Transforming Grace

Do you set rules and regulations for your life, but then judge yourself very harshly when you do not live up to your expectations? Do you feel close to the Lord when you are doing something religious, but distant when you are not? Many people today are living in this manner—they lack assurance that they have pleased God. The Bible says that you and I have been accepted by His grace, which can be defined as God’s kindness toward us without consideration of any merit on our part.

In the Old Testament, the ark of the covenant—which symbolized God’s presence—was kept in a secured place in the Tabernacle called “The Holy of Holies.” Access to this divine place was permitted only once a year and was restricted to the high priest. For the rest of the Israelites, a personal relationship with God was unthinkable. Instead, their whole concept of relating to God involved living up to laws and achieving acceptance on the basis of performance. The forgiveness of sin was based on a literal animal sacrifice.

Jesus came in order to die for our sins and be a permanent, one-time substitutionary sacrifice. Forgiveness was only part of the plan; He came also to initiate an entirely different lifestyle from what the people of God had been experiencing. On the day of His crucifixion, the veil in the temple that hid the ark of the covenant was split from top to bottom, symbolizing that God opened the door to an intimate relationship with Him. He has made it possible for us to talk directly to Him and know we are being heard. That change in relationship represents the difference between law and grace.

Jesus’ death and resurrection settled the basis of our acceptance once and for all. Though our conduct sometimes is not what it ought to be, we are nonetheless embraced as children of God. In order to enjoy the Christian life, we must view ourselves the way He sees us. People trying to live up to an impossible, invisible standard never know when they have pleased God. If life is a matter of rules and regulations, we will never have any peace or contentment.

We have a choice to make. We can set rules and live by legalistic domination, fear, and uncertainty, or we can choose to live in the wonderful acceptance that comes by the Cross. The life of grace—lived in His eternal grip—is available to everyone who will call on Him.

The direction your life takes is dependent on many things, such as the environment in which you live, the decisions you make, and the education you receive. But by far the most powerful influence on a believer’s life is the transforming grace of God, which is His kindness towards you regardless of your worth and in spite of everything you deserve.

God’s ultimate will is for every believer to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. His grace is responsible for your rebirth, and from that point it directs, moves, and influences you to become increasingly Christ-like.  In that way, you can say with the Apostle Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).

The apostle’s life, in fact, is a powerful example of God’s transforming grace. In Philippians 3, Paul described how he once depended on his good works, nature, and conduct to gain acceptance before God. He did not originally understand there is only one way to be made acceptable in God’s sight—by His grace.

However, encountering the living Christ totally changed Paul, and he explained, “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7). He recognized that all of his human titles and achievements had absolutely no spiritual value. We, too, must realize we will never gain eternity by depending on anything we are or anything we do—salvation is unrelated to how much money we give, what excellent citizens we are, or how we treat our families. It is by grace, and grace alone, that we are saved (Eph. 2:8-9).

Paul learned a valuable lesson: the only thing worth boasting about is the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14).  The Lord offered Himself as our subsitutionary sacrifice, not because He saw anything worth saving, but because of His great love.

There are millions of people who sincerely but wrongly believe that they will be acceptable to God based on how good they are. It grieves my heart to think they will die in ignorance, deceived by the false doctrine of working to earn the Lord’s approval. By grace, Paul’s thinking was corrected.

How did this change come about? When Saul (Paul’s name before God saved him) was approaching Damascus, he was blinded by a sudden flash of light. He heard God saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 22:7).  The future apostle learned that being critical of the church or Christians was equivalent to opposing Jesus Himself (Matt. 25:40), and that attacking believers meant putting oneself under the condemnation and judgment of God. But God’s grace was about to transform Saul by giving him a new nature and a fresh start—his hostile, vengeful heart would abruptly be changed, and he would become the church’s most powerful promoter. What made the difference was that Paul knew God was talking to him.

The grace that saves and transforms today is the same grace that changed Saul, the sinner, into Paul, the apostle. He acknowledged that God’s grace was completely responsible for what He had become (1 Cor. 15:10), and that was why he gloried in the Cross—he had no intentions of being saved, but God in His gracious love had wonderful plans for him.

Furthermore, Paul was an example to those around him as well as to future generations. God wanted all of us to know that if He could save a murderer like Paul and transform him completely, then He can save anyone. Witnessing Paul’s conversion makes us ask, “Who among us cannot be transformed by the grace of God?”

Don’t be deceived by Paul’s dramatic experience. I was saved at the age of twelve. I had been reading the Bible a great deal, and I understood that I needed God’s forgiveness in my life. There was no flash of light; I simply stepped from the second pew, walked to the altar, and knelt down to pray. I came from a home where my mother read the Bible to me, so my getting saved at age twelve was somewhat normal and natural. But it took just as much grace to save me at twelve as it took to save Saul of Tarsus, the violent, hateful persecutor of the church. The Bible says all of us were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). When we have Him, we are born again—and truly alive!

Paul was an example of the transforming power of God’s grace, which took a man murderously opposed to Christ and changed him into the world’s greatest missionary. He gave himself without reservation to proclaiming the gospel, and he was able to say that God’s grace toward him “did not prove vain” (1 Cor. 15:10). Has God poured His grace into your life? Don’t let it be in vain—tell God how thankful you are…and tell others why.

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Jun. 3, 2008 at 9:15 AM   Amen! Thanks for the word! It is good to know that we are transformed by the GRACE OF GOD and not by what we do. To be transformed by the GRACE OF GOD is an honor that I am ready to undergo. At one point I thought what I do, what I say, what I try to become was the right way. And if you notice I said, "what I...."; But until I realized that it is not I that can change me it is God and his amazing Grace that will transform me. I am being restored, renewed, and refresh by the ALMIGHTY! Physically it doesn't feel good, but spiritually I know it is for my good!

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