“You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” Gal. 5:4-5
On the heels of Gary’s incredible article The Lawless Lawkeepers, I wanted to talk about why I am so fierce and tender about the gospel of grace. About why, until my dying day or my catching away, I will stand FOR salvation by grace through faith in the blood of Jesus alone, and against Lordship Salvation, fruit inspecting, and any “being made perfect through the flesh” or adding to the gospel in any way.
Here is the gospel:
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:” 1 Cor. 15:3-4
By putting our faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, we are saved and given the gift of the Holy Spirit, who guides us as we live by faith and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.
But it was not always this simple to me.
I spent so many formative years “doing” my way to love. I earned my “right to exist” through my actions—sacrifice, hard work, service, an utter giving away of my Self. A young version of me learned that approval, appreciation, acceptance and good will were the rewards of things I did to earn them.
I was a sensitive child in every way, tender in conscience, feeling, heart, and spirit. I was convicted of sin early in life and with remorse and fear sobbed out a heart-felt “sinner’s prayer” when I was about six years old. Fear of death and hell chased after me, but as long as I obeyed God I had nothing to be afraid of, for if I was holy and obedient God would accept me. Soon I found deep solace in Scripture and devotion to God.
I was the firstborn in a large family. We were poor, but we trusted God to meet our needs and He did, in sometimes miraculous ways. Through miracles we never went hungry for food, but I was absolutely starving for love.
By the time I was twelve I’d discovered the secret: I received the love I craved when I was an obedient, godly, and helpful daughter. My acts of service, my work, my chores and helping out justified my existence and made my life matter to others. This made me feel like I had purpose, was useful, approved by God, and worthy of taking up space. I was given a nickname, “happy helping Hillary.”
As I grew older I literally worked harder and harder. Depression set in, but no one knew why. So did complete and utter exhaustion. I was the second mother, the helper. And because I longed for acceptance, belonging and love, and also knew that I had to please God, and because I did not want to be rejected eternally, I became a rigid perfectionist.
With the years came hormones, emotions, and desperation. As the oldest I was constantly reminded that I was responsible for the actions and hearts of my younger siblings, because they were watching me, and so was the world. Whenever I failed, then, the weight of knowing that I was responsible for possibly leading my brothers & sisters astray and damaging my witness piled on the guilt and shame. My depression grew worse. Instead of a helper I began to feel like a tremendous burden, one who only caused heartache and stress, an evil child who made my mother cry or who didn’t show the patience and love of Christ to my siblings. I was a huge disappointment—from the fact that I was gaining weight, to the fact that I had ungodly dreams for my adult life (I liked to sew, and wanted to become a fashion designer, but fashion is worldly), from the fact that I got impatient with my younger siblings, was a terrible example of holiness to them, was tired all the time, argued with my mom, and so on. I wanted to die, to end it all, but I couldn’t because then for sure I would go to hell.
So I doubled my efforts. Helping out became the only way I knew how to show how sorry I was for causing stress to my parents and how much I loved them. I was constantly exhausted but felt guilty for feeling tired, because if I was tired, how much more so must be my mother!—I heard again and again, as more and more children were born in our family. My part was to be humble and obedient, to learn how to sacrifice and die to my flesh… even when my flesh wanted most to rest. Exhaustion became an offering. Suffering refined me and made me more like Christ. I wanted this so much, and this is what it meant to take up my cross daily and die to myself.
Over time my family withdrew more and more from the world and even other Christians. Our doctrine became more and more rigid, gaining momentum through fear-based, guilt-driven theology that put heavy emphasis on behavior, actions, lifestyle, sin and holiness. What I knew of grace was that I, as a sinful child, was just as wicked as a child molester or murderer, and grace was the only reason I was not in hell. But I could be, if I fell away. If I became worldly. If I wasn’t holy enough.
And yet I learned that I could never be holy enough, because of my sinful human nature. So my life—at twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen—became ravaged within this polarity: keep trying to be holy, for God is holy, and no, you’ll never actually be holy enough, but don’t give up, and don’t grow weary or lose heart, because that is the weakness of your sinful flesh; if you follow your flesh you are turning away from God. And if you turn away from God, you won’t be saved.
I dreaded the possibility that He might say, “I never knew you.”
So I became obsessed with becoming perfect and holy. I fell asleep thinking about it. I sank into deep despair when I failed. I wished I could die constantly…both because I deserved it, and also because I wondered if anyone would actually miss me, and also because of the relentless fear and shame and tiredness. I was never good enough, never worthy enough, deserved no mercy, and the fact that I was “loved” at all was the undeserved patronization of a high and holy God. Ironically, it was the fear of certainly “going to hell,” my understanding at the time, that kept me from suicide.
