I don't know about you, but when I was growing up in the church in the late '90s and early 2000s, the gospel presentation seemed to have a "hook-and-bait" feel. The riches of God's grace and love were presented, and I was beckoned to come feast at the banquet of God's forgiveness of my sins. In response, I briefly paused to recognize my great need (forgiveness of sin), and then I rushed to claim and consume the riches of God's grace. My conversion felt like a momentous one-time event. And it was. When we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus, it is an act of God. Our faith and trust in Christ gives us the legal standing of "righteous". It is an unwavering declaration from God – because of Christ, we are righteous and freed from the penalty our sins deserve!
What amazing grace!
But the story doesn't end there. God's grace is not only for our conversion; God's work of grace is not a one-time event. Instead, God's people "stand" in His grace (Romans 5:2) – it's continual. And somehow, I didn't "get" this until a decade after my conversion! I knew that I was declared righteous because of Christ, but I wrestled with the unrighteous thoughts and feelings and desires within me. Though I was forgiven from the penalty of sin, the presence of sin was very evident inside of me, and it made me question my salvation time and time again. I assumed the cycle of sinning and repenting was the new normal of believers – as in, I assumed it was good and right that I carried on with life as usual, totally engrossed in my sin patterns. According to the messages I heard, God's grace was there to forgive me of my sins so I should just carry on. Back then, there was no mention of my own pursuit of holiness. I wasn't told that I would need the gospel every single day following my conversion (because the gospel is for sinners!).
The truth is, until Jesus returns, the presence of sin in our world is a reality for believers and unbelievers alike. And even though I am declared righteous and my eternity is secure, I live every moment in the tension between the desires of my unredeemed flesh and the desires of the Spirit of God within me. But here's the thing: the riches of His grace equips me to handle the tension – I am not helpless and at the mercy of sin. Instead, His presence and grace empowers me to overcome sin!
What amazing grace!
God loves us, yes. But His love for us leads us to our sanctification; He wants us to become more and more like Christ right now. We won't do it perfectly; we'll sin and be led to the cross in repentance. But His love and grace does not leave us as we are. These truths became evident to me only when I started to personally study God's Word seriously. When I realized that I was very systematic in my approach to my academics but very flippant in my approach and interaction with my faith's sacred text, I made a decision to get serious about the Bible. It was then that I read passages like this:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
Wow! God's grace which brings salvation also trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions! Because of His grace, I can live with self-control, and my life can be upright and godly! Because of Christ, I can be zealous for good works, not to earn my salvation but out of love for my Redeemer! My mind was blown! But that is what studying God's Word does: it renews our minds and transforms our lives (Romans 12:2).
What amazing grace!
Now it would be unfair to say I have it all figured out. Even today, I realize my need to grow in my understanding of this amazing grace. Although I have a level of understanding that guards against cheapening grace, the tendency of my flesh is to flip to the opposite extreme and become legalistic. The tension is still there between my flesh and the Spirit. I wrestle with sin and need to repent. I need to preach the gospel to myself every day. But this also means that I can "taste and see that the Lord is good" and I can find refuge in Him (Psalm 34:8). In a sense, the gospel is a "hook-and-bait" in that once you put your faith and trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior, you're not going to unhook and release yourself to carry on, business as usual. You are also not going to hang dry on your own. Instead, you're connected to the life source (the vine; see John 15) and will find abundant life and the fullness of joy. Through the tension – even the suffering – in our fallen world, you will find grace and refuge in the One who extended unmerited kindness and met your greatest need. May we never forget that this amazing grace was costly to the Giver, and may our response of gratitude be a life of worship.