The Application of Grace by Steve Bezner

Christians believe in the gospel. Simply put, this means God became human in Jesus Christ, that this Jesus lived a sinless life, in his perfection died as an atoning sacrifice for sin, and was resurrected. Christians believe this life to be the vehicle of God’s grace—we are powerless to save ourselves, but God in Christ has reconciled us to himself. We were once enemies and against God. Now, through Jesus, we are reconciled.

Grace is what brings about that reconciliation.

Millions—if not billions—of people alive believe the previous paragraph to be truthful. They confess it freely. But the question many of them have is the next step beyond this confession of the gospel. “I believe the gospel to be true. But what do I do now? HOW do I grow spiritually?” For centuries, churches have recommended corporate worship, Bible study, prayer, and a host of other spiritual practices. But I’ve recently found that when people ask me how they are to grow spiritually, they are actually asking a different question. They are recognizing a universal experience in the Christian life—they are still tempted to sin.

If grace has justified me before God, how does grace change me over a lifetime? God gives His grace freely in Jesus Christ and in Scripture; the Christian journey is one of applying that grace to our brokenness over the course of a lifetime. The application of grace is the way we fight for holiness in life.

How, then, do you apply grace?

1. Identify the lie you believe.

We all believe lies about ourselves. These lies are different for each of us, but belief in lies is universal. The prophet Jeremiah puts it this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) You do not need to wonder whether you, too, believe lies about yourself. Instead, you must identify what the lies you believe are.

Our tendency is to focus on the concrete, to focus on our actions. We spot the actions or attitudes in our lives we do not like, and we want to change them. We make plans or resolutions and through sheer willpower, we change behaviors. This sort of behavior modification is good and works in many circumstances. We want to stop biting our nails, so we resolve to do so.

But the darkest places in our heart and actions are not able to be overcome by willpower, for those dark places are not about the actions. The dark places are about motives, attitudes, and loves. And these are the places where the lies reside. This is the place where anger, jealousy, insecurity, lust, lies, and fakery reside. And these sorts of motives and loves feed upon the lies. As Matthew 12:34-35 reminds us, “How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

If you want to apply the grace of Jesus to your life, you must be willing to spelunk into these dark places and examine your heart. You will need to ask some difficult questions to find the emotional and spiritual motives behind some of your actions. No easy answers are allowed in the dark places. Your emotions arise from the subject of your thoughts and the way you meditate upon them. You control your emotions and desires within the confines of your mind.

Think, for example, about irrational anger. Where does irrational anger originate? Anger often stems from a desire for control. I become angry when people do not perform to my expectations or when my plans become thwarted. If I have an anger problem, I most likely have a control problem. I believe a lie: I am entitled to a life I control.

What about those of us who desperately desire others to like us? Where does the desire to people-please come from? People-pleasing often originates from a belief that my self-worth originates with what others believe about my achievements, personality, and interactions. If I have a people-pleasing problem, I most likely have a self-worth problem. I believe a lie: My worth is created by what others believe about me.

How about a tendency to be hyper-critical? Why would my default attitude toward a person or experience begin with the negative rather than the positive? Why would I immediately seek to criticize the actions of another individual, particularly when I am unaware of the motives for his/her actions? A critical spirit often originates with a belief that others are criticizing me secretly (or perhaps not so secretly). If I do not point out the flaws in others, then only my flaws will be seen by the world. I believe a lie: I must point out the flaws in others so that people will not focus on my own flaws.

Addictive behavior often falls into the same sorts of motives and deception. I choose to look at pornography, drink excessively, or abuse illegal drugs because I believe that the pleasure I will receive from succumbing to my addiction will supersede all other pleasures available to me. I have convinced myself that peace comes through the thing I am addicted to; the behavior killing me is the one I believe best-suited to satiate my thirst. I believe a lie: The greatest pleasure in my life comes from participating in addictive behavior; I believe my provision and peace comes from something other than God. Or perhaps differently: I believe I have failed so much and so often that change is not possible.

