Evidences of Living by Grace




As I come to the end of this two-week series on grace, I hope I have encouraged your heart and challenged you to consider what it means to live by grace. You might wonder what might show you were moving in that direction in your daily life. In the book review that got the series started, Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges, the author points to some clues that show evidence of that.


One of the first evidences that show we are experiencing living by grace is gratitude. We are keenly aware of how great the gift of God’s grace is and continues to be. That awareness fosters gratitude and gives honor to the Lord for such an incredible gift. As we grow in Him, we discover that no matter how wonderful we thought the gift was at salvation, it is more magnificent than that and our lives reflect it.


0c253efa7d594d9a76d699ed5c9e941cGratitude is the quality of being thankful and a readiness (perhaps eagerness) to show appreciation for and a desire to return kindness. When I say that we get in touch with even more about grace after we have walked with Him for some time, it is because we recognize with gratitude it is His grace that has kept us and helped us become more Christlike. That spurs us on to desire to grow even more and recognize the ability comes from Him when we do.


The second evidence we are living by grace is contentment. When we are grateful/thankful our focus is on what we have in every area of our lives rather than on what we do not. As we are walking daily with the Lord, we recognize what we do have is by His grace. No matter what our station or situation in life, a deep awareness of grace results in an inner contentment. This could be akin to a “peace that passes understanding”.


Sadly, it can be easy to experience discontentment. It stems from comparing what we have to what others may have, believing we deserve more than we have gotten, and questioning whether God has been fair to us. This kind of discontentment points to the truth that we have lost touch with grace that we received when we didn’t deserve any of it.


Jerry Bridges says this about contentment:


“…contentment arising in our souls from living by grace – that is, from realizing we have not received what we actually deserve, but daily receive what we don’t deserve – brings great wealth of spirit, even if we are living in poverty and obscurity.”


 The third evidence of living by grace is humility. True humility is not saying there is nothing good in us and dwelling on how undeserving we truly are, but recognizing instead that whatever good there may be stems from the grace of God. True humility fb10289099b5de34e0495137ea506edd--gods-grace-grace-omalleygives credit to whom it is due.


True humility is not responding with self-deprecation when we receive a compliment or some honor for something we have done. That focuses on us…the opposite of true humility. Humility expresses thanks for the compliment or honor, but then acknowledges and points to the work of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace within us as the source of the achievement.


Forbearance is a word not often used in the current day, but Jerry Bridges notes it is a character trait of someone living by grace. We are more familiar with the word patience than forbearance. Forbearance actually means, “to put up with”. If we are exhibiting forbearance in our relationships that stems from gracious grace within us, it is not something we do with complaining or a grudge.


I was especially taken by the words of Jerry Bridges about this in Transforming Grace:


 “…God has to constantly put up with our faults and failures. Not only are we faulty and thoughtless in our relationships with one another, more importantly, we are faulty and thoughtless in our relationship with God. We do not honor and reverence Him as we should.”


A few paragraphs later Bridges’ adds:


“The more we have a heartfelt comprehension of God’s love for us, the more we will be inclined to love others. And since love covers a multitude of faults, the more we will be inclined to be patient with one another. So patience (forbearance) ultimately grows out of recognition of God’s grace in our lives.”


 The final evidence of living by grace is forgiveness. It is a close companion of forbearance, but it differs in a critical way. If we have forbearance or patience with others, we do so because of some unintentional way someone has responded or not responded that irritated or disappointed us. When they have intentionally said or done something that hurts us, then we need grace to remind us of what we received despite our own permanent bankruptcy to offer forgiveness.


Looking at this list might be daunting. If so, remember you cannot accomplish any of this except through appropriating and living by grace every day. Giving God’s grace reign to do so, yielding out of love for Him to the work of the Holy Spirit is the only way. Then we are transformed and He is honored and glorified.



Our Insufficiency Leads to His Sufficiency


Rocky Mts., Alberta, Canada
Rocky Mts., Alberta, Canada


Okay. I didn’t say I was going to write a series about grace because I had not actually planned to do that. BUT after reviewing Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges and delving and reflecting more deeply on this incredible gift, it has brought me to my fifth post on the subject.


