What does living in grace mean?
In my last post I spoke on living in a state of grace and forgiveness – where our sins no longer condemn us to eternity without God. Well, then how are we supposed to live? What keeps us accountable to do what’s right?
No really, why not just keep sinning?
You’re not the first to ask this, or think of it if you haven’t asked out loud. It’s a natural question from a natural instinct, desiring a plumb line to show you where you’re at in your status. Where you’re at in your relationship with God.
Paul found himself up against this question a lot, and he wrote a good portion of his letters addressing it for the churches. It was asked mainly by two different people: (1) believers truly trying to figure out what the standard was for “living by grace,” now that there was no “here’s a rule for every situation,” and (2) Paul’s critics who claimed his gospel couldn’t be entirely true, because if there was no condemnation with your sins, then people would just purposely keep sinning and still get into heaven! Two different approaches, but with the same struggle – why try and live differently?
Slavery was Paul’s answer.
Well, okay, not entirely. It was an image he used to convey the answer. But I can’t just leave it at that can I, because “slavery” carries a whole host of dark and negative connotations. It’s a term not used lightly and never in a good light.
But for a Hebrew like Paul, it was not automatically evil. Jews had a legacy of positive meanings surrounding “slave,” especially in regards to being a slave of God. Many of the heroes in their stories had that illustrious title, including Elijah, Moses, David, and even the nation of Israel. It represented a calling to serve; being a slave of God was considered an honor.
Which is why Paul had no hesitation in using it to describe living in grace.
We have freedom in Christ from being slaves to sin, but we have traded this slavery to sin for slavery to Christ. A paradox: We are free in Christ to be slaves to Christ.
As slaves to Christ, we have been set free from the tyranny of sin’s power; it no longer has a hold on us for condemnation. But as slaves to Christ, we are called to live as Christ did. He is now our master.
I once read a great illustration that really captured the essence of this relationship. While we have been set free from prison, we still must abide by the laws of society – we can’t just do whatever we want.
So what does serving Christ look like?
It means living in a way that shows Christ is our teacher, our guide, and our master. It means living in a way that sets us apart. It means being holy.
We are still held to a standard, but our actions come from an “obedience from the heart,” not a fear of being condemned. We are still held accountable for our actions, but those actions no longer condemn us to hell. They instead put on display where our faith has been placed.
Paul says, “Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Peter says, “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” Our actions show who we are, or as Jesus puts it, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Our one, defining characteristic that will show who we are enslaved to are our actions of love. And these actions are like a blinding light to those outside the community of Christ. When someone chooses forgiveness over vengeance. When one gives thanks to God instead of themselves for their success. When one uses their wealth to support the poor and needy. These actions are different than the world’s at large; they are counter-cultural. It is like seeing a blossom in the midst of a heap of dead grass.
We are no longer condemned for our sins, but we are still held accountable for our actions. It is your fruits that will show whose slave you really are.
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