This phrase, which many believe appears in sacred Scripture but most certainly does not, is received as great good news for all of us who want to maintain control of our own lives. If we do enough, we reason, if we work diligently and keep trying harder, God is obliged to help us, bless us, and make things go well for us.
This theory offers a great deal of control for those who believe it’s all up to them. They don’t have to trust in God; they need only trust in themselves. In his book Transforming Grace, which I highly recommend, Jerry Bridges sheds some light on just how common this problem is in today’s church:
My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our personal relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. If we’ve performed well—whatever “well” is in our opinion—then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works rather than by grace. We are saved by grace, but we are living by the “sweat” of our own performance.
Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to “try harder.” We seem to believe success in the Christian life (however we define success) is basically up to us: our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way. We give lip service to the attitude of the apostle Paul, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10), but our unspoken motto is, “God helps those who help themselves.”
The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience.
The good news of the Gospel is the truth that God’s blessings flow because of what Christ has done on our behalf, not what we do for ourselves. God helps us because of who we are in Christ, not because of what we do for Christ. We simply cannot broker God’s favor, and it is so marvelously liberating to know that there is nothing we can do or need to do in order to gain the blessings of our God. We already have been blessed and will be blessed because of Jesus!
For recovering Pharisees like me, this can be a hard truth to swallow. But it is the only truth that empowers us to live the kind of life Christ purchased for us by shedding His precious blood on the cross. When He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), He meant what He said! Not only has the price for our salvation been paid in full, so too has the full price been paid for our sanctification. The same grace that saved us is the same grace that sanctifies us—moment by moment—until He brings us home.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!