Maybe one of the reasons we struggle so much in grasping the reality of God’s grace starts with our difficulty in acknowledging how insufficient we are.


Affirming our insufficiency opposes the pride lurking beneath the battle. We not only must come to grips with our sin (even if we were not thinking we were all that bad), but we need to admit our utter weakness and inability to manage to be who He calls us to be for even an hour. We also need to understand that we were created for dependence on God. In this era of self-discovery, independence, and autonomy, that can be a hard concept to accept at times.


Most of us do not discover the truth of our insufficiency when life is going relatively smoothly. It’s when we are in the pit of despair, gripped by fear and uncertainty, lost in loneliness, or overwhelmed by grief that the truth dawns: we have no place to turn other than to God.


In a commentary written by P.C. Craigie talking about the Israelites in the Old Testament, we can find a great example:


“The wilderness makes or breaks a man: it provides strength of will and character. The strength provided by the wilderness, however, was not the strength of self-sufficiency, but the strength that comes from a knowledge of the living God.”


How well do we really know Him, this God, this Jesus?


We learn to know Him best in the hard times when we even doubt He is there for us at all. We learn to know Him best when we come to the end of ourselves and surrender. Then we begin to recognize more fully that God’s grace is a gift to us to glorify Him!


During long seasons of challenges and dark valleys when no light appears to us we can be tempted to question whether or not the grace we at first received will run out and see us through to the end.


Jerry Bridges gives an excellent example from the Old Testament to answer our wondering:


“God’s distribution of the manna illustrates the way He distributes grace. There is always an ample supply; no one ever need go without. But there is only as much as we need – and even that is on a day-to-day basis. God doesn’t permit us to ‘store up’ grace. We must look to Him anew each day for a new supply. Sometimes we must look for a new supply each hour!”


 A few pages later, Bridges adds the bottom line on it:


“And you will never exhaust the supply of God’s grace. It will always be there every day for you to appropriate as much as you need for whatever your need is.”


 We need that grace on days that are not upended as well as on ones that have left us frantic or spent. We need that grace to speak lovingly to our spouse, our children, or the friend who calls when we have no time to listen. We need that grace to sort out our budget, prepare our ministry responsibilities, and handle any jobs assigned to us. We need that grace to appropriate what God asks of us in our walk with Him.


Well-known Puritan theologian, John Owen, put it this way:


“Yet the duties God requires of us are not in proportion to the strength we possess in ourselves. Rather, they are proportional to the resources available to us in Christ. We do not have the ability in ourselves to accomplish the least of God’s tasks. This is the law of grace. When we recognize it is impossible for us to perform a duty in our own strength, we will discover the secret of its accomplishment. But alas, this is a secret we often fail to discover.”


 As all of these truths about grace soak in to deeper levels, we can receive God’s grace to let go of any remnant of self-sufficiency and rest in His sufficiency that is always more than enough.


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Evening sunset



What Compels Us?




What influences us toward being more like the Lord?


As I have been writing about grace the past few posts as a result of my digging into Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges, the tendency to slip into legalism in our Christian life has been so clear. That legalism makes our response to the Lord more about duty. In the midst of that we cease to be engrossed by the lavish glory of grace and that is exactly what we must hold onto because it holds us in gratitude. It is then gratitude that provokes to a loving response to God’s grace instead of duty-laced legalism.


Do we have a duty or obligation to God? Jerry Bridges’ answers the question this way:


“He is the sovereign Ruler of this world, and in that capacity, He has “laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed” (Psalm 119:4). But He motivates us to obedience, not on the basis of His sovereign rule, but on the basis of His mercy to us in Jesus Christ.”


 What compels us to obedience reflects our motivation for all that we do and I think that is significant to the Lord, more so than our performance. We are not often very astute judges of our performance any way. We make our judgment from comparison to some standard set by some other human being as naturally flawed as we are. God looks not only at what we did, but He looks at our heart. He sees all of us, sees what we miss.


The word motivation often gets used with how strongly we feel about doing something, about drive or passion. Jerry Bridges reminds us of a broader understanding:


“Motive has nothing to do with feelings or inclination; rather it refers to the reason why we do, or don’t do, something. For the person living by grace, that reason should be a loving response to the abundant grace of God already manifested in Christ.”


