If I were reading the articles on my web site as a new Christian, I would have felt anxious. I would have examined my life and wondered if I’m good enough, if I’m working hard enough, or if I’m committed enough.
I have been saved for over 30 years now and realize that some of my recorded observations make more sense to a person familiar with the cross and its power than those who are still giving in to the flesh on an ongoing basis.
My articles are not to be interpreted as a works-based salvation. For this reason, I want to explain a rock-solid foundation that belongs to every believer in Christ. We who focus on doing the best we can may lose sight of some tremendously important truths that are meant to stabilize our daily walk. Without these truths, we will be prone to self-recrimination and depression. Or we may go in the opposite direction and identify with our works like the Pharisee. Been there, done that.
What’s this foundation I mentioned? In Romans chapter 3, Paul lays out his argument from a variety of OT scriptures that all the world is guilty. But the good news is that God found a way to make us righteous without doing good deeds, without observing religious laws. Righteousness is imputed to us freely through faith in Jesus.
Paul expands on this concept in Romans chapter 4 to convince us that we are righteous by faith apart from any works. Abraham simply believed what God promised and it was credited to him as righteousness. Based on that good news, chapter 5 says that we therefore have peace with God through Jesus, not through our actions or law. In addition, we were placed in Christ Jesus, which numerous verses affirm throughout the NT, and derive many benefits from resting in that position.
We cannot improve on the righteous standing we have in Christ by good deeds or attempts to better ourselves. Nor can God love us more than He does now, for He loves us with the love He has for His Son.
Our good deeds cannot increase or diminish His love for us. Our good and bad deeds cannot increase or diminish the righteousness of Christ that God has imputed to us. We are loved no matter what we do. We are righteous in His sight regardless of what we do. Furthermore, Hebrews 10:14 tells us that we who are in this sanctified state have been perfected forever. What a great salvation! It is these truths of God’s far-ranging grace that set Christianity as unique among the world’s religions.
Let me illustrate these truths by an example. I loved my child through every stage of his growth, no matter what he did or failed to do. He was perfect for the age he was. What he was at age five was perfect for that age. How he lived at 10 years old was perfect for that age. So it is with the Father’s love to the believer. God cannot love those who are in Christ less than He loves Christ. He does not expect us who are new in the faith to act like those who have believed for decades, any more than I could expect my toddler to run a marathon.
We are righteous apart from any deeds we do. We cannot stop being God’s children. We shouldn’t base our righteousness on prayer, Bible reading, witnessing, the fruit of the Spirit, spiritual gifts, church attendance, staying out of prison, keeping our promises, caring for others, or a million other good activities. God has found a way to make us righteous apart from deeds and laws, through faith in Jesus alone.
But with the Pharisee, it was different. They based their worth on their religious observances. In the world of publishing, there are the thin-skinned writers and the thick-skinned. You can criticize the work of the thick-skinned writer and she would improve. But the thin-skinned writer identifies with her work so that if you criticize her work, she will take it personally. The Pharisees were thin-skinned religious practitioners. They did not have the foundation of God’s love and imputed righteousness, so they had to manufacture it on their own. This resulted in pride. They did not take Christ’s critiques kindly.
But identifying with God’s Son, and resting in His love and righteousness, we do our good works from an entirely new position. We no longer need to keep up a facade of something we manufactured. So criticism makes us better, not arrogant or emotionally unstable.
Without biblical instruction, we will tend to live out our new creation according to our feelings, the past, the flesh, and the many things of our culture that have shaped and continue to shape us. But with the Spirit, we have an absolutely unbiased and untainted source of instruction.
People who are a new creation in Christ cannot help but live differently.
Our default orientation in life is to love ourselves first of all, to do what pleases us. But our new creation has new capabilities we did not have before. We can now live to please God by the power of the Holy Spirit within us. We are to keep the new creation with these new powers in view when we read any biblical instruction given to believers to lead a holy life.
I love my son. But I don’t expect him to conduct himself at 20 years old the same way he did at 5 years old. I expect him to grow up and act his age. So God expects us to grow up into all the fullness of Christ, into all the blessings and responsibilities of mature sons.
