For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)… Ephesians 5:8–9
“This church is so different!” the woman rushed up after the worship service to tell me. Whenever I hear that I think, “Oh, no. This person just doesn’t know us that well yet! We’re full of the same kinds of knuckleheads — including me — as every other church!"*
But as I listened further she went on: “As a kid I was dragged to a church that preached ‘hellfire and brimstone’ sermons. I left every service feeling guilty and condemned. But I’ve been here for the last two months, and I love how the preaching’s positive and upbeat!”
Again I was cautious and asked, “So how do you see God changing your life here?” I guess I was worried she saw us as a generic positive-thinking church that endorsed anything and everything.
“Well, everything about my life has changed,” she said. “If I can just be real candid, I have stopped sleeping around. I start and end every day with Bible reading and prayer and I love it. I’m in the women’s Bible study here. And I even stopped smoking pot!” Honestly I was stunned and stammered out something like, “Uh — I don’t remember preaching about pot lately!”
She laughed, “I know! But my first week here I prayed to receive Jesus into my heart, and that day I went home and just knew what I had to do!”
Now I don’t want to give you the impression it always happens this way, but you need to know that I see this sort of thing more often than not. I also do not want to give you the impression that this woman is now sinless and will have no further struggles. But when you get grace, you begin to change internally. Once you feel free, you don’t want to be a prisoner again, neither to legalism nor to sin.
I was seeing in that woman’s life exactly what Paul talks about here:
“Therefore, as God’s children, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12
I used to see this as meaning, basically, “So since you’re Christians, act like Christians!” But that’s not exactly what Paul’s saying here, is it?
Zoom in on the phrase “dearly loved.” You are loved. Dearly loved. By God Himself! He has made you His child! Everything Paul says next is grounded in this act of grace.
Now you are compassionate… because you understand how infinitely compassionate God is to you. Now you are kind… because God’s kindness to you has led you to repentance.
Now you can be humble… because you know you have not done anything to earn God’s love. Now you can be gentle… because God was gentle with you. Now you are patient… because you are aware of how amazingly patient God has been and continues to be with you.
And this is extremely, world-changing-level important: notice how Paul doesn’t really give out various religious rules in these verses when he describes the life of a Christian — he is describing character traits that develop in a heart that has been “graced.”
Funny thing is, that woman’s “hellfire and brimstone” childhood church probably preached the exact same biblical morality our church preaches. But they apparently used guilt as a motivator, not grace. One problem with guilt motivation: It only lasts as long as the guilt. So to keep people motivated, pastors in churches like that one have to keep preaching guilt.
Grace, though, never ends! It is infinitely fascinating and rewarding, as long as you stay focused on Jesus and not your own efforts.
How does an understanding of grace help give you a lasting motivation for changing the way you live?
What is one positive way your understanding of grace has changed your behavior?
Today pray, “Thank you Heavenly Father, that I am Your child, holy and dearly loved! Let me be as gracious to others as You have been to me.”
*Sorry if you attend our church and don’t think you’re a knucklehead, but, hey: I call it like I see it.