I loaned my copy of C. J. Mahaney’s incredible book, Living the Cross-Centered Life, to a co-worker who is a young believer trying to grow out of a severly sinful lifestyle. Bemoaning his lack of reading comprehension at times, he asked me what Mahaney meant when he wrote somewhere in the book (I haven’t seen the quote) something to the effect of, “even though I’m living in the flesh, I choose to live by faith.” Unclear as he was to the meaning of this statement, I told him I could only guess that the author meant that he was not going to rely on his own moral fortitude to be godly, but he was going to rely on God’s grace to empower him to obey his commands. He asked me to write something down about that, and the following is what came out of that effort. Hope you find it edifying, if not instructive in any way.
Rest in the Gospel–The Right Basis
The basis for your acceptance by God is the active and passive obedience of Christ. His active obedience is his 33 years of sinless obedience by which he earned eternal life for you; his passive obedience is his suffering and death on the cross, facing for you the consequences of your sin. Therefore, the basis for your acceptance by God is not your behavior. If the basis of your acceptance by God was your behavior, then you would be trying to earn some reward from God and you would be trying to avoid some punishment from God. The right motive for your behavior as a Christian is gratitude for Christ’s work for you.
Renew Your Gratitude–The Right Motive
Fear of punishment and hope of reward is the wrong motive for your behavior as a Christian; gratitude for Christ’s work is the right motive for your behavior as a Christian. Gratitude is what you feel when you are given a gift. When you earn what you have, you’re only thankful to yourself, and that’s not what glorifies God. Both the basis of your acceptance by God, the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection, and your response characterized by grateful behavior are given to you freely by God’s grace, not procured by your own strength.
Rely on Grace–The Right Source
Grace is not a force like electricity which makes our appliances work, it’s God’s good attitude toward you based on his satisfaction with the obedience and death of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. When you successfully resist temptation, and successfully obey his commands, he has granted this success to you as a gift of his gracious disposition toward you because of Christ.