Sometimes I forget grace.
I don’t forget about God’s grace to save through the the gift of faith, but rather His grace to sustain and keep in faith. I forget about His grace to sanctify wholly.
Of course, there is the horrid, fleshly tendency to abuse God’s grace—to trample on it by delighting in our sin, rather than hating it. To be of the mindset that “It’s not that bad. Grace will cover it.” To forget that God’s special grace always leads to transformation. God forbid.
The more common tendency for me, however, is to forget grace. To subtly slip into a works-based mindset and lifestyle. A mindset and lifestyle in which I’m striving to keep myself in God’s favor, yet failing miserably. A mindset and lifestyle that lead to a lot of anxiety.
Why do I forget that, for the child of God, grace doesn’t just save. Grace keeps.
I have a lot of rules for myself that I desire to keep perfectly. I don’t say this boastfully. Because seeking perfection for one’s own sense of satisfaction and well-being, or in an effort to make oneself acceptable before God is nothing of which to be proud. Perfectionistic tendencies are not simply one aspect of personality type. Rather, they’re one outward sign of the self-made religion of a self-worshiping heart. Seeking perfection (in any area of life) apart from Christ and with any other motive than His glory is not only impossible, it’s downright prideful.
Still, I find myself striving in my own strength in so many areas of my life. Striving to be in great shape, to eat well, to cook healthy meals for my family, to have a fit body. Striving to be a more patient, creative, fun, heart-shepherding mom. Striving to be a better helper to my husband, to take care of him more faithfully, to be an active part of his ministry, to make more time just to have fun. Striving to keep my house in better order, to get those huge piles (piles, plural) of laundry under control and keep those layers of dust from collecting. Striving to notice the oppressed and care more. To reach out more, give more, serve more. Striving to be more self-disciplined to study God’s Word and commune with Him. Striving to make more time to counsel God’s Word, to build relationships with the lost, to minister the Gospel.
All that striving. Sounds exhausting and stressful doesn’t it? It is.
Don’t get me wrong. Works do matter. The book of James tells us that a faith which doesn’t produce good works is not a real faith at all. A faith that doesn’t lead to a transformed lifestyle is not authentic. It’s false. The truth is, most of those things I’m striving for should characterize my life as a believer. BUT, they should flow naturally from a heart transformed by God’s grace, rather than my self-sufficient striving. They should be the natural fruit produced in the life of someone connected to The True Vine, the life of someone abiding in Christ and depending on His strength. Furthermore, the chief motivation for these works should be a desire for God’s glory. When I seek to do good for the sake of feeling good about myself, to satisfy my own idolatrous desire for goodness or perfection, I come up stressed out, anxious, and exhausted. When I strive on my own strength apart from the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. . .when I forget grace. . . my righteous works are just filthy rags.
You see, Jesus made it clear that any external righteousness that isn’t the natural result of internal purity really isn’t righteousness at all. It’s hypocrisy, in fact.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like white-washed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. —Matthew 23:27-28
When I forget grace, I become pharisaical in my thinking and my living.
Oh, God. May I never forget grace— YOUR grace. Grace that saves, grace that sustains, grace that keeps. May good fruit in my life naturally flow forth from a heart that treasures Christ supremely. May I work, trusting YOU to complete the work you started in me, to sanctify me, to make me perfect in Christ on that day when I meet Him face to face. Forgive me for striving in my own (very weak) strength. Help me to abide in Christ day by day, breath by breath.
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. —John 15:3-5