There have been several points in my life when God’s grace wasn’t enough for me. It wasn’t because God wasn’t willing or gracious. It was because I didn’t allow it to be enough. The most recent point was last week.
As a teenager I was addicted to pornography and it stayed with me into the first part of my marriage no matter how much I hated it and tried to kill it. Finally, God gave me victory. With the Spirit’s help and the help of my wife and close friends, I remain free to this day.
But the memory of my failure haunted me. Actually “haunted” may be a bit light. The memory oppressed and attacked me. The shame was nearly unbearable. Though I had forgiveness and victory, by accepting these thoughts, I was saying, “You grace isn’t enough to take away my shame.”
I’ve found God wants us to do three things when we believe this lie.
Acknowledge Your Failure As Often As Necessary
God was working in my life to bring me to a point where I had to acknowledge I was a failure. Romans 3:23 actually sums up Paul’s larger argument in Romans 1-3: that this is actually true for everyone. No one has ever been righteous or morally perfect. No one lives a spotless life. The sinful nature inherited from Adam (Romans 5:12) rebels against God, by nature.
While I received forgiveness for the behavior, God hadn’t yet pushed me to face my own heart. God wanted me to see just how much I needed his grace. And when I looked at my heart, I realized I needed it more than I thought anyone else could ever need it.
I’ve heard it said before, “Mature Christians think themselves further away from being perfect than the immature.” God isn’t raising the standard. Mature Christians simply see more of their own remaining sin in the ever-increasing light of God’s holiness. The closer you get to God, the more of your sinful nature comes to light.
By bringing my need for his grace into the light, God showed me how little I was trusting him. Instead, I was trusting my own ability to live a moral life. I was like a mud-covered child trying to clean up by wiping the mud off his face with his muddy hands.
God just wanted me to acknowledge that I need his grace. He wanted me to acknowledge that my mud-covered hands won’t do the trick.
Stop Trying to Be a Good Christian
Ok, I know this sounds a bit odd. But I believe there’s a subtle, foundational issue in this statement that’s invaded the lives of Christians today.
My wife and I were recently talking about the source of some of these feelings of shame and disgrace. We both remembered growing up with a general sense of required performance. It was as if God would somehow forgive us of all our sins while simultaneously keeping track of all our actions (both good and bad) until the day when Christians receive their rewards.
I have no idea where this thinking came from. I can’t pin it down to one specific message or statement growing up. Based on my opinion alone, I wonder if it’s the byproduct of the holiness movement of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations.
Holiness is most definitely required of Christians (Hebrews 12:14). But could it be that the original experience one hundred years ago was simply copied by successive generations and misunderstood? Could it be that holiness became the object rather than the byproduct of an encounter with God? I’ll leave that up to a more adept Christian historian.
That said, in my experience, God wanted me to stop trying to be a good Christian who objectified holiness. My sinful nature made it impossible anyway, so I was doomed when left on my own. When I failed, I was left with a standard of holiness and no holy life.
If I believed the Church around me valued holiness, I was sure going to give it to them. This led to a dichotomy inside myself.
Sure enough, God’s grace isn’t enough when I keep up this charade. God wanted me to stop trying to be a holy Christian for the sake of being a holy Christian. He wanted me to pursue him.
Rest in God’s Grace… Always
It’s kind of ironic that after receiving salvation we spend so much time trying to persuade others we don’t need a savior. In my experience, the Church around me expected perfect Christian behavior. (I fully acknowledge this was probably only my perception).
This is, I’m sure, motivated by a desire to raise godly children and grow mature disciples of Jesus. I don’t doubt the heart and motives of those who came before me. I actually respect and want to imitate their desire to be more like Christ.
Somehow, in the midst of all the discipleship, I misunderstood God’s grace. It wasn’t something I could live in to remain safe. It was an eraser to be used only when absolutely necessary. It was a single-use item, and I was sure God would eventually run out of them in his heavenly inventory.
In reality, God’s grace is there before you sin (1 John 1:8-2:2), just as it was there before you accepted him (Romans 5:6). While it isn’t okay to sin, it’s okay when you do. There’s grace when you go back to Jesus.
At the same time, we can’t toss all caution to the wind and say, “Grace covers it all!” (Romans 6:1). This would mean we haven’t truly experienced God’s love and grace (or perhaps have and just really want to be free to rule our own lives, a.k.a. apostasy).
God didn’t want me to continue sinning so that his grace would cover me. He wanted me to rest in his grace, knowing that I am a complete failure on my own and that he is ultimately the one who will make me holy as I submit to him. He wanted me to come to him, mud and all, and simply let him cleanse me from my guilt and shame.
A true experience of the fullness of God’s love and grace does three things:
1. It makes us fully aware of just how messed up we are without his grace (Romans 3:10-18).
2. It forces us to abandon holiness as the object and make relationship with Jesus our goal (Romans 3:27-30).
3. It produces a life-change as a result and not as a prerequisite (Ephesians 3:14-19).
I fully acknowledge this is much easier to write than actually live. Since I struggled to rest in God’s grace just last week, I know firsthand how difficult it really is (at least it is for me anyway; maybe I’m just a bit slow at times).
This Christian life is a constant battle against the sinful nature, a battle made possible by the work of the Spirit.
I know this isn’t easy.
I know it takes everything inside you to step out your door in the morning with the cloud of shame hanging over you.
Find comfort today. God’s grace is enough. He wants you to rest in it. He wants it to produce a godly life. He doesn’t ask you to keep it all together on your own. He asks you to admit your brokenness and the relax as he gently puts the pieces back together.
Are you allowing God’s grace to be enough in your life? What do you do when you find yourself saying, “God’s grace won’t cover this!”?
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