Grace and Responsibility (part 1)


Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.

Meditate on this Scripture for a moment. This is an extremely powerful tenant of our faith. But we wonder, “But what is my responsibility?”

That is a good question. In a covenant of grace—one in which God has done everything required for our salvation—what are we to do besides just believe in what Jesus has done? If we are going to share the Gospel correctly to unbelievers, we need to know the answer.

For many of us, we know the concept of grace—that God has bestowed on us precious, costly gifts in His Son and sent the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we think we shouldn’t fail or fall into sin. So when we do, we’re surprised and quick to condemn ourselves (and the devil is quick to support our condemnation). We are disappointed to discover that after confession, repentance, baptism, and giving our life to Jesus, we are still sinners. We doubt we are really saved.

And so we are determined to do better. We re-double our efforts at prayer, at Bible reading, at getting involved in ministry. We pledge to make up for the ways we’ve fallen short. We hope doing this will gain a right standing with God again.

While these are beneficial things to do, two things result from these efforts. First, we avoid facing up to our sinfulness. Second, and much worse, we rob ourselves from resting in God’s grace.

Paul addressed this dilemma when the Christians in Galatia tried to please God through works of the law.

Galatians 3:1-3 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Paul was asking, “Do you really think you can improve on what Jesus did on the cross?”

It’s easy to get confused over God’s grace to us and our responsibility to God because of Jesus’ words to us:

Matthew 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Immediately, we feel discouraged because we know we are not perfect like our Father in Heaven, and most likely we will never be perfect like Him.

But Jesus does not command us to do something without providing the grace to do it. Jesus’ blood sacrifice on the cross provided us with His righteousness, His perfection, plus forgiveness, and the grace to receive the Holy Spirit, who will make us perfect like Christ. It is a transformation process we must embrace all of our life.

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Currently, we are studying the Book of Acts. Through faith in Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the first century Christian Church worked miracles and transformed lives.

Jesus said this would happen in John 14:12-14, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Who among us doesn’t aspire to this? Why are we not experiencing it? It could be we are not resting on God’s grace and seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I read sermons by certain Christian leaders because their messages are inspired by the Holy Spirit. I admire the ways they live for the Gospel. Their stories of the works of the Holy Spirit sound like those in Acts.

Evangelists and missionaries are heroes to me because they accomplish amazing things in Jesus’ name. They have suffered for the Name of Christ and they have seen miracles. They have prayed and seen the sick healed. When I pray for the sick, often I only catch what they have. What is the difference?

I’m not making light of these things. But when we don’t see the same results in our lives that others have, it’s easy to get discouraged. How do we reconcile these conflicting realities?

The answer: any work that God calls us to must be empowered by His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. Without Him, we can do nothing.

John 15:4-5 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, bears much fruit, for without me you can do nothing.

Abide means to remain, stay, live, dwell. We are to live in Christ and He is to live in us. He lives in us through the abiding Holy Spirit. Only through this relationship and by God’s grace can we do any work of God or bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

See if these words describe your walk with the Lord: Burdened. Stressed. Heavy laden. Mentally drained. Physically fatigued.

I have felt this way for the past two weeks as I have worked hard to purchase a new home and sell the home in Delight. There is a lot to do. I confess I have been relying on myself and not fully on the Lord. What began in the Spirit—being led to a home and clearly told to buy it—I then began trying to make it happen in the flesh. Weakened by the flesh, I let doubt and fear replace faith.

Likewise, these are the outcomes whenever we re-double our fleshly efforts to please God. What began in the Spirit, we are now trying to make perfect by the law. These feelings are clear signs that God’s grace and the Holy Spirit are not in operation.

Now consider these words: Obligated. Dutiful. Indebted. Guilty. Ashamed. Condemned. Do these words describe someone who has been set free by Jesus Christ?

The freedom Christ won for us on the cross isn’t just good news for the lost. It’s good news for every believer. Yet many believers continue to live under a cloud, thinking they are not a quality son or daughter to God. They think He loves them because He has to, not because He likes them.

The Gospel tells us differently. Jesus called all twelve of the sinful, flawed, imperfect disciples to Him because He wanted their friendship.