So instead, for years, I begged forgiveness for my sins and for being a terrible witness for God and a terrible daughter and sister in my family. I wrote pages and pages of confessions, apologies, and tearstained prayers in my journal. The threat of hell loomed over me as constant and intimate as breathing. Not always through direct reminding by anyone else, however. By this time I was well-versed in Scripture & this sort of theology, and my worst tormentor was myself.
So even if I couldn’t become perfect enough, I would die trying.
I was raised to obey God, regardless of the cost. To seek, listen, and obey, even when it meant going against the flow, especially when it required making incredibly difficult choices which might garner condemnation, accusations, or rejection from others. If the world hated Jesus, of course it would hate us too. If we weren’t reaping some kind of criticism or judgment for our holy and peculiar lifestyle, it probably meant we weren’t holy enough.
This conviction led to an unusual way of life: becoming as self-sufficient as possible, living off the grid, following strict hierarchal roles of men and women in the home, authoritarianism, being trained what to think and how to believe, and much more. I became vigorously judgmental, my eyes straining and searching everything for a shred of evil or deception. Everything was suspect. We knew the warning in Scripture that “even Satan masquerades as an angel of light” so nothing was exempt from scrutiny. Daily we judged whatever came along: media, government, food distributors, school systems, churches, local officials, doctors, modern medicine, banks, books, messages or music on the radio, news sources controlled by those with an “agenda,” clothes, careers, personal choices, and lifestyles; we questioned others’ hearts, intentions, mind and motivations; we criticized people who had Internet, who used cell phones, who sent their kids to public school or dyed their hair or who “didn’t want to know the truth;” people who used modern medicine, who were “trapped in the world,” who took advantage of modern conveniences, who owned a checking account, who went to (or even encouraged) college or higher education, women who moved away from home before they got married, people who were caught up in “the system,” who went to big mega churches or used birth control, or hired a babysitter for special date nights; those who were “tolerant,” which meant they were soft on sin; or anyone who was not like-minded.
This judgment was seen as righteous judgment, holy conviction, and the discernment of a family set apart, one who knew the truth, lived according to the Bible and hoped to convict others to feel guilty, repent from their sin, learn the truth, and live in holiness. We also believed that the world was ending soon, but that we would be going through the tribulation because only people who were weak and addicted to the convenience and comfort of the world—who didn’t want to suffer—believed in a “false teaching” called a pre-tribulation rapture.
So all throughout my childhood, and even into my adult life, the dread of the upcoming antichrist, mark of the beast, and the torments described in Revelation weighed on my heart with unbearable heaviness.
And thus continued years and years.
The hunger for love manifests in many ways. And it takes its toll. I realize now that it dwelt in me as a form of disbelief … I did not believe I was lovable as-is. Who would love this? I grew up with strong faith, yet even my faith could not compete with the tenderness of a young girl aching to be loved. A young girl who felt faceless and unmemorable in a sea of others—just one of the kids, one anonymous face in a crowd, one soul in a million souls. How could I be loved when there are so many other children? So many other women? So many trillions of people throughout history that God made? Who am I? How could there be enough love to go around?
And yet I did not want to be loved at the expense of others—I did not want others to be any less loved. Unconsciously I told myself, then I will sacrifice. I will be less-loved so that others can be loved. I will give love. I will love and love and love.
And I loved so much my heart broke. I became codependent and loved intensely the way I wanted to be loved, yet it was not healthy or pure. I showed it through service, devotion, gifts, words, presence—to anyone who would have me. Not through promiscuity—I was still afraid of hell and the displeasure of God—but through poor choices in friendships, horrible boundaries and toxic relationships. I deeply wanted to prove my love—and underneath it, not even really known to me—my own lovability. If I was loveable then God was justified in loving me, and maybe He wouldn’t send me to hell.
I remember one evening in January, years ago, standing on my balcony alone with tears on my face. The stars glimmered sweet and the wind whispered soft poems to my skin. I looked at the stars and suddenly realized that I was looking at them with my own eyes for no other reason than so that I could see them. For myself. I could see them, and I didn’t need to give this seeing to anyone else. In that moment, all this beauty was for me.
I remember touching my eyes and in those moments, illumination burst through my entire being. In a lifetime of “doing” where I learned that it was holy to work hard, sacrifice, and give my Self completely away, I also learned that nothing belonged to me. I had no right to good things or beauty. If I had anything good, it was mine to share with others and to sacrifice. Nothing felt sacred in the sense that it was private, with protective boundaries, worthy of holding close and treasuring and keeping.
And yet I stood looking at the stars, with my very own eyes, eyes that were given to me for my own benefit and pleasure. And I got to keep them. I had something beautiful to keep for my very own. And suddenly I realized: this must be love. It felt like a thrilling secret. I have eyes, and this person over here has eyes, and we both get to see, and my seeing doesn’t take away from theirs, and theirs doesn’t take away from mine.