As you’ve noticed by now, surface behavior is rarely the problem itself. Behaviors are often symptoms of something deeper within our hearts. We believe things about others, ourselves, the world, or God, and we then act upon those deeply held beliefs. Often those beliefs are so deeply rooted within our personality or our past that we cannot even immediately identify them. As a lifelong struggler of insecurity and people pleasing, it took multiple conversations with my wife and friends—along with extended time in prayer and reflection—to begin to notice the lies beneath my behaviors. Rooting out the lies we believe can often be the most difficult part of the process, for it often requires us to visit emotional and spiritual wounds we would prefer to forget or ignore.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”—Jeremiah 17:9

2. Find the grace-centered truth of Scripture.

The aforementioned spiritual lies are false thoughts taking up residence within our current belief structures. These false thoughts are causing us to behave in ways we know are in opposition to Kingdom living. In order to fight the lies, we must replace the false thoughts with the truth. The written source of truth for the Kingdom life is found in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament. In order to change our life, we must find the truth of Scripture and allow it to combat the lies. Hebrews 4:12 describes the Scripture as a sword, able to divide between soul and spirit. The truth found within the pages of the Bible must become the weapon you use. These lies are not new; humanity has been recycling the same lies for millenia.

To battle lies with the truth, we need to know the themes of Scripture. Because the lies we tell ourselves are not always about the outward symptom (drugs, pornography, etc.) but instead about heart motivations, we must ensure we are allowing the Word of God to speak to the lie itself, not simply the symptom. In the earlier example of anger, we noted a possible belief at the root of this problem: I believe I am entitled to a life I control. In order to combat this belief, I must find what the Bible says regarding control. And there I can find plenty:

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:24)

In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.—Job 12:10

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.—Romans 8:28

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.—Psalm 115:3

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.—Genesis 50:20

Repeatedly, Scripture testifies that the Lord is sovereign over all of creation. While I am allowed great freedom to act within the world, the Bible clearly states that everything is seen by His gracious eye and everything passes through His hand. If my anger stems from a desire to control, these (and many other) verses are essential. The lie? I am entitled to a life I control. The truth? God is in control and sovereign over my life.

This exercise is applicable for every lie in my life. When I believe I need the approval of others to find my self-worth, I look through Scripture and see verses like Ephesians 1:5: “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” The lie of others-approval is replaced with the truth that I have been adopted as a child of God into the Kingdom. I need no other human approval because I have been approved by God. If my issue is hyper-criticism, I find Matthew 7:1-2, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure yo use it will be measured to you.” If the lie is one of pleasure found in addictive behavior, I discover Colossians 3:24, “from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ,” or Deuteronomy 10:9, “The Lord is their inheritance.”

Once you have identified the lie you believe, finding the truth of Scripture becomes a quest. You will most likely be able to discover a few verses quickly using an Internet search, a concordance, or by consulting the study helps at the back of your Bible. But let me counsel you to not only settle on the easily discovered Scriptures; instead dive into the Bible every single day. Read the New Testament repeatedly—like any great text, it takes multiple readings to grasp its depth. Unlike other great texts, after a dozen readings you will still discover new insights. In fact, the more you read, the more the truth of God will be supplanting the lies within your mind. If you keep a running list of Scriptures with the truth that combats your resident lie, you will soon find you have an extensive arsenal of weaponry. Even further—and perhaps more important—the Bible is best understood when it is read and interpreted communally. You need to read the Scripture with other believers so that you can understand it. Deuteronomy 6 exhorted parents to teach their children in this way—talking about the Scripture as they journeyed together. If you read Scripture communally, allowing it to address the lies present in your life, you will quickly find the truth of Proverbs 27:17 coming to pass: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit.”—Hebrews 4:12

3. Apply the grace of Jesus.

Once you have stocked your arsenal with weaponry, you are now prepared for your fight.
And there will be a fight.

