BY MATT JOHNSON
Is there ever a time in a Christian’s life when there is less need for grace?
Think about it. God’s grace can quickly become theoretical and it plays out in our churchy practices and attitudes all the time. What if a homeless drunk began showing up to church services, but he’s really slow to change? He will need a lot of grace in order to live the sanctified life.
You’re on a Bible-reading plan, you tithe regularly, and you lead a small-group study. All things considered, life is going pretty well spiritually. Praise God for that, but in light of your spiritual growth, do you ever need less grace than the alter call drunk?
Technically, a good theologian would never allow one to say there is ever less need for grace, but the way we live and the lack of patience we have for others tells a different story.
In most churches, chances are that poor drunk has roughly three to six months to get his act together, and that’s if he’s lucky (depending on the patience of his pastor or small-group leader). To be fair, in most evangelical churches, drunks that respond to alter calls get tons of love and acceptance and that’s as it should be. But he’s also unwittingly put on a timeline. The warm acceptance he experienced has a shelf life, and he’ll need to prove to somebody that he’s been taking his spiritual vitamins and making progress. Otherwise, if it’s suspected that maybe it wasn’t a real conversion, he’ll need to recommit or become born again… again.
Christians know that the gospel gets them in, but there is an unspoken notion that staying in has to do with winning efforts. This could translate into a need for less grace, but as Paul said to the Galatians, you don’t get waved through the door by flashing a spiritual superhero resume. You get in because of the one brokering the deal (the Spirit) and through the perfect work of your elder brother (Jesus). That is, you’re not perfected by works of the flesh, but by the Spirit (Galatians 3:3).
You are a passive recipient of the grace of God not only at your point of conversion, but in the day-to-day Christian life until your dying day. God in Christ served you then, and he serves you now. In Bible-talk, Christ is your sanctification. That is, after God declares sinners not guilty on account of Christ’s work on the cross (justification), they are simultaneously set apart, cleansed, and made holy (sanctification).
Without foundational sanctification, there’s no hope of ongoing sanctification. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:30, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption…” Get that? Jesus became your sanctification.
The point is there is bedrock to this holiness whether you become a daily devotion rockstar or not.
Jesus is our definitive sanctification, and believers receive this sanctification passively.
You don’t have to strive for this sanctification, and this gives us solid ground for growth that would otherwise be impossible.
The alter call drunk example above is an easy target. In a sense, that guy has an advantage because his sin is more clear.
How about you? You may not have a problem with drinking, but maybe there’s something else in your life that’s out of control? Pride? Overachieving in your service to the church? A judgmental attitude towards others who don’t have their devotional life dialed in?
If we’re honest, whether you’re the alter call drunk or the nitpicking devotee, we are all a little slow to change. But there’s good news! When growth in sanctification seems slow, we point to Christ, his work on the cross, and that he is ultimately our sanctification, not our works. We all need the grace of Jesus as our definitive sanctification. And there’s never a day that we don’t need it straight up, 100 proof.
Matt is a husband, father to two little girls, and is an armchair student of theology. He is a freelance writer and editor with a penchant for redemptive snark. Until recently, Matt spent 7 years as an associate volunteer pastor in counseling and recovery ministry. Many moons ago Matt forwent a proper education and traveled the country playing drums in 90 Pound Wuss, Roadside Monument and other bands you've never heard of. He likes long walks on the beach, puppies, and has questionable taste in music.