If you’re a loser who was raised in the evangelical church, particularly in a fundamentalist culture, but really any standard Baptist/Assembly of God/Holiness/etc. denomination (and there are a lot of us!), maybe you are wondering:
“Don’t I have to do something to get this grace? Don’t I have to accept it? And then, don’t I have to start living right to keep it?”
I am happy to tell you: no and no. The grace is there, for you, for me, for everyone, whether we accept it or not. If you don’t accept it, you will be missing out on … everything worthwhile in this world! But it’s a done deal. Christ’s death on the cross was the sacrament of His saving grace over you, whether you want it or not. He said, “I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). All peoples — that includes you, like it or not. So grace is there, it is happening, and you’d be crazy not to accept it.
But then you had another question. “Don’t I have to start living right to keep it?” No, and for the same reasons: the grace of God is a fact that we can’t negate, no matter what we do. In fact, a lot of the parables Jesus told seem to indicate that the only people who might, in fact, miss out on a joyful eternity with Him are the ones who insist that they can get there on their own good works without His freely given grace. So this would be the people who do start living right in order to “keep” His gift of grace!
And who are the people who might do that?
Not us losers! We know we are screw-ups! We know we can’t behave our way onto God’s good side. We know if we’re going to get there at all it’s going to be because of His total unmerited favor.
BUT the people who are used to winning — used to getting the prize they deserve because of their own hard work and native strength and goodness — they’re the ones who might be tempted to put their faith in their own ability to live right rather than in God’s grace!
Once again: we losers are out ahead of the game in this arena. It seems the most fatal thing you can do, once you have received God’s grace, is to assume that you have a part in keeping this grace working for you, and that your part is based on your good actions. You don’t, and it’s not.
The Apostle Paul makes that clear in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” It’s a gift, and a gift means: no strings attached. God’s love for you is unconditional, and His grace for you springs from that love.
Still and all, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone who had received God’s grace started behaving right? Well, yes, of course, it would be great. It would be great if everyone — period — started behaving right. It would be lovely. We should all behave just the best that we can. But what we don’t want to do is start telling ourselves (or anyone else) that our behavior is what makes us God’s beloved. Or worse, that our behavior can place us outside of God’s love. That is a very vicious thing to tell someone!
My poor old grand-dad was told by his Pentecostal Holiness church back in the day that smoking cigarettes was a sin, and sinners didn’t go to heaven, so despite his loving Jesus (and Jesus’ loving him!) he was going to hell unless he quit, which he couldn’t. My grandpa thought, to his dying day, that he was going to hell because he smoked. This is the pernicious end of the idea that our good behavior makes us more acceptable to God — or that our bad behavior makes us unacceptable to Him.
So don’t believe, and don’t tell other people, that behavior has the power to get God’s grace or lose it. God’s grace is a free gift to you, no matter what you do or don’t do before you receive it or in response to it. God just loves you, no matter what.