Our growing up into Christ—going from glory to glory, if you will—is never a clear and straightforward path. It’s often full of uncertainties and dangerous twists and turns. But like any mountain climb to majestic heights, the result is worth the risk as long as you’re careful along the way.
In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock the last couple of decades, there’s been a grace revolution that’s done much to liberate us from our legalistic shackles. We’re finally seeing that the Good News is actually good news! We’ve been fully reconciled to God and He’s not counting our sins against us anymore (2 Cor.5:19). We’re finally believing the simple truth that we’re not saved, or unsaved, by our good or bad behavior; we’re saved by grace through faith in the finished work of the cross of Jesus Christ.
These upgrades in grace can also lead to all kinds of erroneous conclusions. For instance, we’re not saying that good character doesn’t matter or that sinning has no consequences. Indeed, our bad behavior can have devastating repercussions in our life, and can hinder our realizing the purpose for which God predestined us (Eph.1:3-5). To the degree we live in ignorance of these consequences is the degree to which we can fall into deception and bondage. And the problem with deception is that you are the one who doesn’t know you’re deceived.
But as I’ve said several times now, the fruit doesn’t lie. The fruit of following the Spirit always looks like love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:22-23).
In other words, it doesn’t matter if you say you’re walking in grace, fully emancipated from the control of the legalistic institutional church, or even that you’re a “Bible-believing, Spirit-filled, ‘on fire’ Christian.” The proof is in the pudding you’ve been making with your life. Again, we don’t have to be bearing this fruit perfectly, but we should be on this trajectory with Jesus. I talked about this in “Following Jesus means He’s leading us somewhere.”
Conversely, if your life is on this trajectory: …being morally bad, doing all kinds of shameful things…hating people, causing trouble, being jealous, angry or selfish, causing people to argue and divide into separate groups, being filled with envy…. (see Gal.5:19-21 ERV for the whole list), then you’re not following Jesus no matter what you think you’re doing.
This doesn’t mean you’re rejected by God. Quite the contrary, we must see that it’s a good Father who shows His beloved children when their behavior isn’t in their own best interest. This is how He weaves the tapestry of our lives into His masterpiece.
God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children...for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. (See Heb. 12:7-11 MSG)
Contrary to popular opinion, sin doesn’t separate us from God, it makes us blind to His presence and dull of hearing. You’re walking in the light but you don’t see it because sin causes you to lose vision.
2 But your iniquities have been separating Between you and your God, And your sins have hidden The Presence from you — from hearing. (Isa. 59:2 YLT – emphasis mine)
So, because of His love, God gives us objective indicators, like Galatians 5:19-21, to help us see and hear Him clearly and get back on the path again.
Falling into a sinful lifestyle is also like having amnesia. Like the Prodigal living with the pigs, sin locks us in shame so we forget who we are, and that our Father has already given us everything in the Kingdom (Luke 12:32; 15:31). So God convicts (convinces) us, but not to condemn us. His heart is to remind us that we weren’t meant to live with the pigs.
But, for those of us who think we see, we should not take on the role of the religious “elder brother” either, wanting punishment for our wayward siblings, throwing them under the proverbial bus whenever they embarrass us with their bouts of amnesia.
The Kingdom of God is not about punishment, or shunning, it’s about restoration. Here’s what Paul also said in Galatians after talking about the fruit (emphasis added):
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. (Gal.6:1-3 NIV)
Grace also means giving others exactly the same grace we would want for ourselves, not just to those we think deserve it (which is the opposite of grace, by the way).
In the final analysis of all analyses, God’s grace always propels us toward Christ’s life (Titus 2:11-12). It’s not a divine hall pass to excuse bad behavior. But it’s also governed by other-centered love which fulfills the Law of Christ. When we miss this axiomatic truth, the freedoms we claim in Christ becomes nothing more than self-serving indulgences at the expense of others. And without other-centered love, all our revolutionary notions about grace are hypocritically myopic and ungraceful.