Although I am focusing these days on the teaching of Paul, I realize I must keep in tension the teaching of James (emphasizing works/obedience) and John (emphasizing love) as well as the other writers of the bible. If I’m to understand what the Bible teaches, it’s best to study it within the context of the passage, the chapter, the book, the author, and the whole. But with that said, in light of my present study, I can’t help but stand amazed at grace. I say with John Newton “I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior!” Preaching the gospel of grace to myself everyday reminds me to extend that grace to others everyday. I think that’s why Paul was consumed with sharing the gospel of grace. It’s why he poured his heart out in his letters for the church to extend grace to one another inside the church and to proclaim grace to those without Christ who were outside the church.
Paul reminded us of how to live out grace in every situation we encounter …
Quoting those who considered themselves mature spiritually because they were intellectuals (“we all have knowledge”), he wanted us to fully understand that knowledge can give us a false sense of maturity (“puff up”). But it is the demonstration of grace in love that truly builds up and indeed displays spiritual maturity. “If someone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know to the degree that he needs to know. But if someone loves God, he is known by God. For us there is one God, the Father, from Whom are all things and for Whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom are all things and through Whom we live.”
Paul loved people so much, he did whatever it took for them to know the Jesus he knew and experience the grace he had experienced.
“Since I am free from all, I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more people… I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some. I do all these things because of the gospel, so that I can be a participant in it.”
Through his letters, Paul expresses the overflowing joy he feels due to his own personal experience of being drenched in grace and peace. His deepest desire is for everyone everywhere to know this joy and peace … “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more … just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord … we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand,
and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.”
As I study his teaching, I sense Paul’s struggle to communicate clearly the truths we must hold in tension! Knowing that people would be tempted to misuse grace as an excuse to do what they felt like doing instead of practicing obedience, he shares with us that even with our spiritual freedom (“everything is lawful”) comes an awareness of others’ weaknesses and needs. His desire to reach everyone with the grace he’d experienced (by becoming all things to them) did not mean to him that everything was actually beneficial to them nor does he think that everything we may feel free to do builds others up. So to make sure we truly understand how to live in grace and live out grace, he puts it simply: Do not seek your own good, but the good of the other person. Do not give offense to anyone, but try to please everyone in all things. And the reason he said to do it this way? Again he stressed the reason he did everything he did: “I do not seek my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.”
Clearly I have misunderstood biblical grace if I believe it to be some sort of justification to let selfishness and sin reign in my life. If I have truly experienced grace – the amazing kind – then I’ll care about the souls of people and I’ll do everything I possibly can to help them experience it. Maturity in Christ is just this: living selflessly for the sake of the salvation of the world.
Oh, to be absolutely convinced that to live is Christ and to die is gain!!