by Christie Perkins
Liberating Grace for Life
John’s Gospel is my favorite book in Scripture, simply because it is the only book whose stated purpose is evangelism: “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). In John’s Gospel, we find what the promise clearly is and what it clearly is not.
Unfortunately, I didn’t grow up in a Christian home and I didn’t become a believer until I was in my early twenties. I grew up often confused, rebellious, and questioning authority, as well as any aspect of “religion.” After many seeds were planted in my life from family members, friends, and even strangers, the message of life finally clicked. I understood and believed that I was a sinner deserving of hell and that Christ alone was my only hope of escaping it. I finally understood that God’s love for me was not hindered by my sinfulness but that He loved me in spite of my sinfulness: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
Too often, many well-meaning believers twist the gospel into “another gospel” by turning the good news into a contractual agreement of how well we must behave. The gospel is not: repentance, promises to do better, obedience, baptism, turning from sin, following Jesus, sorrow for sin, asking Jesus into your heart, committing to the lordship of Christ, etc. The fact that we do not find any of these things in John’s Gospel is very telling. After all, John makes it absolutely clear that his purpose for writing was for us to simply “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing [we] may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
A lot of the gospel confusion stems from not properly understanding the difference between justification and sanctification. Justification is instantaneous, when we believe on Christ alone for eternal life. It is a declaration which comes by faith alone: “But to the one who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Sanctification, however, is a progressive growth, choosing to be conformed to the image of Christ in our daily life and setting our lives apart for His work. If the distinction isn’t clearly kept between justification and sanctification, not only will our theology and gospel be muddy, but we will begin to look to ourselves or our fruit for assurance, instead of only looking to Christ. Realizing this lifted a tremendous burden as I was beginning to understand the important distinction between justification and sanctification, and that my “fruit” (or lack thereof) did not affect my security in Christ.
Liberating Grace for Living
After trusting Christ alone for eternal life, I was still confused about how a Christian should live. For a few years I fell under the strict legalistic teachings of rules and regulations in the Christian life, as well as the false teaching that, “If you’re really a Christian, then you will always produce fruit.” I now know that fruit isn’t always a guarantee in the life of a believer. We find in Matt 21:19, “Seeing a fig tree by the roadside, Jesus went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves...” yet regardless of any fruit, Jesus still knew it was a fig tree. And whose standard for fruit bearing are we comparing ourselves/others to, anyway? I started to see clearly how legalism can steal and kill the joy out of the Christian life.
Around that same time I was also struggling with the false idea that I could be sanctified through legalism. I thought, this couldn’t be what the Christian life was all about with its drudgery of rules—always based on Man’s standard instead of the Lord’s. Paul said, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3). It didn’t make sense to me either.
Our joy in Christ is robbed away when we put the focus of our Christian life on what we do. I didn’t fully understand yet that Jesus not only came to give us eternal life but abundant life as well. Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
But, I was tremendously blessed that a fellow believer cared enough about my spiritual health to share with me wonderful grace-based ministries. My husband and I began to listen, soak up the Word, and study under eye-opening Bible teachers (Gene Cunningham, Zane Hodges, GES). We were amazed that, yes, there is freedom in Christ and that the Christian life didn’t need to be such a drudgery. There could be joy in serving Jesus. I began to understand that not only are we saved through faith but we must also live our spiritual life by faith. Our Christian life will be very weak if we choose to work at it instead of trusting Christ alone to strengthen it.
I have a tremendous burden to see the message of life proclaimed simply and clearly—as it should be. Because of His liberating grace, I no longer feel intimidated to ask pastors, authors, or commentators about their view concerning Scripture, the gospel, and other doctrines. I no longer just take their word for it. Instead, I simply seek to be a Berean (Acts 17:11), prayerfully asking, what does Scripture say? Psalm 119:130 encourages me in this, saying, “The entrance of your words gives light; it gives understanding unto the simple.”