…Actually, all the time.
“So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” Romans 9:16 (NKJV)
One of the hardest lessons for a Christian–even an old, experienced one–to internalize is the reality of the gospel of Grace: the fact that we can’t make it on our own. Obviously, that’s the reason we turned to Jesus in the first place, because we realized that we couldn’t make it on our own, that we need His help, His redeeming love, His atonement for our sins, His Spirit at work in our lives to make us new creatures. But sometimes we lose focus and fail to “keep the main thing the main thing.” We start to focus on our own self- righteousness and compare ourselves with other people, and we forget that it’s not about our will or our desire, or our running or striving, but it’s about the Lord’s mercy.
Galatians 3:3 (ESV) “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
The struggle between legalism and liberty is a struggle between the flesh and the spirit, and we have to recognize that. By adhering to a strict code of dos and don’ts, I’m actually operating in the flesh rather than the Spirit and giving strength to my carnal man–the sinful nature–rather than the reborn spirit He’s given me. Legalism feeds the flesh and kills our spiritual life just as much as sinful indulgence does.
True holiness looks similar to legalism on the outside, but its motivation is different, and its attitude towards other people is different. If we become puffed up in our pride and start condemning other people for not being like us, then we cheapen God’s grace. We say, in effect, “God’s grace is enough for a good person like me, but not for a rotten scoundrel like you. If you want God to bless you, you better shape up, mister!” But only Jesus can make us shape up, and the only way we can get others to shape up is by evidencing the Spirit at work in our hearts, shaping us up from the inside out, and leaving room for the Holy Spirit to do the same in their lives. When others see grace at work in us, they will want it for themselves as well.
For those of us who are getting together with family during this season, I pray that we would remember to keep the main thing the main thing. Show grace to your brothers and sisters (or aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, grandparents, nieces, nephews, second cousin twice removed, etc.), show them the love that Jesus showed us. Let them see His Spirit at work in our hearts. Lord, let us trade in our hearts of stone for hearts of flesh. Give us a softness and a vulnerability that will help us show our family how infinitely valuable your grace is!
Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don’t have to go it alone
– U2, “Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own”