To give a list of things that people must do to please God makes us feel like we can make it happen for ourselves. Grace is truly radical, because it gives no credit to self. All we have is because of another. This is a death blow to religious elitist thinking. Religion always wants to take some credit for itself, while the Gospel gives all credit to Christ, “that no flesh should glory”.
We normally gain understanding of a topic by common sense or academic studies, but the Gospel of grace requires that the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “I neither received it by man nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12).
Once received, Paul’s focus was to keep people in this revelation. He had a godly jealousy towards any distraction, ”For I have betrothed you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ, but I fear somehow that as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:2-3). The real danger is clear. It is to be drawn away from the simplicity in Christ. To be ‘married’ to traditions, spiritual disciplines or experiences, however wonderful, if these cause us to de-emphasize Jesus’ finished work, Paul calls it corruption.
He continues that self-effort and religious performances look like “righteousness”, but they are really from Satan, who transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Strong wording!
Christ’s Righteousness or Self-Righteousness?
We must be careful to not call people to self-righteousness, because that path leads to an end that is based on our own works. When Christianity becomes a religion of rules and principles, it’s all up to you – your ability to pray, fast, make good choices, etc., then your end will be “according to your works”. In contrast, the end of a Gospel person is according to the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Christ’s righteousness is a foundation of “gold, silver and precious stones”, a picture of that which only God can produce. On the contrary, “wood, hay and straw” are by man’s performance. God made trees and grass and we cut them off from their root supply and turn them into wood, hay and straw. The lesson is clear – the only thing that will endure is what’s rooted in Christ. What we make happen by our own effort is ultimately burned. Self-righteousness will always disappoint in the long run, Christ’s righteousness endures.
Does Grace Lead to Sin?
Back to the illogical suggestion from some that the message of grace causes people to sin. This idea is in opposition to the Scripture, which tells us that the strength of sin is the law. More rules and law means more sin. More grace means more victory. That which is caused by the Spirit is called fruit – love, joy and peace – and that which is carnal is called works.
I’m not suggesting that religious works are powerless, because they can modify human behaviour. We can pray, worship, witness, carry a Bible under our arm, lift our hands in worship and look very Christian, while our hearts remain unchanged. Religious rules adjust the outside, while grace transforms from the inside out. Once the heart is changed it empowers us to live godly.
The abundance of grace causes us to reign in life (Rom. 5:17).
Living under grace means that sin no longer has dominion (Rom. 6:14).
Get out from under ‘the curse’!
I hear a lot of talk about curses; reversing the curse, breaking the curse, etc. A curse in the New Testament is anything that opposes God’s grace. Those who mix law and grace are called “accursed”. People think of a curse as being connected with things; a non-Christian building, certain kinds of clothing or insignias. People become worried that something in their home is cursed.
The real curse according to the book of Galatians is to mix the grace of Jesus Christ with self-effort. This ‘path’ to holiness will always fail. Ultimately it leads to self-loathing, low self-esteem, cover ups, hypocrisy and everything that is contrary to true holiness. The Pharisees were under such a curse, teaching others to perform duties they themselves were not able to do. When we mix law and grace, we work against the Holy Spirit, because words that do not “impart grace to the hearers” grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:29).
What does it mean to preach “another Gospel” today? Whoever preaches that blessings, healing, church growth, abundance and salvation come by our effort, by doing things right, bring a curse of ultimate failure on people. On the contrary we are accepted, blessed, healed and loved by grace. Believe it, and you will have it.