I just learned that the Greek word to justify (phonetically: dik-ah-yo, # 1344) also means to free, to declare righteous.  Since as a Calvinist I believe that we are saved only by grace, grace is always on my mind.   And recently books, blogs and sermons on living or walking by grace have converged to grab my attention.  If repetition is the key to effective education, then I have absorbed the message. Apparently, this message could not have come at a better time: “Needs rescuing!” has been my epithet.

Like most Christians, I grew up in a legalistic culture, both in the church and in society.  “Be a good girl,” has been the life-sucking, pride-producing shackle that I have willingly worn.

What a ‘good girl’ looks like depends on the culture one is in.  In civic society, one is considered ‘good’ if one pursues education, works out, keeps up the yard, volunteers, etc.  In evangelical circles, one is considered a ‘good’ Christian if one has a quiet time and family devotions, goes on mission trips, serves at church, and raises conforming and polite children.  All these are ‘good’ things, but the danger to Christians is similar to that faced by Odysseus as he navigated the perilous and narrow strait between the Scylla and the Charybdis.

If we walk the path of Law (following the rules in order to earn Christian ‘brownie points’) one of two consequences will ensue.  Either we fail to meet the standards,  condemn ourselves and suffer disapproval from others.  Or, we believe we have succeeded in our own strength, take the glory and revel in our accomplishments.  There you have it: Draining condemnation or prideful strutting (however sophisticated & subtle)

There is a better way.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. (John 14:6)   Jesus’ way is the way of freedom.  When we accept the Creator’s assessment that we are sick (totally depraved with a long legal rap that qualifies us for God’s wrath) and turn and embrace the medicine offered (mercy) we are set free by God.  In exchange for trusting both God’s diagnosis and remedy, Jesus pays off our penalty and credits us with his perfect righteousness.

In addition to this priceless gift, we are given the supernatural, powerful Holy Spirit both as a deposit guaranteeing our future inheritance (perpetual pleasure at the right hand of God) and also as power for living in the flesh.

It works like this.  Jesus said He did not abolish the Law when He gave us the new covenant.  Instead, He sent a helper, God himself.  As new creations bonded and fused with supernatural Holy Spirit power, we CAN obey the law. But something is different.  We no longer strive for obedience to win God’s favor and love.  We already have it (Jesus’ death proves it – when we were still failing at law-keeping, He died for us – Romans 5:8).  Tullian Tchividjian likens it to being assured by the teacher that you have the A before the class even starts. The teacher gives you a helper to get all the work done.  And with this helper’s presence and guidance, you are guaranteed the A. That’s a promise.  So why struggle on your own?

Foolishly we forget.  Paul chastises the Galatians and asks with genuine astonishment why they would want to revert back to their own power once they have been rescued from the futile illusion of self-dependence, autonomy.  After all, if we are saved by grace (the bigger miracle), why shouldn’t we walk/live by grace? (the lesser miracle)

There you have it: acceptance, freedom and power.  But where does the Law fit in? God gives us the law as a wise way to live, to please Him.  But He also gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to do what pleases Him.  We get His praise for pleasing Him and He gets the glory for enabling us to do so.  It’s a win-win system and much easier.  We know where we stand – basking with love and acceptance from our Father in the inner circle of the throne.   We are totally loved and totally secure.  Out of love, and with Holy Spirit enablement, we then aim to please Him, knowing that we cannot fail.

What’s the hitch, ‘le hic’ as they say in French?  It’s that every hour we forget about grace.  Our default setting is works.  We have to remember what Christ has done for us.  This is where good Christian friends can help.  The author of Hebrews exhorts us, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebr 10:24).  The best deed is to point our friends to the Cross.  Jesus said, “It is finished”. Revel in and comfort yourself with the fact that all the work has been done.  Look to the cross and be free from both the condemnation and the boasting that result from living by the flesh.