The following is Part 1 of a 2-part series on the truth about grace by Hannah In Part 1, Hannah discusses a popular myth about faith. In the continuation, she will talk more about the nature of grace – what it is, and what it truly means to be filled with it. We hope you enjoy, and would love to hear your thoughts on this series!
Recently I read an article about why some young people leave the faith. The article mentioned an interview conducted with a group of young adults (all church-goers) that included the question, “How would you define what it really means to be a Christian?”. One third of them gave answers having to do with behaviors. Kara Powell, executive director of Fuller Youth Institute, concluded, “So it seems like [young adults] have really picked up a behavioralist view of the Gospel. That’s problematic for a lot of reasons, but one of which is that when students fail to live up to those behaviors, then they end up running from God and the Church when they need both the most”. When I read things like this, I feel something in my heart sink. Somehow, somewhere along the line, the truth about grace is being bypassed.
In the context that Ms. Powell uses the term “behavioralist”, she refers to the idea that the state of being a fallen sinner can be treated by changing behaviors or the environment. But salvation doesn’t come through these things! Hold on to that thought. I think you will find that though we may know that Jesus saves, sometimes we still adopt behavioralist-faith philosophies. The reason is that on the surface, they often sound like something that might work. It’s a sort of “change the person, change their fate” concept. We all adopt behavioralist ideas to some level. For example, you might hear someone lament that if only a person they know would stop being so this-or-that, he/she would be better accepted in society, get a good job, or have a better relationship with his/her family. Whether or not this is true, usually the focus becomes changing the person’s outward actions, rather than the inward heart from which those actions flow. When we apply this idea to grace, we find that it is cleverly disguised faith by works.
In an appearances-based society, a behavioralist gospel may seem to make more sense than a gospel of grace. We are used to things that we can see, count, touch, taste and feel. The mystery, the incomprehensible quality of grace, is beyond our normal experience. A behavioralist gospel may seem easier to swallow because it allows us to maintain some (seeming) level of control over our lives. As long as we fit into a good-girl-Christian box and meet our quota of good deeds, we feel safe. The same is true of every form of perfectionism. Yet despite it’s holy appearance, this isn’t the gospel that Christ preached. The Bible doesn’t cut corners when it speaks out against faith by works.. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? – Galatians 3:3
Although works are important- the overflow of a heart that is in the right place- they are not the most important thing. The most important thing is grace. Think of it this way: if after nearly dying a doctor restarted your heart, what signs of life would you exhibit? People that are alive breathe and walk and dream and do. People that are dead are (on earth) empty bodies. Similarly, faith that is alive has to have works- dead faith would be empty of them, like a lifeless corpse. But even in this case, the deeds do not give people life. It is the life inside of them- the beating heart, the pulsating veins, the busy nerve synapses and the regenerating cells. It is the life given them by God. Spiritually in the case of a Christian, it is the grace given them. It is grace that rescues us and gives us life, not the things that we do. The Christian faith is not a behavioralist gospel, but one of grace. The truth about grace is that you can’t rescue yourself, but Jesus can.
Questions: What does grace mean to you? Is it hard for you to reconcile the idea that works are important, but do not save? If yes, why? If no, what causes you to think differently?
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