Grace is what every person needs. Without grace, no one can be saved, nor can anyone walk in the fullness of a transformed life in Jesus Christ. Grace is God’s unmerited transforming power working in and through us by the Holy Spirit. God’s grace is a saving grace that also transforms and empowers us to live God-pleasing lives. We realize how desperately we need God’s grace but what keeps us from living in the fullness of grace? What makes us ‘grace challenged’ as followers of Jesus?
One hindrance to grace is personal works. Personal works have many different forms but their main focus is always doing what God has called us to do in our strength and power, our way, not God’s.
Christian moralism is one form of personal works. This is the subtle belief that the Christian life can be reduced to improving one’s behavior. The moralistic approach can be summed up in doing good and being moral. You may ask how does this play out in our lives? What do we tell our children from a young age; be a good boy or girl, be good for grandma or grandpa, be good when you go for a play date….do and be good. For many people the Christian life is one of being good and moral. All you need to do is be good. In fact in many Sunday school lessons, the take away is to be good. The unmerited transforming power of God working in and though us by the power of the Holy Spirit is not needed. This is a life of works. Do you see how Christian moralism hinders grace…Grace is not needed. Just do and be good. Another way of discerning if we are caught up in moralism is your answer to this question. Would you be satisfied if your child grew up to be kind and honest, went to church, married, had a family and a good job? The person described is a morally good person but may not know Christ or the transforming work of grace in their life. Everyone needs God’s grace. See how subtle Christian moralism is?
Another form of personal works is working out my salvation in my own strength and many times in my own way. We are quick to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” because that is a Biblical teaching. We are taught through many sermons and lessons what we need to work on. So it is very easy for us to take our full responsibility as a follower of Jesus and change this and do that in my strength so that I am pleasing to God. But do you see what we have overlooked? … the grace of God. “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. Again, it is me doing the work of God in my life. It becomes an external show of what I can do without the internal transformation of the Holy Spirit.
As we see in both of these forms of personal works, we are living the Christian life in our own strength. In John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” In our own strength, we are not able to become the people God wants to transform us into by the Holy Spirit, nor can we bear much fruit in our own strength.
Pastors, teachers, and leaders, do you see how easy it is for those who listen to our messages to slip into these two aspects of personal works? I have sat through sermons and teachings where the application is clearly spelled out what you must do, how you must do it and when you must do it, and the specific thing that we must change to live a more Godly life. In fact, I look back and see how my preaching has promoted Christian moralism and a good work ethic to do the things God requires. That teaching is taking away the grace that is needed to live a grace filled life. How do we make our preaching grace filled so that people hear the clear teaching of personal responsibility (working out our salvation) and God’s unmerited power at work in and through us (it is God who works in you). That is the grace all of us need to hear. Do we preach and teach grace in all our applications?