So in Romans chapter 6 Paul addresses the new life we have in Christ and how it is to be lived out, how sin is to be resisted. Jesus made it possible to resist, crucify, or die to, the selfish sin impulses in us and live for God.
So Romans chapter 6 lays the foundation for how to approach our new life in Christ; specifically, Christ broke the power that sin has over us, allowing us to surrender to God’s will. Normally we would simply “go with the flow” to put ourselves first. But now when the movements of sin arise, we may die to them as though they are mere feelings without any more power, and yield to God instead.
Through the word of God and personal nudges by the Spirit, we are directed to new ways of behavior suitable for this new creation. He made us righteous, now we learn to live as righteous people. God is holy, so we learn to live in the way of holiness. God is love, so we relate to our neighbors inloving ways.
In all this instruction, in all our efforts to carry it out, known as the process of sanctification, we can rest in His love, knowing that He won’t stop loving us; He won’t condemn us when we fall short.
This is what is meant when we hear of God’s unconditional or unfailing love. As a child of God, this love is yours. We all want love, a sense of rightness, belonging, acceptance, even a bit of perfection. God gives them all to us in Christ. This website is all about growing up into all these things.
Because of this greater destiny of life, we should expect consequences in areas where we refuse to let Him rule. Jesus’ first words when He took up His ministry was for all to repent, for the Kingdom of God was drawing near. So I view many Bible verses in light of the kingdom of God. God expects all of us to get ready for the reign of Christ when He comes to set up His rule. This is the lens through which we view our growth; He is evaluating us for places in His future kingdom.
The grace of God does not mean that we get a free pass to sin, as many a Christian has discovered to her sorrow. Negative consequences will come. God, being a wise and good Father, will chastise His children in this life who are wayward. (Many fathers don’t do this today, so that aspect of God’s dealing with humanity has been overlooked by some believers.)
If we continue in faith, then we will end up being conformed to the image of Christ. But if, like the Galatian church, we turn from faith to religious forms, then we depart from the grace of God. We are then seeking our own righteousness, and negative consequences will come, such as a lack of the Spirit’s work in us, as it was with the Galatian church.
But as we see with the story of the Prodigal Son, the child of God may return to the Father’s embrace at any time through faith. He or she is not forsaken, but God waits patiently for submission of faith so He can bless again.
As in our natural lives, so it is in the kingdom. If my son were to get into drugs, then would it be wise for me to leave my inheritance to him in that state or give him a controlling interest in a business I have? So it will be with the kingdom. If we will not pursue God in the life of faith but live for this world, God will continue to love us, but we will not be found worthy of honor in the coming kingdom; we will not “inherit” the kingdom.
With grace we get it all. Without grace we lose it all. We will never be estranged from God as our Father (we will never lose that aspect of our salvation), but we can lose out on a reward. Abide in Him by faith and get it all. Run ahead in your own strength and lose it all.
Such a tremendous loss is only right because of the surpassing resources God has for us in His grace. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness so that we may appear before Him faultless in love.
So when you set high goals for yourself and fail, don’t throw a pity party. Don’t get angry or depressed or give up. Don’t blame yourself or Satan.
Especially don’t blame God. Quit those endless debates about why God failed you. Don’t understand God? Welcome to the club. Get over it. I’ve wasted 20 years on this nonsense instead of enjoying God’s love. Don’t accept every invitation to a pity party or doubt-fest. God has something better for you.
When you fall, just acknowledge that you have bit off more than you could chew for this stage of your spiritual journey. Abide in Christ and wait for the next instruction to come.
Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. Weeping over your failure may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning as you feast on His faithfulness. He will never leave you nor forsake you.
Rejoice in your Savior. Remind yourself of the gospel and return to faith. Pray for yourself and others. Study your Bible. Look forward to another day of walking with the Creator of all things and the Judge of the living and the dead.
Scaling the mountaintop at last makes you a conqueror. But tumbling down on the way there, picking yourself up to believe God for another day, safe in His love, makes you more than a conqueror.
Fellow calligraphy students look at my calligraphy and say, “I can never do that.” I encourage them to say instead, “In time, with practice, I can grow into that.” Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God through Him. Don’t settle for half a Savior, half a salvation, for we really can do all things through Him who strengthens us.