With all this emphasis on practical Christian living, however, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is grace—not law—that teaches us. When I first became a Christian, I regarded the Bible largely as a rule book. My perception was that the Bible would tell me what to do (or not do), and I would simply obey. It was as easy as that, so I thought in my new Christian naiveté.
To me, then, the practical precepts of the Bible were no more than a statement of the Law of God. They commanded but gave no ability to obey. Furthermore, they condemned me for my failure to obey them as I knew I ought. It seemed the more I tried, the more I failed.
I knew nothing of God’s grace in enabling me to live the Christian life. I thought it was all by sheer grit and willpower. And just as importantly, I understood little of His forgiving grace through the blood of Christ. So I felt both guilty and helpless—guilty because of recurring sin patterns in my life and helpless to do anything about them.
My experience, however, was not unusual. In fact, I would say it is fairly typical, not just among new believers, but among many who have been Christians for years. That is why we need to understand that it is grace—not law—that disciplines us. Of course, Paul personified grace in the Titus passage. It is actually God in His grace, or by His grace, who disciplines us. Or to put it more plainly, God’s parental training of His children is based on the principles of grace and administered in the realm of grace.
What are the principles of grace? Basically they are the two truths we studied in chapters 3 and 4. The first is the forgiveness of all our sins and the unconditional acceptance of our persons through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. The second is the deliverance from the dominion of sin and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit in us through our union with Christ.
What does it mean that God administers His discipline in the realm of grace? It means that all His teaching, training, and discipline are administered in love and for our spiritual welfare. It means that God is never angry with us, though He is often grieved at our sins. It means He does not condemn us or count our sins against us. All that He does in us and to us is done on the basis of unmerited favor. To use the words of William Hendricksen, “God’s grace is his active favor bestowing the greatest gift upon those who have deserved the greatest punishment.”
So where the law condemns, grace forgives through the Lord Jesus Christ. Where the law commands but gives no power, grace commands but does give power through the Holy Spirit who lives and works within us.
While I was in the midst of writing this, I happened to have lunch with a small group that included a professor of New Testament at one of our evangelical seminaries. He passed on to us a helpful little verse that he thought was attributable to John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, but he was unable to verify that. When he quoted the verse to us I thought, That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Grace disciplines us.”
So here it is. It’s easy to memorize, and if you do so, it will help you capture the essence of what it means to be disciplined by grace:
Run, John, run. The law commands
But gives neither feet nor hands.
Better news the gospel brings;
It bids me fly and gives me wings.
How then are you being disciplined? Is it by law, or is it by grace? Of course, God is disciplining by His grace, but how do you perceive it? How are you seeking to respond to His parental training? Do you accept the forgiveness of His grace, or do you labor under the burden of guilt? Are you relying on your union with Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit for the power to respond to God’s training, or is the Bible only a rule book of commands you are struggling to obey by your own willpower?
Remember, the grace that brought salvation to you is the same grace that teaches you. But you must respond on the basis of grace, not law. That is why you must “preach the gospel to yourself every day.”