“Make every effort to live at peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14)
It’s hard to understand the concept of holiness these days. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the concept of personal accountability for righteousness in an age where the message we hear is so often “all about that grace.” Or, “the grace card.” Not too many Christians know how to put grace in its proper place, and very few understand it in the context of the full scripture. This one word, this simple teaching, has become so complicated that the church is divided into those who pursue righteousness and those who believe grace covers so much that life should be lived to the fullest. Jesus died for that, after all … right?
I’ve been praying about this for a long time. Several years, actually. My pursuit of truth in this matter began with the “Don’t judge me” movement. It started when a pastor in a pulpit told a story in which he threatened a man with a tire iron for cussing in front of his son, and ended with “Don’t judge me, I’m just enjoying living in grace.” I almost puked. Somehow, we’ve allowed grace to become a canopy that covers all kinds of vile and detestable things which mar our witness and make the church unaffective. And the church is unaffective in America. It’s not growing. Instead, it’s pumping out lukewarm people who have no idea who Jesus really is, or what his death on the cross means for us.
I started to pray very fervently because at that time, although the message that has been propagated among believers did not ring true in my spirit, I didn’t know how to combat it. I was timid about confronting the lie because I don’t want to dismiss something using my own logic. I want to defeat the lie of Satan in the church with the truth of God’s word. So I asked the Lord to help me understand grace properly through scripture. Over the course of the past year or two, this message is the result of that passionate plea.
Let’s begin where the message of grace starts. Galatians 2:16 sums it up very nicely: “So we too have put our faith in Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” This scripture makes it very clear that we cannot work our way to heaven. We are justified through faith, not because of anything we did as other scriptures tell us, but because God chose us to receive this grace. We can’t earn it, it’s a gift.
Why do we worry about holiness, then? Isn’t grace enough? Isn’t Jesus’ sacrifice enough and now I can live freely as I want without fear? I have asked these questions, and I have tried living under that canopy of grace, trying not to judge myself because my spirit was averse to such freedom. I found that when I lived in such a state of freedom, sin was crouching at my door just like God spoke to Cain, and I entertained it because I felt that freedom afforded me that. The Holy Spirit, however, made it impossible to live in such freedom without conviction. He convicted me at every turn until I finally looked to God and said, “What?!”
“…without holiness, none shall see God.”
There it was again. I thought I was covered by that sacrifice at the cross, and of course, I am. But scriptures led me into a deeper understanding of that sacrifice. Hebrews 10:14 tells us that, “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” He has made us perfect. That’s the done deal. His death broke the curse of sin off our lives, making it possible for us to not live in the flesh. Jesus said in Matthew 10:34, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Today’s Christian message is one of peace and comfort. Its aim is to make people feel good about themselves and their lifestyles. It’s self-serving and self-assuring, but is it true? What is this sword Jesus came to bring? It is the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, which is “sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This sword Jesus brought was to divide a Christian, flesh from spirit and effectively end the war between the two. It is a sword to put oneself to death in the flesh so that he or she can live in the new way of the spirit. Unfortunately, this sword also divides the church into those who will suffer to live according to the Spirit of God and those who choose to live according to their own will and desires.
You see, when we come to Christ in truth, his Spirit cuts away from us that flesh that hinders our pleasing the Father. It shouldn’t be on us at all! In fact, 1 john 3, beginning in verse 3 says, “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure … (v. 5) But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” So Jesus died to take away the sin we commit in ignorance, but when we come to him, he also changes our hearts so that we no longer lust after sinful things. John says if this is still our focus, we haven’t really had a moment of salvation. We’ve had a feel-good moment with a bunch of smooth-talking men and women who convince us of a false doctrine and lead us astray.
I was reading in 1 Kings today about a prophet who was sent to deliver a word, and after he delivered his word, he left by another way because that’s what God told him to do. Another prophet comes to him and implores him to turn back, in contradiction to the word God had spoken to him. The second prophet assured the first that God has sent him and it was okay. The first prophet listens and as a result, dies that same day because of his disobedience. Many of us in the church are in great danger of becoming like this man. We’ve heard a word from the Holy Spirit which wrecks us. We no longer desire sin and we cling desperately to Christ. But a false message is trying to compel the church into reveling in sin and accepting Satan’s clutches, all the while calling it grace. It’s a lie! Grace is the liberator, but it’s not a license to sin.
