On our way out of town for vacation, Julie and I took the kids on a slight detour past our first apartment in Knoxville, TN. It was the first time we had been there since we left in a Penske truck back in 2008. It looked just like we remember it.
We then drove the winding road back towards the highway, a road I traveled quite a bit for classes, work, and church. We drove up the hill where I spun out the winter of my freshman year. I hadn’t learned how to drive in the snow yet. We drove past neighborhoods where our friends used to live, places we used to eat, and stores we used to shop at. Finally, we drove past the college and church I attended for close to four years.
With memories flooding back of the different places and people from those years in Tennessee, there is one word that explains how thankful I am for this short time in my life: grace.
Those four years were quite difficult to say the least. Everyday I fought the legalistic posture of my heart. I was working so hard to please God. I tried doing everything right and still didn’t feel like it was enough. I couldn’t keep the rules of the school the way they were intended to be kept. I was often scrutinized, questioned, and ridiculed. After an accidental rule breaking, I was asked a question that I didn’t have an answer to at the time: “What would Jesus think of you right now?”
“He’d think I was a failure”, is how I wanted to answer. But I didn’t. I didn’t know at the time how much Jesus truly loved me. It was around this time I realized I was never going to be able to do enough to be good. I was never going to be good enough. I was never going to be righteous.
Legalism is a deadly weight. It devalues the finished work of Jesus and elevates our filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). It is an unbearable task to earn any favor with God. There is nothing we can do to earn the righteousness of Jesus. No matter how often we keep the rules, no matter how “good” we are, no matter how churchy we appear, legalism is a lie from the pit of hell. Legalism continues to yell, “Do more! Do more! Do more!” while Jesus lovingly declares, “It is finished!”
It had been close to 10 years since I had placed my faith in Jesus Christ for the salvation of my sins, but in the Rocky Mountains of Tennessee, I learned and came to appreciate the grace of Jesus. While I was never going to be able to do enough to be good enough, Jesus did. While I was never going to be righteous, Jesus was and now through His grace, His righteousness covers me (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are so underserving of the grace of Jesus. His grace is truly marvelous.
The good news of Jesus reminds us that we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ. It is faith that pleases the Father (Hebrews 11:6), faith in His Son, Jesus. While our natural tendency given to us from Adam (Genesis 3) is to cover ourselves, there is freedom in knowing that we can’t. Our sin covering, our standing before God, only comes from the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Our joy comes from the victory we have through His resurrection. And none of this was deserving. When we fell short of God’s standard of righteousness, Jesus measured up (Romans 3:23). It is all because of grace.
As the old hymn says,
“Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt! Yonder on calvary’s mount out-poured, there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt. Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within; grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin!”
If I were to be asked the question again, “What would Jesus think of you right now?” I’d respond with great joy, “He loves me as His own, not for what I have done, but for all that He has graciously done for me”. And it is this grace of Jesus that frees us to live in obedience to all his commands.