed yet another shift taking place. I began to realize there was a whole generation of believers that seemed to embrace this grace idea…to a fault. “I’m under grace!” became the mantra for an excuse to live with no boundaries, and little to no discipline. “It’s okay, we’re forgiven”, “we need to be ‘in the world’”, and “I don’t have to practice holiness, I am holy because of Christ,” only works for a while. Because eventually, the lack of boundaries and discipline has a way of eroding our character, leaving us empty, and plagued by our own dysfunction (Romans 6:15).
I know what you’re thinking; my thoughts are probably much like yours. “What I’m doing, or not doing, isn’t sin. It’s a choice that I have because of the freedom I have in Christ. I don’t have to live under a legalistic set of rules any longer.” Is that close? If so, then, ask yourself one very simple question: Has the ‘freedom’ you have embraced brought you freedom or bondage (Gal. 5:13)? Now, if you can honestly say that the removal of disciplined practices and holy living has brought you into a deeper, fuller experience with Jesus…then, I suppose you’ve stumbled upon something. But quite honestly, it’s not biblical, but before you click the close button, allow me to explain.
Dallas Willard once wrote, “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. Effort is action. Earning is attitude. You have never seen people more active than those who have been set on fire by the grace of God. Paul, who perhaps understood grace better than any other mere human being, looked back at what had happened to him and said: ‘By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.’ (I Cor. 15:10)”
Now, there’s no way I’m going back to screaming, spitting and condemnation as a motivator for godly living. I’m cured. I have no need to take on that weight again. Once was more than enough, it nearly ruined my view of God.
However, if we ever hope to go beyond where we are presently, it will require change. What must change? It can be stated in one word: effort. Anything we want in life requires due diligence, including our walk with God.