So what should we do when we’ve had a “bad” day spiritually, when it seems we’ve done everything wrong and are feeling very guilty? We must go back to the cross and see Jesus there bearing our sins in His own body (1 Peter 2:24). We must by faith appropriate for ourselves the blood of Christ that will cleanse our guilty consciences (see Hebrews 9:14).
I am saying that God’s grace through Christ is greater than our sin, even on our worst days. To experience that grace, however, we must lay hold of it by faith in Christ and His death on our behalf. Now, your particular prayer may not be as long as the one I’ve written. The issue is not how long your prayer is; it is the attitude of your heart. Do the sentiments expressed in that prayer reflect your heart attitude? I have read that every time the great nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon stepped into the pulpit, he did so with the silent prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13, KJV). Spurgeon’s one-sentence prayer captures all I’ve expressed in four paragraphs.
You can pray a prayer like this whenever you are acutely aware of your need of God’s intervening grace and at the same time are painfully aware of your total undeservedness of that grace. In fact, we obviously should not wait until we have a need for God to bless us. We should pray such a prayer of repentance and faith just to have our consciences cleansed from all sin and to walk in fellowship with God.
A GOOD DAY
Now, let’s go back to the good-day scenario, the day when your spiritual disciplines are all in place and you are reasonably satisfied with your Christian performance. Have you thereby earned God’s blessing that day? Will God be pleased to bless you because you’ve been good? You are probably thinking, Well, when you put it like that, the answer is no. But doesn’t God only work through clean vessels? To which I reply, “Let’s assume that is true. How good then do you have to be to be a clean vessel? How good is good enough?”
When one of the Pharisees asked Jesus, “ ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Matthew 22:36–39).
Using Jesus’ response to the Pharisee as a standard, how good has your good day been? Have you perfectly kept those two commandments? If not, does God grade on a curve? Is 90 percent a passing grade with God? We know the answers to those questions, don’t we? We know that Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). And we remember that James wrote, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).
The point of this good-day—bad-day comparison is this: Regardless of our performance, we are always dependent on God’s grace, His undeserved favor to those who deserve His wrath. Some days we may be more acutely conscious of our sinfulness and hence more aware of our need of His grace, but there is never a day when we can stand before Him on our own two feet of performance, when we are worthy enough to deserve His blessing.
At the same time, the good news of the gospel is that God’s grace is available on our worst days. That is true because Christ Jesus fully satisfied the claims of God’s justice and fully paid the penalty of a broken law when He died on the cross in our place. Because of that the apostle Paul could write, “He forgave us all our sins” (Colossians 2:13).
Does the fact that God has forgiven us all our sins mean that He no longer cares whether we obey or disobey? Not at all. The Scripture speaks of our grieving the Holy Spirit through our sins (Ephesians 4:30). And Paul prayed that we “may please [God] in every way” (Colossians 1:10). We grieve God and we please God. Clearly, He cares about our conduct and will discipline us when we refuse to repent of conscious sin. But God is no longer our Judge. Through Christ He is now our heavenly Father who disciplines us only out of love and only for our good.
If God’s blessings were dependent on our performance, they would be meager indeed. Even our best works are shot through with sin—with varying degrees of impure motives and lots of imperfect performance. We are always, to some degree, looking out for ourselves, guarding our flanks, protecting our egos. It is because we do not realize the utter depravity of the principle of sin that remains in us and stains everything we do, that we entertain any notion of earning God’s blessings through our obedience. And it is because we do not fully grasp the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins that we despair of God’s blessing when we have failed to live up to even our own desires to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Here is an important spiritual principle that sums up what I’ve said thus far:
Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.
Every day of our Christian experience should be a day of relating to God on the basis of His grace alone. We are not only saved by grace, but we also live by grace every day. This grace comes through Christ, “through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:2).
A significant part of the Mosaic Law was the promise of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (see Deuteronomy 28, especially verses 1–2 and 15). Some Christians live as if that principle applies to them today. But Paul said that “the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). Christ has already borne the curses for our disobedience and earned for us the blessings of obedience. As a result we are now to look to Christ alone—not Christ plus our performance—for God’s blessings in our lives. We are saved by grace and we are to live by grace alone.
When we pray to God for His blessing, He does not examine our performance to see if we are worthy. Rather, He looks to see if we are trusting in the merit of His Son as our only hope for securing His blessing. To repeat: We are saved by grace, and we are to live by grace every day of our Christian lives.
If it is true that our relationship with God is based on His grace instead of our performance, why then are we so prone to fall into the good-day—bad-day type of thinking? It is because we have relegated the gospel to the unbeliever.