John 15:15 “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

Jesus chose to share the deep desires of the Father’s heart with these friends. He does that with you when you choose to follow Him, as the disciples did. So when you go to Him in prayer or ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit, His attitude isn’t, “Not you again!” The opposite is true! He wants to be with you, to be in you, to be your friend, because He actually loves you.

You may think, “How could that be? Nothing in my life could possibly be pleasing to the Lord.”

That’s why Romans 10:4 tells us, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes”.

It’s impossible for anyone to live according to the law for very long. Eventually, and quickly I might add, we’re overcome by the weakness of our flesh, and we come to the end of ourselves. But that is a good place to come to—the end of our efforts for achieving righteousness.

Jesus Christ is the end of the law because He is its very fulfillment—meaning He has made right all that the law would correct. And Jesus is the One waiting for us at the end of all our self-efforts. Only in Him do we find righteousness—not in any “works” we try to accomplish. By following Jesus, we can enter God’s rest and grace.

Now let me ask you: Do the following words appeal to you? Life. Joy. Peace. Love. Delight. Boldness. Liberty. Can you imagine having this kind of enjoyment in your service to Christ? How can we experience these things?

Certainly, they don’t come through our works of righteousness. We don’t have the power to be righteous on our own. We may do our best, strive our hardest, and offer all sincerely to God, but it still amounts to no more than filthy rags. These things come through Christ’s righteousness alone. When His righteousness becomes ours, we are set free from striving. His Spirit in us frees us from the law of sin and guilt and He is making all things about us anew.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

That freedom of the Spirit means we are given grace and power to carry out the godly responsibilities He calls us to do. Suddenly we are able to witness with abandon. We have a boldness to pray for miracles. The fruit of the Holy Spirit flows through us rather than a deadly, binding legalism.

There is only one way to walk in the freedom and joy Christ has won for us: by accepting His gift of righteousness and seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Doing this means embracing grace, not works. It doesn’t mean shirking our responsibilities. On the contrary, it’s the only way we can accomplish our responsibilities. We can’t accomplish anything in His name otherwise!

I began this message with the good news from Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.

The very next verse refers to our responsibility, which is born of God’s grace.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God’s grace gives us salvation and power to do His work. Unfortunately, we think of grace as being soft on sin. That is because we have confused it with mercy. By God’s mercy, we don’t receive what we deserve. However, God’s grace does for us what we cannot do for ourselves (i.e. salvation).

Grace is the mightiest power you will ever see at work in your life. It’s the only power that brings real fruit to your walk with God, your prayer life, your witness, and your good deeds in His name. Only as we enter fully into God’s grace and walk by His Spirit will we be delivered from the power of sin and empowered to do the glorious works He has set before us.

Our responsibility is stated in Ephesians 3:19, “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Are you still striving to be perfect? There’s only one entrance to the path of perfection: through the gate of grace. Instead of striving to be perfect, strive “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

If you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you are already perfect in God’s eyes, through the righteousness of His Son. Now, your responsibility is to accept God’s grace and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Spend time with Christ, get to know Him intimately, die to self, and allow Him to fill you with the fullness of God.

Your efforts for perfection only send you backward, not forward. They cause you to miss God’s grace completely—grace that brings freedom, joy, and power to do all that God has called you to do.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The fact is, you’re going to need grace upon grace as you go forward with Jesus. So now is the time to trust that Christ has provided all the grace you need—at every step—to walk in the unique calling He has for you. Your responsibility is to constantly draw close to Him and follow Him.

Galatians 5:16-18 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Jesus has called you to friendship, not to increase your efforts for salvation. Life, joy, delight, boldness, power—all of these are yours as you enter the fullness of His amazing grace for you on the cross. It is up to you to walk by the Spirit in the freedom He has provided by His grace.

For those of you who have never experienced God’s grace, there is good news. If you believe Jesus is the Son of God and what He has done for you on the cross, enter into God’s grace by publicly confessing your faith in Christ. Repent of your sin and give your life to Jesus by following Him in baptism. You will be born again of the Holy Spirit, who will give you grace and power to do all that God has called you to do.