This was the first moment I started to understand. It wasn’t immediate, this understanding. But a holy doubt began to tremble with hope in my heart. Maybe? Maybe I am loved…just because? Maybe I am loved…even if I don’t do anything to earn it? Could I be loved…just because I was born? I have eyes just because I was born. And these eyes are the sweetest gift. Imagine going through life without eyes! And with these eyes I can see stars and words and flowers and the face of my beloved husband and the smiles of my nephews and so much indescribable beauty.
And the God who made me and gave me this good gift of eyes—I have my very own—He gave them to me before I even earned them. I didn’t have to earn my eyes. And look at how good this gift is. I could even be bad, evil and wicked…and yet I still have the gift of these eyes.
This is how I received my first tender glimpse of grace. And this is how I came to believe it. Slowly. Softly. With tear-stained wonder. Could it be? Yes. Still more years passed before that seed bore fruit, but as the Lord began to heal my heart, He healed my unbelief, too. I learned what love is—WHO love is. He opened my eyes and showed me the truth that I’d read over and over hundreds of times: that while we are still sinners, Christ died for us:
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us…” (Titus 3:5a)
Not one act of service can make me more or less loved in His eyes, because His love is not based on what I do or don’t do. His grace is not based on what I do or don’t do. The free gift of eternal life is not based on what I do or don’t do.
I could sit here for the rest of my natural life and not lift a finger and He would not love me any less. I would not be any less saved. Just the same, I could work myself into the grave through service & sacrifice, and not be any more saved, more righteous, more holy, or more loved.
Want to know something? When responding to a message of God’s good grace, most grace-resistors immediately bring up, “grace, but.” They say “grace is not a license to sin.” (True!) They bring up the book of Jude and how the message of grace gets turned into lasciviousness. But let me tell you something. They say this because they don’t get it. True grace, and really getting it, has the complete opposite effect! When you actually realize what Jesus did, you WANT to be devoted and obedient and live a pleasing, holy and godly life.
This goodness and mercy of God, and His kindness, make me more devoted to Him from my heart than a lifetime of pursuing righteousness ever did.
I wish twelve-year-old me could have known that. Not because it is a license to sin. But because it’s the truth. And the truth sets us free. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Eph. 2:8-9
Beloved, I ask gently: are you ashamed of the truth? Sin does not make you fall from grace. Trusting in your own righteousness to get you saved, keep you saved, or prove you are saved does. Trying to be justified by the law (through works) does. Are you trying to be justified through your works? Are you teaching others that they must show fruit, do good works, turn from sin, and be holy, or else they might not be truly saved?
If your gospel adds anything regarding behavior or lifestyle to the finished work of Jesus Christ, you are following or promoting a false gospel.
“This only would I learn of you, received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” Gal. 1:2-3
The simple gospel: no incentive to do good?
If your gospel is anything other than putting your trust in the death, burial & resurrection of Jesus Christ for the payment of your sin, then this is a “new gospel”—one that is not another, but one that perverts the simple gospel of Christ. Many think and teach that if we just rested in the security of God’s grace, then we would have no incentive to actually do good works. It is based on fear, much like the fear I lived with for most of my life. And it is based on unbelief: not believing God.
“He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” 1 John 5:10-11
In this twisted gospel:
- Grace insecurity = incentive to be holy and thus become worthy of grace.
- Love insecurity = incentive to keep serving & proving you are worthy of love.
- Eternal life insecurity = keep repenting and living in holiness, just in case.
Only someone who does not understand the depth of the love of God or the true nature of His grace will believe this or teach this. And when one does not truly understand grace they will redefine it, put conditions on it, or put warning labels on it.
In effect, they shut up the kingdom of heaven against men—they neither go in themselves or allow those who are entering to go in. Scripture tells us plainly that there ARE THOSE who pervert the gospel. And the person doing this may be someone you dearly love…or even yourself.
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Gal. 1:6-7 “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” 1 Tim. 4:1
I share this with you with great urgency, beloved! The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Jesus IS coming soon and I beg you to hear my heart in this!
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matt. 7:13-15
I believed and earnestly shared a false gospel for years. On the outside, my lifestyle looked righteous. I looked like a godly young woman. I knew I was unworthy; that my own righteousness is as filthy rags. However, because of my unworthiness, I thought I had to do something to show God that I KNEW just how unworthy I was, and work hard to make up for it.
