Popular author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Whether or not you agree, we all know that it takes a tremendous amount of self-effort to become world-class in any area. Success through self-effort is logical and natural to our human mind.
One thing I've noticed recently is that religion by self-effort is also natural to the human heart. By contrast, the idea of grace (treating people better than they deserve) sounds unreasonable and illogical. As a result, grace had to be revealed. It can never be discovered.
Grace is the central news of Christianity. The gospel is all about Jesus. In short, the gospel emphasizes what Jesus did for us, not what we have done or are supposed to do for him. When we lose sight of the centrality of Christ, we easily fall into the subtle trap of religion by human effort. We may initially trust Jesus as our Savior, but after that, it's easy to live the rest of our Christian life by trying harder and harder to become the person we know we should be. The call of the gospel is freeing because it calls us to quit trying and start trusting. Here is the scriptural basis for living by faith not human effort.
Jesus for us
This is the foundation of the gospel. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). The focus is on what Jesus did for us, not what we have done to gain his approval. Forgiveness by good works is impossible.
Jesus with us
Jesus promised that he and his Father would make their home with us. We are never alone. Jesus walks through life with us every moment of every day. He never leaves us (John 14:17, 18, 23; Matthew 28:20).
Jesus in us
Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in us (I Corinthians 6:19). The apostle Paul defined authentic Christianity as a living person, living in, a living person; Christ in us. Do you realize that Christ Jesus lives in you? (II Corinthians 13:5)
Jesus changes us
God takes the responsibility for changing a new heart into a mature heart. He works in us and on us until we reflect the likeness of his son. This spiritual growth process is gradual, on-going, and from the Lord (II Corinthians 3:18).
Jesus works through us
The ministry of Jesus is what he does through us, not what we do for him (Acts 14:27).
Jesus as us
This is the fullness of the gospel news. We have been crucified with Christ and no longer live. Jesus is our life. He is living in us, through us, and as us (Galatians 2:20). Despite our weaknesses, Jesus is able to reveal himself through our humanity (II Corinthians 4:10-11).
After his resurrection of the dead, the gospel of John records one of Jesus' first encounters with his followers. What Jesus revealed them concerning the meaning of the resurrection is the same thing he reveals now:
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said that, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:19-22).
After His resurrection, Jesus offered the disciples GRACE. Jesus gave them peace and a purpose. He sent them and equipped them by his Spirit.
Christ-centered living sets us free. It means we have nothing to prove or defend. We simply trust that Jesus gave his life for us, lives his life in us and continues his work through us. Jesus is both the author and finisher of our faith. The grace of Jesus is the central gospel message. By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me (I Corinthians 15:10).
Author:Paul Schlieker www.bible-study-lesson-plans.com
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Discussion ideas for your small group or Sunday School class:
1. Why is it difficult to accept that the gospel news is about Jesus and what He did, not about us and what we do?
2. What is freeing about trusting instead of trying?
3. Which of the six Jesus sections is most meaningful to you today?
4. How does God show His grace to you daily?
5. How does God's grace enable you to work hard (see I Corinthians 15:10)?