"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:11-13)I once had an friend who was a believer and who smoked. He was upset at some other believers because he felt they judged him for smoking. His response was that he was free to smoke because, after all, he was "not under the law but under grace." This story is not about smoking but about what is the role of grace is in our lives. For him, grace was an excuse, a pass, to let him live his life however he chose. What ever deficiencies were in his life, what ever bondage, whatever character and moral flaws were his, they were all excused and permitted under the grace of God. However, is this the nature of true grace?
With the resurrection of Jesus Christ, grace has been dispensed to all men offering salvation to all who might choose it. However, salvation is not a singular moment in our lives but a life long process of continual healing, protecting, restoring, and making whole. Salvation begins when we accept God's grace and place our hope and trust in the finished work of Christ, but salvation continues as we co-labor with the Holy Spirit in His mission to sanctify (cleanse) us and to conform us into the image of Jesus. Regarding our salvation, Paul tells us to, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13) Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews warns us of neglecting or resisting the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. "Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12:14)
The grace of God has come to save us, but once having been born anew, that same grace works to grow us up into the likeness and image of Christ. Here the grace of God does not come to excuse us, or to work as a cover for licentiousness, but rather to teach us how to live; how to live differently; how to live godly. The grace of God has come to teach us! I have known people whose lives were a repeating cycle of destruction: sin and immorality leads to destroyed relationships and broken lives that then leads them to repentance and restoration only to fall aging into their same sins and immorality. Around and around they go, never seeing to learn from their pain, never learning how to break the cycle of sin, never learning that they can live free and enjoy healthy relationships with God and man. They live the tragedy of a life that never find changes and never knows freedom.
Once we are saved, our lives are not instantly made perfect. We still carry with us our old desires and the wants and demands of the flesh. We need the tender training of the Holy Spirit to teach us how to deny ungodliness and to refuse worldly desires. We also need His grace to show us how to live life as it was meant to be lived. Life works when it is lived as it was designed. Through His instruction, mixed with God's love, favor, and strength, along with the hope an promise of Jesus' return for us, we will find all we need to pioneer new lives for ourselves and to become beacons of life for others. Let us rise up and accept the challenge of becoming new creatures in Christ.