Does this sound in any way familiar to you?
A pastor is conducting a healing service in his church. The church pianist, an elderly and kindly lady who has been serving faithfully since her youth, raises her hands yet again, hoping to receive healing for the painful rheumatoid arthritis that has beset her in the last several years.
The moment passes; amidst the crowd, people are weeping and praising God as they realise the pain in their bodies is no more; the pianist quietly puts down her hands, disappointed once more. Just then, the new convert who accepted Christ last week, a tough-looking guy struggling with alcohol and marital problems, goes up front to tearfully testify that he has been healed of rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s just an illustration, but you get the point. Why does it sometimes seem that new Christians have so much more of what older and long-time Christians are supposed to have – joy, peace, blessings, and testimonies of God’s healing and miracles in their lives?
We know that it’s not an individual thing or a once-off occurrence, because sadly, many of these happy new Christians taper off after a time to join the ranks of their stoic, suffering, and steadily serving Christian brothers and sisters, or simply walk away from church disillusioned and confused.
It can therefore only be due to one reason alone: what they heard or were told in church.
Most Christians, at the point of their conversion, are told simply this: Jesus died for their sins, and was raised again, and if they believe in Him and His resurrection, they will be a child of God and have eternal life and salvation.
They believe and receive gladly, and experience peace and joy like never before.
But then a little while later, after the “honeymoon period” has passed, they are told things like:
“Now that you have experienced such grace from God, it is only right that you do this for Him”;
“Be careful that you follow His ways and keep His laws, and confess your sins quickly, because God is serious about sin”; and
“Faith without works is dead”, quoting the verses from James but without studying or explaining the passage in context.
All this makes good sense and sounds right to the young Christian. And they, being wholeheartedly sincere and earnest, try their best, but all too soon find their strength, motivation, joy and assurance sapping away.
The explanation for this phenomenon is summed up in this verse below:
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:4, KJV)
You have been severed from Christ, if you seek to be justified [that is, declared free of the guilt of sin and its penalty, and place in right standing with God] through the Law; you have fallen from grace [for you have lost your grasp on God’s unmerited favour and blessing]. (Galatians 5:4, AMP)
That’s right – this phenomenon isn’t a recent invention, though it is certainly burgeoning today. It was already present during the time of the Apostle Paul, seeing as he wrote an entire epistle strongly correcting the church of Galatia against this – both the preaching and the hearing of grace mixed with law (or works).
The experience of Christians losing their initial joy and peace of salvation, burning out, or plodding along life with sicknesses and struggles just like non-believers is simply a consequence of such preaching and feeding in the church.
All believers start out in the grace of God. Salvation is by grace through faith. Righteousness in Christ is a grace gift. Healing and miracles are grace gifts.
In fact, wisdom, holiness, and serving (both the motivation and the ability to perform) also come by grace.
The fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – are all natural byproducts of plugging into His grace and love.
By reason that all these come by grace or as a result of grace means that there is NOTHING we can do to earn or attain them. God doesn’t need us to work for them or at them. He freely supplies; we simply receive.
But hearing “practical” messages about what we should be doing for God and for people, without a strong emphasis on what God has done for us through Jesus and His finished work, removes us from under the free-flowing supply of His grace and places us squarely back under demanding good works from ourselves, which is none other than trying to be “justified by the law”.
And when that happens, according to the verse above, we fall from grace and Christ becomes of no effect unto us. We lose our hold on God’s unmerited favour and blessings.
Serving and doing Christian works become hard as chores and duties. The wonderful fruits of the Spirit become outworkings of the flesh, and we end up feeling like complete hypocrites most of the time. Healings and miracles dry up.
The truth is, when we introduce the law and doing good Christian works, for whatever reason at all, it nullifies the grace of God in our lives. That is the consequence of mixture and “balance”.
There is actually no need to reintroduce the law to believers because simply preaching grace takes care of both the motivation and the performance. God knew that, that’s why He gave us Jesus and the gospel.
Is there a way back to start over anew? Praise be to God, yes.
Jesus’s rebuke and instructions to the church of Ephesus, a hardworking church, was that they had left their first love, and to remember from where they had fallen i.e. from grace (Revelation 2:1-5).
He reminded them to do the first works and return to their first love. The “first love” (Greek protos agape) is simply God’s love for us – for it is He who first loved us (1 John 4:10, 19) – and the “first works” is simply believing in Jesus and His finished work.
You can rediscover the gospel afresh and experience a victorious Christian life.
Start reconnecting again with your first love – the truth of God’s love for you in sending His Son to be the everlasting overpayment for all your sins.
Keep hearing and feeding on Jesus-centered messages that show you Jesus in the Bible and that focus solely on what He has done for you, not what you have to do for Him.
Because when you encounter Jesus, you encounter grace.