Self-Correcting Grace – An Illustration

Last post, I addressed the issue of indulging in sin as a way to abuse God’s grace.  I explained Titus 2:11-14 and the concept that grace, properly understood and applied, actually teaches us to deny sin and live godly lives.  Grace has a way of self correcting.  Today, I would like expand on this idea.

Pastor Judah Smith of Seattle’s The City Church shared a useful illustration along these lines in a recent interview with the Christian Post.  In addressing a question about grace, Pastor Smith first talks about his relationship with his wife, Chelsea.

He summarizes, “Chelsea is just the most incredible, considerate, compassionate, loving, gracious spouse, she’s a lot like Jesus.  In the 13 and a half years of her loving me and serving me and being so kind and committed, faithful and loyal, I’ve never had the thought ‘because she’s loving, gracious, kind and faithful, I could cheat on her and get away with. In fact, I could do it multiple times.’ I’ve never planned to cheat on her, by the grace of God I haven’t at all. Because the exact opposite desire and emotion are conjured up due to her love and grace and faithfulness.”

“I think when grace is merely a principle and a biblical concept – if it’s just the favor of God, or the forgiveness of God, or the love of God, it’s easily abused. But when grace is a person, when he has beautiful eyes of love and compassion and mercy and we fall in love with this incredible savior and his grace and his mercy pours over our lives, the ultimate result is not ‘Gosh, I can get away with sin.’ … quite the opposite happens really.”

This is such a clear illustration of the draw of grace and has been my experience also; not just in my marriage, but in my obedience to Christ as well.  When I understand grace as a person – Jesus Christ – rather than a principle, I run to Jesus.  I desire a close relationship with Jesus.  I don’t want to sin more.  I want to sin less.  Why?  Because I do not want to do anything that would harm the relationship.  I don’t want to do anything that would break our connection.

Does this make sense to you?  Has this been your experience?  To many of us, this seems counter-intuitive.  We can think of a few grace abusers we know.  Or we may even secretly fall into temptation ourselves to take advantage of the grace of God.  But it should not be that way.  Instead, if we are in a love relationship with Christ – a relationship He secured at the cross – we should, based on that relationship, be running to Jesus.  We should be pleasing Jesus.  We should be embracing all that Jesus has for our lives.  And the last thing on our minds should be a desire to take advantage of His love.

Self-Correcting Grace

The apostle Paul had strong words for the rule-makers in the Galatian church, even to the point of calling them “false brethren” (Gal 2:4).  But I don’t know if these folks were truly evil or just a little over zealous in wanting to keep people in line with their focus on the rules.  After all, the challenge of how far our freedom goes is still with us today.  Are there “false teachers” among us who seek to limit our Christian freedom or do they have a legitimate concern that freedom will be abused and our flesh will be indulged?

One of the ways to address this issue is with the concept of “self-correcting grace”.  Paul wrote in Titus chapter 2, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people of His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).

Let’s look at this set of verses very carefully.  “For the grace of God has appeared” (the foundation of all that follows is the appearance of God’s grace), “bringing salvation to all men” (God’s grace brought our salvation; deliverance from the penalty and the power of sin), “instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires” (rather than giving us the freedom to indulge in sin, God’s grace actually teaches us – and I might add empowers us – to deny sin; to put the ix-nay on ungodliness and worldly desires.  Grace properly understood and embraced helps guide us away from sin.)

Paul continues, “and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (So grace directs us away from sin and toward godliness.  Grace, properly understood and applied, is self-correcting.  When we are tempted to follow the wrong path, grace corrects us by teaching us to deny sin and embrace godly common sense and righteous living.  I like the word sensibly in this passage.  It is against common sense for a believer to live in sin and not according to their righteous nature.  Properly understood grace, not willpower or the threat of condemnation, brings us back to the righteous path.

And we become people who are “looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed” (Christ’s giving Himself up for us – His finished work on the cross – delivered us from lawless living as our default mode), “and to purify for Himself” (Christ giving Himself up for us made us clean), “a people for His own possession” (Christ giving Himself up for us placed us in His family), “zealous for good deeds” (Christ giving Himself up for us infused us with zealousy for good deeds.  He freed us from lawless living and empowered us for righteous living).

That is what this passage, and much of the New Testament, says, “Grace, properly understood and applied, is self-correcting.”  What does that look like in practice?  We will answer that question next time.

Free to Obey

Another freedom we experience as a result of our new birth is the freedom to obey; the freedom to choose a new master (Rom 6:14).  James writes in the New Testament, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  But one who looks intently at the prefect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25).

The law of liberty is an interesting description.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually think of the words “law” and “liberty” as going together.  I think of them as opposites.  I think of law as a restriction of my liberty.  So what is the law of liberty?

I believe it is God’s Word, His law, “written on our hearts” as it were (Heb 8:10).  The liberty part is the freedom and power to obey.  Prior to our salvation, there was no liberty in the law, only condemnation.  In Romans chapter 7, Paul describes the weight of that condemnation that results from trying to obey the law without the new resurrection power of Christ.  He concludes than only Christ – no amount of willpower or effort – can set us free from this condemnation.  “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).

We have been set free from trying to obey the law by willpower to escape condemnation (something we were unable to accomplish, even if we wanted to).  Instead, we now obey God’s moral law by the power of our new nature; God’s resurrection power literally living through us by the indwelling of God’s Spirit.

James calls this indwelling receiving the word implanted.  “Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).  We put aside sin – filthiness and wickedness – by receiving the implanted word which has the power to deliver us from sin.  With the power to obey now firmly planted in our new nature, we have a freedom the world knows nothing of; the freedom to obey.