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The power of grace transforms us

Unsplash/Nghia Le

In my early years in ministry, I often sought to compel Christian holiness by haranguing people into guilty or fearful submission to God’s standards. I believed that God wanted obedience from His people and the preacher’s job was to get people to do what they don’t want to do.

I don’t believe that anymore, but I don’t believe in the necessity of obedience any less. I now believe that God changes our desires to match his own. How does that happen? By His grace.

Such grace is not a mushy sentiment; it is the profound truth that our God loved us and gave Himself for us when we did not deserve it. That truth is not just needed for the end of our days when we stand before our Judge and ask His mercy. We need God’s grace every day of our lives, and when we are assured of it, then we desire to walk with the One who provides it.

The preacher’s job is not to get people to do what they don’t want to do, but to change their “want to” by stimulating such a profound love for Christ that it creates a desire to walk with Him in the ways that please Him. What creates such love? The Bible is clear about that: “We love because He first loved us” (John 4:19).

When God’s grace toward us captures our hearts, then we desire to please Him and to walk life’s path with Him. Commands we once found distasteful and burdensome become sweet and uplifting because we trust the heart that gave them and long for the fellowship with the One who designed them for our safety and blessing.

If the primary reason that we obey God is to keep the “Ogre in the Sky” off of our backs, then we may keep some of His commands, but we will fail to keep the one that Jesus said is most important: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:37). Only when we obey God in response to His grace is our obedience to this command possible.  

The response of joy

A key reason to study Scripture with a focus on how we live in response to God’s grace is to keep straight the order of Scripture’s imperatives and indicatives. The imperatives (what we should do) are always a consequence of the indicatives (who we are by God’s grace). What we do does not determine who we are in Christ; who we are by His grace determines what we do.

Because we are God’s children, we honor Him (Eph. 5:1). We obey as a result of God’s love, not to earn it. We were beloved long before we were obedient.

Grace not only precedes God’s imperatives, it is also the ultimate power that enables us to honor His standards as we are transformed from the inside out. Relishing the grace God has provided for us through Jesus Christ despite our sin, stimulates humility, gratitude, sacrifice, obedience and praise. We live to honor God in response to His unconditional love.

Our obedience is not so much to gain earthly benefits as to thank God for his blessings. Heaven’s priorities become our own because expressing love for the One who first loved us provides our greatest joy and deepest satisfaction. We pursue holiness in loving response to the Heavenly Father who has been gracious to us, rather than in a selfish attempt to bribe a divine tyrant to be favorable toward us.

Grace is supremely practical and powerful. Regular feasting on the Gospel of grace nourishes love for God in the hearts of believers that makes them willing and able to honor Him. We identify the grace pervading Scripture in order to fan into flame zeal for our Savior. Our goal is stimulation of a consuming love for God that drives love for sin from our hearts. When God’s people see how resolute and rife His love is for them, then they rejoice to bring Him honor. Grace compels this holiness as our hearts respond in grateful praise for his mercy.

Grace pervades Scripture not only to motivate lives of praise, but also to empower them. This may surprise many believers because it is common to think of grace as an excuse not to obey God rather than as the fuel of godliness. In order to discern how grace empowers godliness, we need to consider the sources of power for living in ways that please Jesus.

The power of knowledge

One obvious source of spiritual power is knowledge. We need to know what to believe and to do in order to apply God’s Word to our lives. If we do not know what to believe, then we cannot honor God’s truth; and, if we do not know what to do, then we cannot follow God’s law.

Yet, as important as it is to know what to believeand what to do, such knowledge is still insufficient for living the Christian life. If we have no will or ability to act on the knowledge we have, then we cannot please God. That’s why excavating the message of grace that accompanies Scripture’s standards is so important. The love for God that the Gospel of Grace stimulates in us provides power for Christian living that knowledge alone cannot.

We all have acquaintances who know a lot about the Bible, but whose lives or attitudes seem remote from the heart that gave it. Something must accompany knowledge of God for godliness to thrive in our lives — and that something is love for God.

The power of love

To help us grasp the full power of love for God, we must consider a critical question: What is the primary reason that temptations gain power over believers? Sin’s power has already been defeated; we are no longer its slaves (Rom. 6:14–17). By virtue of the Holy Spirit’s renewal of our minds and indwelling of our hearts, sin no more has dominion over us (Rom. 12:1–2; Gal. 2:20; 1 John 4:4). We can think and act in accord with God’s desires. So, if sin no longer sits in the driver’s seat of our hearts, why do we yield to temptations?

The reason that defeated sins still defeat us is because we love them. Consider this: If a sin did not attract us, it would have no power over us. We turn from God to temptations because we are drawn to sin’s temporary pleasures and false promises (Heb. 11:25; James 1:14-15).

Confessing that sin takes control of our lives though our love of it leads to another critical question: What will drive love for sin from our hearts?

The answer is a greater love. When love for Christ surpasses all other loves, it expels sin’s control over our hearts. We want to please Him above all other pleasures. We may still experience the attraction of sin, but the desire to satisfy our Savior is stronger. Love for Him overpowers love for sin. That’s why Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

With this understanding of the power of love for Jesus, we are prepared to ask a final, critical question: if a surpassing love for Christ makes living for Him our highest priority and greatest joy, then what will fill our hearts with such love? The answer comes in the familiar words of John Newton’s dear hymn: “Amazing grace ... that saved a wretch like me.”

The power of grace

The message of grace fills our hearts with the surpassing love for God that compels genuine Christian living (2 Cor. 5:14-15). When we grasp the wonder of the love of God for us, then love for Him grips our minds, fills our hearts and empowers our lives by diminishing all other loves. The Bible assures us of the blessed consequence: with lessened love for the world, its temptations lose their power. We simply are less tempted to do what we have less desire to do. A preeminent love for God makes doing His will the believer’s greatest joy, and this joy is our strength (Neh. 8:10).

As we see grace radiating through Scripture to reveal Christ’s love, then we delight to love Him. This also means we will delight to love what and whom He loves. Such delight in His delight is not only the power behind personal holiness, but also the stimulus to love the unlovely, provide for the needy and care for all that Christ treasures (Matt. 25:40). His heart becomes our heart and, as a consequence, His ways become our ways. His love for us causes us to love and to live for Him. This is the power of grace!

Bryan Chapell is a pastor and author of best-selling books, including the new devotional, Daily Grace, that includes Scripture, devotions, and prayers for every day of the year.

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