Human religion claims that God will do his part if only you do yours. The gospel of grace declares that God in Christ has already done his part–and yours. From the moment you first rest in Christ as your only hope, you have no failures to hide and no triumphs to hide behind. Your shortfallings no longer fall short. Your future is secure. You are forgiven, and you are free (Matthew 17:25-26; John 8:31-36). There is no greater favor for you to earn because God has already given the greatest gift of all: “the gift of righteousness … through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). Nothing remains for you to prove. Your righteousness is the righteousness of Christ himself, given by grace through faith “from first to last” (Romans 1:17).
But this is a tough message to swallow!
After all, many of us have spent years trying to earn our wings on the well-worn pathway of pleasing and performing. It started in our childhoods with the adhesive stars on your Sunday school charts–-each star signifying a visitor brought or a verse memorized–-and the echoes of applause when we perfectly recited our part in the church play. Years later, the daily checkboxes in our Bible reading plans have replaced those star-spangled charts, but the sense that there’s something we can do to gain God’s favor remains as strong as ever.
And when you consider the appalling claim that your righteousness rates no higher than a sleazy pimp or a toothless methamphetamine addict who’s just turned to Christ, your gut reaction is to blurt out, “But that isn’t fair!”
And you’re right.
It isn’t fair.
It’s better than fair.
But don’t take our word for it; listen to the apostle Paul! “Do not get drunk on wine,” Paul declared after describing God’s gracious plan in exquisite detail. “Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). It’s almost as if Paul was saying to the Ephesians, “You remember that fleeting sense of freedom you used to feel at parties when the wine was flowing a bit too freely and everyone joined together in a rollicking rendition of the same song? The freedom you were trying to find back then is precisely what God’s grace now provides–but without the debauched choices in the night or the throbbing hangover when the sunlight spills through your window the next morning. So sing like Christ has set you free, because he has! Overflow with his Spirit, and savor the intoxicating joy of God’s irresistible grace.”