The preacher at my church this week referred to Hebrews 12:15 as part of his message. The author to the Hebrews says: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God…”
There is a very real danger that this life is spent failing to obtain the grace of God. It’s frighteningly easy when you think about it. There’s two basic ways it can happen, though most people only really give attention to one of them.
The most widely noticed way of missing the grace of God is to live in licence. This is where you crack on with living your life without worrying for a moment about whether you’re doing the right things or the wrong things. As long as you’re enjoying things, forging ahead with what you want, it’s all A-OK! In this way of living, you are the centre of your own universe, your very own God around which everything else orbits, and for whom all things exist. With only yourself as your vision, you miss the grace of God because you’re not even aware of needing it! Or else, if you are aware of God’s grace, you treat it as your own personal Dimplomatic Immunity card – carrying on with living to please yourself, flashing the “Under Grace” card if your own conscience or anyone else ever challenges you on it.
That seems fairly straight forward and obvious as a way of missing out on grace, but there’s another way that isn’t often called out for the evil that it is. It’s the polar opposite of living in licence, and it’s all too common in Christianity. It’s the way of legalism – living as if your standing before God all depends on you.
Where licence is often ignorant of God’s grace, legalism is also ignorant of God’s grace. People stuck in legalism spend their lives trying to live according to ideas of right and wrong. They passionately avoid the bad and seek to do the good, always keeping one eye on themselves to check how they’re doing. If they’re doing well, they feel like God is shining down on them and getting ready to pour out abundant blessings. If they’re doing badly, they’ll be in a deep slough of despond, certain that God is ticked off and just waiting for a chance to whack them for what they did wrong most recently. This leads to a manic-depressive, bi-polar faith where you can be up one minute and down the next.
Legalistic people miss out on the grace of God because they’re so wrapped up in themselves that they variously think they don’t need it (when they’re doing well) or don’t deserve it (when they’re doing badly). Either way, they’re not looking to God as the very source of their life, but rather to what they do or don’t do. This is such a subtle way of missing out on God’s grace and it can take years to de-program yourself from dead, works-based religion.
I have read Hebrews many times with a legalistic mindset, reading warnings to not miss the grace of God and renewing my efforts to not sin in my own strength, seeking to avoid licence at all costs. If you’re like I used to be, it’s important to remember that the author of Hebrews wasn’t writing to people who were in danger of licence. They were in danger of returning to the synagogues and temple worship of 1st century Judaism, a system devoid of God’s grace in the New Covenant as the author has been expounding it up to this point.
So what does it mean to obtain the grace of God? Pure and simple, it means seeking, finding and walking with Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Obtaining grace sets those stuck in licence free from a slavery to sin that they’re not aware of or willfully ignoring. It sets the legalist free from their slavery and drudgery that sees sin and danger everywhere it looks. Both the legalist and the libertine are trapped in self-centred ways of looking at the world. If there’s a space for Jesus in their universe, it’s placing Him in their orbit as a crutch to make them feel better when needed. When we obtain grace, we’re set free from placing ourselves at the centre and Jesus becomes the centre around which we gravitate.
We live seeking Him, talking with Him, worshipping Him and looking to please Him. We make Him our pursuit, no matter what life brings our way. When things are going well, we remember that our every breath comes from Him and that He is our life. When things aren’t going so well, we don’t lick our wounds, sulk, wonder if we did something wrong and start begging for God’s forgiveness just in case. We remember who we are in Him, that we are already forgiven in Him, that there is no condemnation for those who are in Him and that He is our righteousness. We are picked up by His grace and moved forward by the power of the Holy Spirit. Knowing His love and grace toward us, we are progressively liberated from the sin that dominates us when we live under licence or legalism.
When we obtain grace, Christ Jesus is our all in all. Our very identity is built on Him and Him alone, leaving us free to know Him in intimate, loving fellowship. There is no better way to live!