 Our self-motivation too often shows up in what compels us to do or not do something. It has much to do with what others will think and perhaps even what God will think. Where God is concerned that gets us solidly into the performance mentality about whether we earn or lose some favor from the Lord by the choice we make to do or not do something.


Maybe the issue also exposes our tendency to love, trust, or obey the Lord because of what He does, forgetting that His worthiness comes from who He is.


Perhaps our challenge of loving the Lord or others well comes because we are not experiencing living by grace daily. An awareness of grace in its fullest sense frees us to love.


Too often we start focusing on so many aspects of the Christian walk of faith that things get out of balance in our heads. It happens to all of us at some point. The antidote to that might be what Jerry Bridges suggests:


“When you focus on grace in the fullness of its meaning, you will keep the law, liberty, and love in their proper relationship to one another. But if you focus on any one of them instead of on grace, you will invariably end up in the swamp of legalism or license.”


 One of the powerful evidences of God’s grace is His patience with us as we grapple with the unspeakable riches He offers us through His grace pouring out to us from a love we still struggle to fathom.







Why We Must Cling to Grace



Our performance mentality can cause us to believe we need the grace of salvation because we did some awful things. We come to the acknowledgment that we failed, failed repeatedly in many ways, and life isn’t working out very well at all. We see that we are morally a mess and our best attempts are not good enough, but sin isn’t just about actions despite our performance construct that tempts us to believe that.


Our attitudes and the condition of our hearts are the issue.


Look at how Dr. C. Samuel Storms describes it in The Grandeur of Grace:


“The first and possibly most fundamental characteristic of divine grace is that it presupposes sin and guilt.

 Grace has meaning only when men are seen as fallen, unworthy of salvation, and liable to eternal wrath…

 Grace does not contemplate sinners merely as undeserving but as ill-deserving…It is not simply that we do not deserve grace, we do deserve hell.”


Sometimes I think we need to let that soak in a bit more than we often do. Yes, even on our best days…even if we have not committed some crime we believe is punishable by death, we still are fallen and grace has been granted when what we deserved was hell.


Let me share one thing more from Dr. Storms’ words that make the truth vibrant and crystal clear:


“Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to bestow it in the presence of human merit…Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to withdraw it in the presence of human demerit…Grace is treating a person without the slightest reference to deserving whatsoever, but solely according to the infinite goodness and sovereign purposes of God.”


 Wow!! His words make clear a truth we cannot help but see.


I wish I had understood that more fully earlier in my walk with the Lord. I easily slipped into performance mentality and also accepted much of the Christian legalism of what I should or ought to do as a good believer.


One of the areas it was evident was in the area of spending time reading in the Word. As a child the Bible had fascinated me and more than once my mother chided me when she found me with a flashlight under the covers reading it when I was supposed to be sleeping. As a teen when I formally accepted Christ, I started hearing about all kinds of reading plans I should be using and even ones that gave me the order I was supposed to read. It lost some of its joy and became a bit more duty and when I failed to keep up with the plan or read the number of chapters assigned, I felt the Lord must be disappointed in me.


In early adulthood some of those same feelings lingered until I experienced a fresh renewal of Him in my early thirties. Again, I devoured the Word and felt the Lord speaking to me through it. I didn’t look at plans to read it. I just couldn’t wait to dig into it each day. I still heard from many sources how I should be doing it, but I largely ignored them all.


Plans are not a bad thing. They help give us a disciplined path and can be helpful at different times and seasons because they help us look at the whole Bible versus just certain books or passages we know or love. But they can also lend themselves to getting tangled up with our performance mentality construct.


In recent years I have discovered some plans that I enjoy, but what is most valuable to me has been how I have discovered grace evident from Genesis to Revelation. In doing so I have also recognized that the Word is meant to be a dialogue between the Lord and me. Reading in it is not a passive experience, but it is a deeply personal one where I am responding in a conversational way (often with journal in hand).


I love how Judith Kunst talks about this in The Burning Word:


“The Jewish way of reading, I am learning, is less about progressing than about digging in, holding on — not passing through words but dwelling in them and on them, under them and around them.”


