Immediately after teaching a class on grace, John, with joy in his heart and a smile on his face, came up to me and exclaimed, "All I had to do was nothing...just believe and receive!"
Like many of us, John was very aware of the sin in his heart and life. With Godly sorrow, he had admitted his sin to God and others. And, like many of us, after admitting his sin, he set out to earn God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance. For years, John had been trying to earn God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance through religious practices and good behavior. Yet, his approach to gaining God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance had left him discouraged because, no matter how hard he tried, he continued to fall short. Through this class on grace, John began to understand for the first time in his life as a Christian that everything he was trying to earn had already been freely given him through Jesus.
Like the prodigal son, John found himself in the pig pen of sin. Disgusted with himself, he began taking steps back to God, just as the prodigal did when returning to his father. The prodigal had developed a plan in his own mind of how he would atone for his sins and earn his father's love, forgiveness, and acceptance by diligently working on the farm as a hired hand. Believing, if he worked hard enough and long enough, he would eventually atone for his sins and earn his father's love, forgiveness, and acceptance. John had developed the same plan. He would take steps back to God by diligently following religious practices and trying hard morally to atone for his sins and earn God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance.
When the prodigal was met by his father with the outpouring of overwhelming love, forgiveness, and acceptance...grace...all of the prodigal's plans were immediately dropped. Through experiencing his father's grace, he realized he could not atone for or earn what is freely given. It can only be believed and received.
This is the same revelation John came to when he understood that all he was striving to do to atone for his sin and earn God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance, had been freely given to him in grace by God through Jesus. And with that revelation, came his words of joy:
All I had to do was nothing...just believe and receive!
Trying to earn what God has already freely given to us in Christ by grace leaves us feeling tired and weary...no joy...discouraged. However, by understanding God's grace freely and abundantly poured out upon us through Jesus, joy comes bursting through our hearts, bringing a smile to our faces. That is exactly what happened to John! Grace burst into his heart and a bright smile came to his face immediately when he understood God's grace.
This immediate impact of grace in our hearts is what Paul described when he wrote a letter to the Christians in the city of Colossae.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the saints - the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all it's truth.
John told me that as a Christian he was very familiar with the word grace, but had never really understood it, even though he thought he had. Then, in one day, he understood God's grace, and this understanding of grace began bearing fruit and growing within him immediately. That is what grace does. Grace immediately begins to impact our lives the moment we hear and understand it in all its truth.
A definition of grace based upon biblical truth is this:
Grace, flowing from God's unconditional love and unmerited kindness, is everything God has freely and abundantly given to us through Jesus to forgive us of our sins and make us acceptable to and bring us into a relationship with himself, leaving us nothing to do achieve anything from God but to only believe and receive by faith
what he has already done for us.
This is what Paul was talking about in Galatians 2:21 when he said "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing."
Righteousness is being declared completely forgiven and fully accepted by God by the grace that came to us through Jesus Christ. If we could achieve forgiveness and acceptance through religious practices and moral obedience, then Jesus died for nothing! The death of Jesus for us proves there is nothing we can do to achieve God's forgiveness and acceptance. We simply believe and receive by faith what God has done for us through Jesus.
Trying to do something to make ourselves righteous (forgiven and accepted) before God is to fall from grace. This is what was happening in the churches in Galatia. Galatians 5:4 says:
You who are trying (putting forth effort) to be justified (make oneself righteous, forgiven, and accepted by God) by law (depending on religious practices and moral behavior) have alienated yourselves from Christ (you are no longer depending upon Jesus and what he did to make you righteous, forgiven, and accepted by God, but are now depending on yourselves and what you do); you have fallen from grace (fallen from all God has done for you in Christ and going back to a religious and moral system of achieving forgiveness and acceptance with God).
The Christians in Galatia, after receiving grace, leaving them nothing to do but to rest in grace, had put aside religious practices and moral obedience as the means of being loved, forgiven, and accepted by God. However, in the above verses, they were seeking to do something to earn God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance. They had gone from doing nothing, but believing and receiving, to doing something, working and trying.
In seeking to do something, rather than nothing, they were quickly deserting grace. Paul writes in Galatians 1:6:
I am astonished you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is no gospel at all.