I knew I was guilty of sin; however, because of my guilt, I wanted to do something to make it right. Through this unbelief, this lack of trust and understanding—and even with good intentions, maybe?—I perverted the grace of God. Through my unbelief in His love, I created a twisted gospel that said His work on the cross was not enough to save me from my sins for all eternity. I had to suffer, do penance, turn from sin, serve, keep trying, persevere, and so much more.
Oh, how grieved I am! And oh, how grateful I am for the mercy, forgiveness and grace of God! And this is why I am so passionate about the simplicity of the gospel of the grace of God that Jesus gave directly to the Apostle Paul for us, so that we can be saved. Scripture warns against those who add to it, who teach that faith in the finished work of Jesus is not enough.
But it is perversion to add anything to what Paul declared, whether it is saying that we must bear fruit, be holy, turn from sin, or anything else to be saved, to stay saved, and prove we are saved. Their message sounds so good and appeals to the part of us that wants to atone for our sin.
And it’s important to know that these people are not monsters. They might be your favorite teacher on YouTube or your favorite author or “Christian” speaker. They might be your sister, your best friend, your husband or wife. They might look holy, like I did. They might look godly, like I did. They write holy things. They show the “fruit of the Spirit.” And they appeal to the “flesh” that does not want to rest in “just having faith.” They appeal to the flesh that loves religion, self-discipline, holiness through hardship, works and measurable results—all things that are SEEN, whereas faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things UNSEEN. They appeal to the flesh nature, which hates the fact that we are ALL equally sinners in the eyes of God…from the disobedient child to the murderer…all equally sinful and deserving of death.
Scripture tells us the wages of sin is DEATH. Not holiness. Not acts of service. Not years of penance. Not repentance. Not keeping the sabbath. Not being a good person. Not being a good Christian. Not keeping the law. Nothing but death pays the debt of sin.
The gospel is the good news that because God loves you, He sent His only begotten Son to die in your place. And …
“…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Rom. 10:9-13
It is only through the patient kindness and mercy of God that He opened my eyes and heart to the truth that it is simply by trusting in the finished work of Christ that I am saved, sealed and secure FOREVER.
And this is what I want you to know: the difference.
- The difference between loving because you are terrified of being rejected, and loving because you are already accepted.
- The difference between living with the torment of fear and living in the confidence of God’s unconditional love.
- The difference between exhausting yourself to prove you are devoted to God and resting in His finished work.
- The difference between doing good works because you don’t want to lose your salvation, and doing good works because you are on your face in tears everyday because you are SO THANKFUL for the salvation that God has freely given!
- The difference between dreading the appearing of Jesus because you don’t know if He will say that you’re a goat, “depart from me, I never knew you”…and LONGING for His appearing because you love Him and cannot wait to be in His presence.
- The difference between service out of obligation and service out of desire.
….and I could go on and on, but what I want you to know is that once you really get how loved you are, and what a GOOD, truly good Father we have, everything changes. You WANT to do these things, out of pure devotion and gratitude, not out of terror and obligation. God is so good. Believe Him. Believe Him. Believe what He says. Believe the gospel. Trust that what Jesus did for you is enough. Let the Holy Spirit work in you. Don’t try to be someone else’s Holy Spirit. Serve Christ because of what He did for you, not in order to be more holy or righteous.
If you truly believed in the goodness, grace, and mercy of God, and the love God has for you, how would you live? What would your life look like? How would a response to God’s tender love blossom in your life?
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:” 1 Tim. 1:7-10
“for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;” Phil. 1:5-6
“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” Romans 8:31-33
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” 1 John 5:13
But what about, “If you love Me, keep my commandments?”
Yes. If you love Me.
Not “if you are afraid of Me.” Not, “if you want to avoid being sent to hell.” Not “so you won’t embarrass Me.” Not, “if you want Me to accept you.” Not, “so you’ll be a good witness.” Not, “so you can prove your faith.”
If you love Me.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John 4:18-19
Your love for Jesus is a response to the truth of what He did for you. Really understanding what Jesus did by FREELY and unconditionally paying for your sins with His own death can’t help but make you love Him with the kind of devotion He longs for. As you walk in the Spirit and grow in the faith, your response to His love will be doing the things He says. You don’t make an apple grow. A tree grows a branch. A branch grows a twig. A twig grows a flower. A flower grows an apple. The apple is the direct result of the twig and the branch and the tree…and so much more, but an apple can’t make itself grow.
When you believe the gospel and are saved, you are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. And your lifetime of faith presents to you a choice: you can walk in the flesh, or you can walk in the Spirit. We who believe have the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us. If we walk in the Spirit, we will bear the fruit of it. “Abide in Me,” Jesus said.
“Jesus didn’t do sin to become sin. We don’t do righteousness to become righteous.”—Michael Lehre
You are so loved. You are loved more than you will ever know. (Click to Source)
Recommended reading: Galatians 5
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