Many people feel a contradiction in regards to the message of grace and the message of righteousness. Hebrews 5:13-14 clears it up. “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” When we come to Christ, we are put to death in the flesh and born again in the Spirit. “Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’” We begin as infants in Christ. The message of salvation comes very heavily salted with the message of grace. It’s important for babes in Christ to understand grace because it keeps them in times of persecution from the devil over their past sins. Grace is a vital message. But it’s not the end-all of the Christian faith. It’s the beginning. Looking back at Hebrews, we see that we are not supposed to remain babes in Christ forever, but we are supposed to mature, just as any baby will grow into a toddler, an adolescent, a young adult and so on.
In order to mature, we have to learn to walk. This walking out in daily life the Will of the Father is the message of righteousness. We are no longer slaves to the law, but we are called to be obedient to His will. His will is that we glorify him and live according to the Spirit, not glorify ourselves and live according to our flesh. Remember, flesh is dead!
2 Corinthians 7:1 says we “perfect holiness out of reverence for God.” This righteous living is a matter of respect. Our daily pursuit of righteousness says to our Father, “I love you and what you desire of my life matters to me.”
It’s not a matter of legalism, then, to consider your own actions and to say to others, “this is not the way.” Not unlike Paul, Christians often fear that we will somehow disqualify ourselves. Paul talks about his own fears in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. He’s talking about running a race with the purpose of winning and he says that he beats his body and makes it his slave so that after having run his race, he will not disqualify himself from winning. Philippians 2:12 tells us to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” So then, contrary to this present gospel of grace, a little fear and trepidation over the way we live is good and healthy. How can I say this? Because 2 Corinthians 7:10 goes on with this message: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” We must take this fear to God, though, because perfect love casts out fear. Only in God can we be saved from this fear, but because it leads us to Him, it is a good thing. It leads to repentance and salvation. If we don’t take this fear to God, it leads us to worldly bitterness and the death of our faith.
Being a person who loves words, I began to consider all the words that are nullified by the false message of grace; that teaching that tells us no matter what we do, we are okay in God’s eyes. Here goes:
These words mean nothing, they are completely nullified by this message. So then, we must ask ourselves, “Which is true? The bible I have read, or this message I have heard from a pulpit or read in my favorite devotional?” So many people do not trust that the Holy Spirit can teach them, and they lean too heavily on the “wisdom” of others, but we are told to consider the things we receive in light of the Word of God for this very reason: Satan is determined to deceive the saints of God, and we are apt to be deceived if we are not studying for ourselves.
Here’s the truth: Sin hardens us. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” When we indulge in sin, we allow ourselves to be hardened and when we are hardened, we reject the Holy Spirit imploring us to turn away from such godlessness.
Hebrews 7:25 says, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them.” Why would Jesus always intercede for us if nothing we ever do is wrong? He is in ongoing intercession because we are fallible and we make mistakes, which is not the same as indulging in life as if nothing we ever do is wrong. The first is the result of our daily struggle with human nature. The second is because we choose not to battle that nature, but instead let it have its way. Titus 2:12 tells us that grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to be self-controlled, upright and godly. This is not the grace so many of us hear of. Imagine! Grace teaching us to rebuke our flesh instead of giving in to it. This is the grace Jesus died to provide.
How do we avoid this false message of grace and the trap that has been set for the modern Christian? “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God … Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature …” (Col. 3:2-3, 5). Paul tells us this is a daily death. Why should we be so concerned, and put forth such an effort in our walk with the Lord? “For God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life” (1 Thess. 4:7).
Finally, what does the Bible say about those who preach this modern, New Age false grace? “These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom while they themselves are slaves to depravity … If they have escaped the corruption of the world by known our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning” (2 Peter 2:17-20).
“What then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin, how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6: 1-7).
Hebrews 10:26-29 says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sin is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witness. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? This message, dear friend, is a message that insults the Spirit of grace that has saved us. Choose you this day whom you will serve – yourself or God.