What happens when we hear the famous Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace and not by our works and performance? What happens when we hear that even though we mess up so bad, God’s grace forgives all our sin? The biblical reaction is to marvel at the love and mercy of God and feel free from the need to earn our salvation and perform to be accepted into his Kingdom because Jesus Christ cleared the job on the cross. However there is a second possible reaction. It’s about taking grace for granted. If God is like that won’t grace be abused by humanity? If grace is truly like that, won’t I lose any incentive to do good and live a decent life? I mean I will just sin and God will forgive me. Won’t my human nature take that for granted and lose incentive to do good?
As you disciple people, this is one of the questions that often pops up. Here is how I help answer the question. Imagine yourself in huge debt. Imagine that by some unfathomable reason, you incurred from the government tax arrears worth KES 8 million. If you don’t pay your tax arrears, you could face a long term in prison. Now imagine a friend picks up your tax arrears bill and walks to the Government Revenue Authority and clears your 8 million debt. They do it for free without any obligation. The reality of the truth is that we will spend a lifetime feeling indebted to this person. If we are set free from this, will we fail to pay tax again?
You need to understand the operating principle of grace as found in the gospel. The operating principle of general religion is if I do good I will be accepted by God. The operating principle of the gospel is I am accepted by God, therefore I do good. We cannot earn our salvation. If you do good to be accepted by God, Jesus is your example, he is your role model, he is your standard but he is not your saviour. Your good works are your own saviour. Grace changes all that. Grace tells you that your God has standards that are too high for any human to achieve. His standards are so high that He calls a lustful glance adultery, He calls hatred murder. We all have sinned and fallen short of those standards. If you can’t achieve them, you can’t have salvation. Well, since nobody can achieve them, the million-dollar question begs, “Can anybody be saved?” The answer is yes. You see, God himself can achieve God’s standards. And that’s what he did. God achieved it by living as one of us through Jesus and not breaking any of the high standards. Then after he achieved them, he gave you all the credit. On account of that perfect credit, you are saved. That is grace. Does that encourage you to do good or does it make you lose incentive to do good? Let’s look at it deeper.
When Christ was crucified on the cross, he didn’t cry out “My hands, my hands!” or “My feet, my feet!” Notwithstanding the ripped flesh, the punctured limbs, the pierced brow and the 110-pound crossbeam on his weary shoulders, the pain of the cross was not just a mere physical torment. The separation of a son from his father because of an infraction-your infraction, was a heavy burden to bear for Jesus. Why? The separation caused by our sin broke the intimacy the son and father shared. And for that overwhelming pain of separation that no physical suffering can match, it prompted the Son to cry, “My God, my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” Christ was tormented so that you would be rejoined to God. The cross was a solution for a price too high that you couldn’t afford. It was atonement for a debt too high that you couldn’t recompense for. It was a shedding of blood that no human moral effort, worldly riches or saintly kindness could match. And if you know that and are moved by it, you realize that he loves you and it doesn’t make you lose incentive to do good. It’s called grace, and if anything, it gives you incentive to do good.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works so that no man can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)