“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 (New King James Version)
I’ve completed book #2 in The Great ECPC Reading Challenge, “Why Grace Changes Everything,” by Chuck Smith.
I find it ironic that I purchased my first copy of “Why Grace Changes Everything” in a small Christian bookstore in 1994 – long before I had ever heard of either Chuck Smith or Calvary Chapel. At the time I had no idea that God would eventually lead me into full-time ministry as a Calvary Chapel pastor with a passion for following Pastor Chuck’s example of teaching verse-by-verse through the Bible. All I knew was that I needed a better understanding of God’s grace.
I’ve always had difficulty appropriating grace. My natural inclination is toward perfectionism and I come from a denominational tradition that implanted in me a constant fear of “losing” my salvation if I failed to measure up to God’s standard. These two things made for a brutal combination and a seemingly never-ending cycle of commitment, failure, condemnation, despair, and recommitment. Most of my early Christian life resembled a roller coaster (and I don’t mean a fun one) as I tried everything I could do to earn God’s favor.
Chuck’s book ministered to me in those formative years and still does today. In fact, I’m convinced that I probably should re-read it every few years. For me, the message is one that bears repeating. Chuck’s early Christian experience was much like mine – a roller coaster of commitments to holiness, failures to measure up, self-condemnation, and recommitment. Anyone who has lived this way knows that there is absolutely no joy or rest for someone who is trying to earn God’s favor.
On the other hand, there is nothing but joy when we realize that we are all “poor in spirit” (Matt 5:3) and that (spiritually) we bring absolutely nothing to the table. Spiritually, we are penniless beggars. Not only did we do nothing to deserve God’s grace before we came to faith in Christ, but even after salvation there is nothing we can (or need) to do in order to earn it. It was, is, and forever will be His free gift to us. When we finally grab on to that amazing truth we can finally experience real joy and rest in the knowledge that our Father loves us and wants fellowship with us.
Chuck’s emphasis on the grace of God does not imply that we have a license to sin – absolutely not! However, our desire to live a holy life is not motivated by some vain attempt to gain God’s favor. Rather, our desire for personal holiness is a natural response to a loving Father who has rescued us from sin and death. We love Him and want to please and be like Him. And when we do fail and fall in to sin, our Father is anxious to forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9) and restore us to a right relationship with Him.
I highly recommend this excellent book for all believers, but especially to believers like me who struggle with appropriating God’s gift of grace.