For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
God is calling us. And he’s getting impatient.
But what exactly does God want us to do?
The answer is simpler than we can imagine. And it is, for many of us, more difficult than we can imagine.
Two weeks ago, I wrote that God wants us to inscribe his law on our hearts. But how exactly do we do that? Is it a decision we make? Is it a specific action? Do we need a tattoo parlor?
Surely it is a decision, but it’s a decision that begins somewhere else. After all, we are saved by grace. But how do we open our hearts to that grace? And how do we know if we have it?
The second question is easily answered: We know we have received God’s grace when his law is written on our hearts. As James says so poignantly (though often misconstrued),
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith [alone] save you?… Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith… Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? (James 2:14, 18, 20)
We know we have received God’s grace when our faith drives us to act accordingly.
And here’s the rub: it’s easy to say we have faith. It’s easy to say we believe. But are we willing yet to follow Jesus as a disciple? Are we ready to “do the works that I do and, in fact, do greater works than these”? (John 14:12) Are we truly ready to follow him?
I look at my life, and I have to admit that I am not yet ready. But I’m getting there.
How do we ask for the grace to follow Jesus? It’s in small, simple actions that are nevertheless difficult– and, in our culture, almost unthinkable:
- Admit that we are sinners. For me, that’s obvious. For years, I carried the weight of sins I thought were unforgivable. I eventually learned that God would and did forgive them. But I still commit less grievous sins every day. I fall short of what God asks of me. If I don’t admit it, I can’t get any closer to God, because I’m not acknowledging my need for grace.
- Confess our sins to God and to one another. We admit that we are sinners, yet somehow we like to deny that we sin– at least when we’re talking to other people. Yet confessing our sins not only frees us from our sin, it shows us that every one of us falls short, reminding us not to judge each other.
- Repent. Renounce those sins that we continually commit. Make them right wherever possible. Yes, there are some stubborn ones that I am not yet rid of (and may never be rid of), but repentance has freed me from many of my more troubling frequent sins, like losing my temper, refusing to forgive others, and refusing to forgive myself.
- Forgive. This doesn’t mean forgive and forget. As someone once wisely observed, “No one forgets where they buried the hatchet.” No, it means adopting a lifestyle in which we recognize God as sovereign, and every human being (including ourselves) as both made in his image and living in a fallen world. Every one of us has the potential to do evil. Every one of us is offered the opportunity to repent by God. And the Gospel tells us we, too, are to accept a person’s repentance (Matthew 6:14-15, Luke 17:3-4). This doesn’t come easily. When someone hurts me, I want to hurt them back. But that’s falling short of God’s desire for me. It is sin. But as I live into this way of forgiveness, I find that it happens less often. Not only do I have less desire for revenge, but I find that the harms I receive are not so grievous as I once thought.
- Pray and worship often. Speaking for myself, it’s easy for me to forget about God. Regular prayer and worship reminds me, and also challenges me to think more broadly than what God can do for me. Which leads to the last point:
- Serve. If Jesus is my Lord, the only question I can have is: What can I do for him? Am I ready to become part of a community of Christ founded on “proclaiming freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and proclaim the forgiveness of debts”? (Luke 4:18, paraphrased)
But isn’t this what Christians already do?
Surely it’s what we are supposed to do. Yet the evidence suggests that we don’t do it as fully as we are asked to. Our lives do not yet reflect the teachings of Jesus. If you’re like me, even a casual self-examination will reveal that our lives fall at least a little short of this call.