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One of the big "buzz-words" the latest years has been the word "grace", and I would like to state right from the start that I am VERY PRO-GRACE; actually I would be utterly and completely lost without it.
However, there have been some preachers claiming to preach grace, who, in an attempt to make grace amazing, end up distorting it, turning people from a diligent pursue of God to an lukewarm Christianity. They might seem on fire but I would rather say it's fervent lukewarmness.
Grace does not mean that you don't have to put any effort into your spiritual growth; it means that you are getting something you were not able to attain by your own strength. Grace is getting something you don't deserve because you are not worthy.
WHO SAID YOU DID NOT HAVE TO DO ANYTHING?
Some might say: "Well, did Paul not say that we are saved by grace and not by the works of the law?" Yes, Paul was preaching salvation by grace and not by the works of the law, but he was in no way promoting a lazy attitude towards living the Christian life.
It's important that we understand the difference between getting the free gift of salvation and nurturing the spiritual life that was born when we got saved.
If someone gave me some tomato seeds, they might do it "by grace" and afterwards they are fully mine. However, I will not get any tomatoes just because someone "by grace" gave me some tomato seeds. I need to plant the seed, nurture it by keeping weeds away, giving it water, the right temperature and sunshine.
I believe viewing our salvation as a seed that is planted in our heart is not so far from what the Bible is teaching. After all, Jesus himself used seeds as a parable when talking about the word that is sown in people's hearts (Mark 4:10-20) and about the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:31).
Paul said about his work among the Corinthians, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." (1. Corinthians 3:6). Yes, it was God that gave the increase but the seed needed to be planted and cared for.
God has a wonderful arrangement with Man. He does not expect us to make the tree grow, but to plant the seed and provide the environment for growth. He does not expect us to be able to attain salvation in our own strength, so He freely gives us the seed. Now it's up to us to nurture it and provide an environment for growth.
I don't think there is anything we should be more diligent in nurturing than the seed of eternal life that was planted in us when we got saved. Paul told the Philippians to "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling..." (Philippians 2:12).
GETTING SAVED IS NOT THE END
I don't think Paul was implying that we can get "saved by works" for that would contradict a lot of his other teachings on salvation. However, getting saved is not the end, it's just the start of an exciting journey.
The Bible does not teach "once saved, always saved", but it does say "...he who endures until the end will be saved..." (Matthew 25:13). By this I am not suggesting that it's possible to suddenly wake up one morning and discover that you have lost your salvation, but God has given us a free will and if we want to, we can choose to walk away from Him by living in sin.
In the Gospel of Mark, chapter four Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seed. In a confidential briefing with His disciples, Jesus reveals that the seed in the parable was the word of God. According to Jesus there was a group of people who had chocked the word sown in their heart so it became fruitless (Mark 4;18-19). Interestingly it was also by the fruits Jesus said we should know the false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20).
It is God's goodness that leads us to repentance, but having experienced Gods goodness and grace we are to continue, not living in sin, but in doing good, seeking God's glory, living honorable and staying away from immorality.
Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who "will render to each one according to his deeds": eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,
Please note that "self-seeking" and "not obeying the truth" is listed together with immorality. In God's eyes self-seeking is not just a minor sin, it's breaking the very first of God's commandments; loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength (Luke 10:27).
Paul viewed his life on earth as a race. I don't believe he was afraid of losing his salvation, but he was at least not promoting a laid-back attitude towards his faith.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we foran imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
No matter how you interpret "becoming disqualified", I think it is obvious that Paul was not preaching that you should only share your faith if you felt like it, only pray if you felt like it or only live as holy as you felt like it. Rather he was promoting a life in fervent pursuit of God.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
There are many things that can hinder us from running our race and according to the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews sin is one of them. He urges us to lay aside these things and run with endurance.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us,and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
IS IT EASY TO BE A CHRISTIAN?
Today I often get the impression that being a Christian is a broad road where you surf through an enjoyable and easy life. Even though I believe God wants to give us a good life, I believe there will still be a "narrow gate" element to our Christian walk. If not, what Jesus said would no longer relevant.
"Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able."
I don't believe we have to live poor and endure sickness all of our days, but because there are more things in this world that want to pull us away from God than things that want to pull us closer to God, the "gate" to a truly spiritual life is narrow.
The forces that will choke our spiritual life are not always so obvious, because the devil is a master of deception. Paul says the devil can appear as an angel of light (2. Corinthians 11:14) and Jesus says that even the elect are in danger of being deceived (Mark 13:22). Several times Jesus warned against deception (Matthew 24:4 + Mark 13:5-6), and urged believers to make sure they did not fall asleep (Matthew 24:44 + 25:13). If He again and again brought warnings in this area, it's probably because there lies a danger here.
I don't think Christianity needs to be a hard life in the sense that we go from trouble to trouble. However, we should arm ourselves with the attitude that there will be battles and that staying close to God is not something that will happen automatically. It is rather a decision we have to make actively.
It's not enough, either, just to make this decision once and expect that in ten years you will still be on the path. Making a decision to stay close to God should be a part of our daily walk. It's not always a struggle, but there will be times where we have to crucify the flesh (Galatians 5:25), deny ourselves and take up our cross (Matthew 16:24).
In a time where humanism is often viewed as a Christian value, we need to take heed that our Christianity is not a belief system where we are in the center instead of God. When it comes to our spiritual life, convenience must not trump obedience.