The Christian Gospel has been preached throughout the world, but many people don’t understand how to apply it in their life. As a result, these people either settle for a defeated Christian experience or simply depart from the faith claiming that it doesn’t work. The greatest confusion arises about the gospel with regard to three particular words: faith, repentance, and grace. Since these words are not commonly used in our everyday speech, their meaning is often misunderstood. Without a clear understanding of these words the Gospel remains shrouded in mystery.
What is faith?
When many of us hear the word faith, we think of a religious belief system or someone blindly making risky choices in life. Nevertheless, these concepts of faith miss its true meaning. In order to get a clearer understanding of faith, we will consider a few examples. One good picture of faith can be seen by observing little children’s confidence in their parents. Such children are virtually helpless, but they rarely give much thought to whether or not they will have a place to live or have food to eat. They simply leave these worries up to their parents and trust that everything will be done to provide for them. This kind of trust (or faith) produces a sense of rest and peace because these children don’t carry around the burden of survival themselves. Another good example of faith is when people lie down on beds that are high off the ground. Those who lie on such beds have complete confidence in their bed’s ability to support their weight. As a result, they go to sleep without fear of severe injury. In both examples, faith is described as people demonstrating their confidence. The little children demonstrate their faith by not worrying about their basic necessities. Likewise, the people with the beds demonstrate their faith by the action of getting into bed and going to sleep without fear. Faith is not merely acknowledging that certain facts are true, but rather, it is living life on the basis certain facts are true (James 2:18-26). When the term faith is found in the Bible, it usually refers to a demonstrated trust that is followed by a settled inner rest.
Why is it important to have faith?
Faith is a key part of the Christian gospel because it is the means by which we experience all of God’s goodness toward us. In Hebrews 11:6 we read, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” The pursuit of God is done in steps of faith and unless we believe God is real and trust that He rewards our pursuits of Him, we can’t take any more steps. God is constantly standing with open arms, desiring us to experience all of His goodness. Nevertheless, He leaves it up to us to draw near to Him by faith. As we take each new step trusting Him, it frees us from the chains of sin that entangle us. Therefore, if we want to overcome the sin in our lives and have a living relationship with God we must learn to walk by faith.
What is Grace?
In addition to faith, grace is another key element in overcoming sin and obtaining a living relationship with God. Although the word grace appears in the bible countless times, people often reduced it to a license for sin or some doctrinal term for theologians. Nevertheless, grace is not only a biblical thing, but is something which most of us experience every day in our relationships with our friends. We experience grace when someone spends quality time with us, gives us a gift, forgives us when we’ve hurt them, speaks encouraging words to us, gives us a hand with something we’re doing, or embraces us with a hug. Grace is something done on the basis of love and not because of duty or debt. When we read the word grace in the bible it is usually referring to the expression of God’s love toward a group of people or an individual.
How do we get Grace?
Though God is kind to the wicked and ungrateful, He does not pour out the deep affections of His grace on everyone. God holds back His grace from many people because they remain defiled by sin (James 4:6). Each of us has been corrupted by sin and, as a result, it is our natural tendency to be selfish and prideful. God is holy and He opposes all selfishness and pride. In fact, there will come a day when He will no longer show kindness everyone, but He will cast away those who remain selfish and arrogant and they will face eternal punishment away from everything that is good (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). If we want to experience the deep affections of God’s grace and escape eternal judgment we need to have faith.
We experience God’s grace according to the measure of our faith. In other words, as we trust God more we come to know and experience His love more. If we don’t have faith the solution is to repent. Repentance occurs when we humble ourselves by accepting God’s perspective and stop putting our confidence in our own understanding. When we no longer hold onto our false ideas and accept the truth presented by God, we obtain our missing faith. Young children do a good job of illustrating this concept of repentance. When a child is very young they have no concern about eating things they have found on the ground. Nevertheless, as a child grows up eventually they will be taught that eating things found on the ground will make them sick. When a child comes to humbly believe this new perspective, their actions change and they cease eating food found on the ground. Likewise when we repent before God, we humbly trust His perspectives over our own and, as a result, we obtain a real faith that demonstrates itself in our lives. By using the key of repentance, we open the door of faith and gain access to the riches of God’s loving grace (Romans 5:2).
God’s grace revealed in the gospel
God has loved us so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus, into this world so that we could be saved from sin and enjoy fellowship with Him forever. When Jesus came to this world He lived a perfect life and then died after being hung on a large wooden cross. Three days later, He rose from the dead and then ascended into the presence of His Father where He dwells to this day. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the means by which we are saved. Nevertheless, this was a great sacrifice for God to allow His Son to go through the pain of living in this world and to suffer the horrors of enduring the cross. This sacrifice of love is the saving grace referred to in Ephesians 2:5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved.” There is no greater expression of love than God’s grace in sending His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Power of the Gospel
Since God first loved us, we are able to be saved and enter into a powerful transforming relationship with Him. The means by which we are saved is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we demonstrate our faith in Jesus by living our lives trusting the things He teaches, we become spiritually united to Him. Through our union with Jesus, we share in His death and resurrection while we still live in this world. In this way, our old sinful life can functionally end, we can be forgiven, and we can receive a new life that is able to have close fellowship with God (Romans 6:1-7). This fellowship is a relationship where God’s Holy Spirit becomes housed within us and functions as the king over our thoughts and actions. The secret to a powerful Christian walk is to humbly let the Holy Spirit rule within our hearts.
Letting the Holy Spirit rule within our heats requires us to trust God. As a result, the Christian life can be described as a walk of faith. Our faith to obediently walk with God is something that grows as we experience His grace. In other words, when we live in fellowship with God we come to understand how much He loves us and, as a result, it casts out our fears to follow Him. This is a self-perpetuating development because, as we discussed earlier, it is by faith that we experience God’s grace. Therefore, as we experience God’s grace, it increases our faith to obey Him and as our faith increases we experience more of His grace.
This wonderful truth of God’s grace and our faith can be illustrated more clearly with an analogy of a man and an animal. If an animal is scared of a man, it will run away and hide from him. It doesn’t matter how much that man loves and cares for the animal because the animal can’t experience any of that love until it comes to have faith in the man. If the man wants the animal to trust him, he can inspire the animal to have faith in him by doing loving things, like putting food out for it. Over time, the fears of the animal can be broken down and, eventually, it can trust the man enough to let him get close. As the animal allows the man to be near it, it can experience more and more affection from the man. The end result is that the animal grows to completely trust the man and the man can express all the love he has toward the animal unhindered. In the same way, God loved us first through Jesus and, as a result, it inspires us to place our confidence and faith in Him. As we trustingly draw near to God we experience the increasing depths of His love and our confidence in Him grows. The end result is that we are filled with joy in the fullness of God’s loving grace as we live out our faith in Him.
The Cost of Following God
When we hear about experiencing God’s love, being forgiven, and having joy we may wonder why so many people have rejected the good news of the gospel. The primary reason why many people reject God’s grace is because they hold onto their life of pride and selfishness. Pride and selfishness are the opposite of repentance. Repentant people are humble and they live their lives relying upon God.
While on the other hand, unrepentant people arrogantly hold to their own understanding and choose to live their life as they desire. Those who are unwilling to yield their mind and actions to God in repentance will never be able to obtain faith. As a result, the door to experiencing God’s grace will remain locked. Until they come to repentance, their pride will simply push God away at His every attempt to express His love. Therefore, if we want to experience life in fellowship with God, it will cost us all of our pride and selfishness (Luke 9:23-25).