Jerry Bridges uses a metaphor to describe the facets of grace that I enjoy. He writes about how an engaged couple looks for that special diamond in a jewelry store. The sales associate will lay each diamond ring on a dark velvet pad. The dark pad enhances the beauty and sparkle of each stone. His metaphor for grace reads as follows:


 “Our sinful condition hardly qualifies as a velvet pad, but against the dark background of guilt and moral pollution, God’s grace in salvation sparkles like a beautiful, clear, and flawless diamond.”


 Maybe we also need to acknowledge one of the mindsets that cloud our understanding of living by grace is our old nemesis…pride.


R.C. Sproul addressed this as follows:


“Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God’s grace and God’s grace alone for our salvation (and every day after). It is difficult for our pride to rest on grace.”




That is exactly what Jesus invites us to do. He wants us to rest in Him, abide in Him. That means we will be utterly and completely dependent on Him and His grace. Only His grace each day will allow us to do so.






The Performance Treadmill


In every area of life we are measured by our performance. It starts happening at the very beginning of our life. How soon we sit up, talk, walk, or achieve some other milestone implies something about our abilities, attitudes, and aptitudes. It multiples when we enter school, become involved in some sport or form of the arts. And it keeps on going into any and all areas of employment.


We measure ourselves by our performance.


We must perform in order to achieve success, or a good grade, or a promotion. We must perform well in order to have others think well of us. We step on the performance treadmill in every area of our lives. We also fall prey to believing all we are is our performance. Additionally, we struggle with the reality that our performance in any and all areas varies from day to day so we can become even more driven.


The sad truth is this same habit can bleed into our spiritual lives as well. We rejoice in the grace extended to us at salvation, but falter on the shoals of disappointment because we cannot keep the new standards we now want to live by and the ones too many other believers set for us. We start trying to become a “successful” Christian who performs consistently, never tires, rarely (if ever) falls, delves into every spiritual discipline with fervor, and becomes a great prayer warrior. We believe somehow the Lord will love us more and grant us greater favor or blessings if we perform well.


We have missed what it means to live by grace and grace alone. Too often our discipler, mentor, or small group leader doesn’t mention this topic or spend much time helping us understand it.


We knew (as Jerry Bridges says) that we were spiritually and morally bankrupt when we first came to the Lord. We know our performance cannot gain heaven for us, but we suspect or believe that we can earn more favor or blessings from the Lord by our performance. When that performance falters as it always does, we doubt the Lord’s love for us and the joy of His grace can get eroded bit by bit.


We have lost hold of a foundational truth:


Our debt (past, present, and future) has been paid in full. The Lord does not keep a scorecard on each of us based on our performance to grant or withhold blessings.


Too often we buy into the lie that it is just the opposite. We are set up for that because of all our experiences in life before salvation as well as how our culture esteems success. The enemy also loves it when we do because he has distracted us from the truth. If we stay distracted long enough, he may seduce us into giving up on the Christian life, walk away from fellowship with the body of Christ, dismiss the truth of His Word as not applying to us, and decide we are too unworthy to even utter a prayer.


I wish this statement by Jerry Bridges would be given to every new believer at the point of accepting the Lord:


“Grace does not first rescue us from the penalty of our sins, furnish us with some new spiritual abilities, and then leave us on our own to grow in spiritual maturity.”


We are justified by grace and ultimately glorified by grace when we leave this life to live with Christ. But we forget our life with Him, our Christian life, is also based on grace, not on works.


Grace is the heart of the gospel. But in our efforts to do well, “make the grade”, prove our faith is what we say it is, we can miss the biblical truth of grace.


“Grace is always the same, whether God exercises it in saving us or in dealing with us as believers. In whatever way the Bible defines saving grace, that same definition applies in the arena of living the Christian life day by day.” Jerry Bridges


And that is freedom in Christ…that is what allows us to rest in Him as He walks with us through the progressive work of sanctification. It is what nurtures our relationship with Him and holds us steady in the midst of the storms of life.


It’s all about grace, not only at salvation but also for every minute of every day after that.