So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. Romans 7:21 (NIV)
In my younger days, before I knew Christ, I used to be a “live and let live” person. I had a few scruples and lines I was unwilling to cross personally, but mostly my attitude was, “Hey, if that’s what you want to do and you are not hurting someone else go ahead! It’s just not something I would do.”
When I became a Christian I swung hard to the right and became very black and white. It was either completely right or completely wrong. In so doing I became quite a legalistic thinker and a Pharisee, although I didn’t see it that way at the time. What I believed was that I was being quite holy because I was not participating in things that other people did. I lived that way for a number of years and over time became judgmental and prideful in my heart.
When I began to understand grace and gain glimpses of what freedom in Christ means from a biblical perspective I found that as a result of black and white thinking I had become a performance oriented Christian. I was seeing approval and blessing from God based on what I did instead of who I am in Christ. Many of the women I counsel are stuck in this place, thinking that unless I perform right God won’t bless me, I will be out of favor with God, He won’t bring good things into my life and the bad things that happen to me are because I did or didn’t do something. This is horrible bondage.
I wonder at times if I slipped too far in the other direction with this realization. I was greatly influenced by Jerry Bridges Transforming Grace and Chuck Swindoll’s The Grace Awakening, both of which give an enormous scope and magnitude to the grace of God. I learned that God is only pleased with me because I am in Christ. Not because I “do good” or “am good” because apart from Christ, neither is possible! I also learned that the good that I do is not to gain God’s favor, but in reality the good that I do is a response to all that I now understand that God has done for me! These were wonderful revelations and I ran from the black and white Pharisee that I had been.
The down side of this was it suddenly became easier to let little sin slide and to be less conscientious about righteousness. This was not good either. I knew grace was not cheap and my freedom in Christ was not easily attained however I was really enjoying the knowledge that I was safe and accepted, no matter what.
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13 (NIV)
Romans 6 was a great help to me in understanding that while I have incredible liberty in Christ, I must be careful in using it. Black and white is not good and “too much grace” is not good either. Too much of either lands one in a ditch of legalism or self-indulgence.
Enter gray. Two times in 1 Corinthians Paul says, “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23). This is a very true statement.
Should the life of a Christian be dominated by Law or should it be dominated by grace? I believe the answer is grace, however our desire to honor and glorify God by our thoughts, conduct and words has to take precedence over what we want. The response to the abundant grace we live in is not to be one of licentiousness and sexual immorality or lying or swearing. Our response to grace must be tempered by the stark reality that grace- freedom- was not free. It came at an incredibly high price, the life of one innocent Man.