When temptation comes, you will be better-equipped to recognize it for what it is—the seduction to believe and act upon a lie. You will recognize your anger as the lie of control; you will know your desire for people-pleasing is actually your misguided understanding of self-worth.

And in the moment of decision, you must act decisively—you must choose to act upon the truth instead of the lie. This is a tension, to be sure. You are not justified by your action; you are justified by grace. But in that justified state, you are now freed to act upon grace as led by the Spirit. The Spirit’s leadership is found within the truths of Scripture. Therefore, you must remember the truths of Scripture you have amassed and act upon them. The gospel of grace means that you have been declared righteous in Christ, but it also means your will is free to act either in sin or in rebellion. By choosing to act upon the truth of Scripture rather than the lies of deception, I am actively giving life to the grace purchased at the cross. Acting upon Scripture instead of self-created lies is the practical application of the purchased grace of Jesus.

God is ultimately in control (Scripture), not me (lie), so I can resist anger.

God declares me to be a child of the King (Scripture), not others (lie), so I can resist the need to unnecessarily people-please.

God alone is the judge (Scripture), not me (lie), so I am not required to immediately and freely criticize the actions of others.

God is the ultimate pleasure and joy in life (Scripture), not my addictive behavior (lie), so I am free to enjoy Him.

Contemporary neurology affirms what you instinctively know to be true: While possible, this will be difficult. Years of acquiescing to spiritual lies create neural superhighways which feel like second nature. To choose to act upon the truth of Scripture will be difficult, because it will be the hacking of a neural path through the thick underbrush of amassed past decisions. In fact, current neurology explains that to create new neural pathways can literally be painful, as it is the indication of new neural growth. In spite of the pain, the decision to act upon the truth is the step toward freedom. You are creating new thought patterns within your mind; you are participating in the inception of holiness.

This process is painful because it is difficult. This process is painful because it is against our nature. We tend to believe we do not have the strength to say no to the lies. But God has put Christ within us. And God has promised He “will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). Every need—even the need for the power to say no—is met in the glory of Jesus. And God has placed that glory, that power, within you. It is not your power, but it is His power living inside. He is the hope of glory—the hope of a life lived in the reflection of Jesus(Col. 1:27). The only way we have hope in experiencing glory is in Christ—in his power acting out in our lives.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”—Romans 12:2

4. Repeat. For life.

The temptations will always come, but the more you choose to act upon the grace of Jesus imparted within Scripture, the more your machete-hacked neural path becomes a well-worn road. Eventually, the decision for holiness becomes its own superhighway. Like any behavior, the new habit of holiness will eventually take hold, and the truth will much more naturally supplant the lie.
You will fail and fall down some days. You will fall prey to old temptations and use the old pathways. But, on those days, do not believe the lie that you are a failure. Instead, embrace the truth of the gospel. Remember 2 Corinthians 12:9: “ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” In your weakness, God continues to give grace, and he never ceases to do so. The well of Jesus’ love does not run dry.

Spiritual maturity is the journey of a lifetime, and it is a journey that we never complete until the day we “will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2) Philippians 2:12 tells believers to “work out your salvation.” Much like our contemporary use of “working out,” the application of grace is an exercise or a solving of spiritual issues. It is breaking old patterns of thoughts and behaviors through the process of grace. It is what Jesus referred to when he commanded his disciples to take up their cross each day. (Luke 9:23) Nevertheless, walking with Christ daily is a source of incredible peace and joy—it is the greatest delight of the heart. So find the lies you believe; replace them with the truth of Scripture; and act upon the grace purchased at the cross.

 This is the path of sanctification, the path of holiness.

This is the Kingdom life—the truth of Jesus, made alive in us. As Paul wrote in Galatians 2: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me!”

May you apply the grace of God each day in your journey to know Him alive in you.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.—2 Corinthians 5:17

Author: Steve Bezner
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