In Galatians 3:1 he says:
You foolish Galatians! Who has tricked you? Before your very eyes Jesus was clearly portrayed as crucified...are you trying to attain your goal (experienceGod's love, forgiveness, acceptance) by human effort (throughreligious practices and moral obedience)?
The Galatian Christians were quickly going back to the human efforts of religious practices and moral obedience to experience God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance, rather than relying totally, 100%, on faith in Jesus's crucifixion. They had been tricked by the religious leaders in their community to believe that faith in Jesus' death and resurrection was not enough to experience God's love, forgiveness and acceptance. They needed to do more.
Isn't that how it is with some religious leaders? They do not believe the cross is enough. They do not believe Jesus is enough. They do not believe grace is enough. There is always something more to do based upon the requirements of their religious system. They believe in Jesus. They have come to faith in Jesus. Yet, for them, Jesus isn't enough. There is always more to do. And, in placing their religious requirements upon people, people begin to lose their joy. That is what happened with the Galatians.
What has happened to all your joy?
Losing joy is what also happened to John. With sincerity, he was trying to earn what God had freely given him by grace through faith in Jesus...love, forgiveness, and acceptance with God.
Yet, as he begin to learn and believe that everything he had been striving for had been freely given to him in grace by God through Jesus, his joy immediately returned.
As his joy returned, his hunger for God returned, his hunger for God's word returned, his hunger to share Jesus with people returned, his hunger to love others returned.
John told me that everything he had been trying to gain through human effort, leaving him tired, weary, and discouraged, was there all the time for him through grace. He told me during the entire time he had been trying to do something to earn God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance all he really needed to do was nothing...only believe and receive.
Maybe that is where you are. Like John, you have been a Christian for years. Yet, for years, you have been trying to earn God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance, but keep falling short. You find it difficult to believe you are loved, forgiven, and accepted by God. God has good news for you! His word tells us that everything you have been trying to earn from God has already been provided freely for you by his grace through Jesus. All you have to do is believe and receive it.
Let's take a look at what the following verses show about what God has freely given you in Jesus.
This righteousness (forgiveness and acceptance with God) from God comes through faith (trusting not trying, believing not behaving, receiving not achieving) in Jesus to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified (declared to be forgiven and accepted by God) freely by his grace (all God has done for us through Jesus) through the redemption (full payment for our sins) that came by Jesus Christ . God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement (full payment for our sins taking way our sin penalty forever), through faith in his blood.
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to who God credits righteousness apart from works: Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.
...those who receive (by faith, by believing) God's abundant provision of grace (all God has freely done for us through Jesus) and the gift of righteousness (complete forgiveness and total acceptance)...
Praise be the the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ...to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace which he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
But we see Jesus, who...by the grace of God might taste death for everyone...to make propitiation (making the full and final payment for our sins through his blood) for the sins of the people.
Now we who have believed (those who have trusted in Jesus' full and final payment for their sins) enter that rest (resting in grace, which is the finished work of Jesus in paying for our sins through the sacrifice of his own blood)...for anyone who enters God's rest (grace, the finished work of Christ in making the full and final payment for our sins) also rests from his own work (seeking to earn God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance through religious practices and moral behavior), just as God did from his.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved usand sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:9-10
These verse are good news to the tired, weary, and discouraged. These verses are good news to those who are aware of and have admitted their sins, and have been seeking to atone for their sins and earn God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance through religious practices and moral behavior, but continue to live in the constant condemnation of guilt and shame.
The good news is God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance does not have to be earned, since each are freely given to you by God through Jesus by grace. All you have to do to experience God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance is nothing...just receive God's abundant provision of grace by believing God loves you and has fully forgiven and accepted you by his grace freely given you in Jesus.
All you have to do is nothing...just believe and receive!
I know it seems to good to be true. But if it seems to good to be true, it just might be the gospel! (I do not take credit for that quote. I read it several years ago, but not sure where.)
So go ahead, believe it...receive it. It is the gospel!
Like John, I can see you smiling now with the joy of grace bursting forth in your heart and shining brightly on your face!
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