I really like words. I like phrases, I like wordplay, and I like finding out the origin of certain words and phrases. Well earlier this week, I found out where the term “falling from grace” comes from.
Nowadays, the definition of “falling from grace” is to fall from a position of high esteem. We often talk about celebrities who fall from grace when news of something bad they've done hits the presses. But it doesn't have to be celebrities. You can “fall from a friend's good graces" if you do something bad like betray him or deny him, or put up embarrassing pictures of him onto facebook. In my mind, the term “falling from grace” invokes this picture of walking on some tightrope way high up in the air. Every careful step you take is another chance you might slip up and come crashing down. The way that we use the term today, you have to work so hard not to fall from grace. You have to be good all the time, look good all the time, never fail anybody, never let anybody see your weaknesses, you have to guard your true self so carefully. According to the world, every single one of us is walking this tightrope in life and we're all just one step away from falling from grace. According to the world, to not fall from grace depends entirely on YOU and YOUR efforts.
It's really funny, because in Galatians 5.4, Paul, who originally came up with the term, uses it in a radically different way. In this verse, Paul accuses the Galatians of trying to live up to a certain standard. The Galatians didn't think that faith in Jesus was enough and that in order to live we must also obey certain rules. And Paul says because they are trying so hard to walk that tightrope on their own strength, they have fallen from grace! Today “falling from grace” is a failure to save yourself through your own works, but when Paul used it, “falling from grace” meant a failure to remember that you CAN'T save yourself through your own works!
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith...” - Eph 2.8
What does it mean to be saved by grace? It means to believe that instead of me, Jesus had walked on that tightrope. Jesus had walked it perfectly; he lived a life of complete obedience to God. He was tempted in every way, yet was without sin (Heb 4.15). In my place, Jesus avoided embarrassment and humiliation, he avoided moral failure of every kind, he never embarrassed a friend, never handed in an assignment late, was never caught in a public scandal, never treated someone harshly, never cheated anyone, never failed to obey the word of his Father perfectly. And to be saved by grace also means to believe that though he was perfect, he took the fall in my stead. At the end of his life, he was pushed off of the tightrope and he crashed. He was embarrassed and humiliated, made into a public spectacle. His reputation was ruined. And ultimately he was alienated from the Father.
Jesus died on the cross because of our failures. Though he was the only one who never needed any grace, he “fell from God's graces” and was crushed by his righteous judgment. But because he died even still out of obedience to the Father, he was resurrected on the third day and vindicated. And as a result, he is not only the righteous King, but he has saved us all to live for him!
Paul says to the Galatians that they have been set free, but free from what? The Galatians are free from having to obey the law perfectly in order to be saved. They are freed by Christ Jesus from having to walk the tightrope. And in the same way, you and I who put our faith in Jesus are also free. We are free from the anxiety and burden of living perfectly. We are free from that constant fear of being found guilty, weak, or inadequate. We are free from always watching our backs or always having to delete our google search history. No matter what terrible, perverse things I've done in my life, my record is spotless, because it's Jesus' record!
What does this mean for me?
This means that if you are in Jesus, you don't have to perform! I think there are many people in the church who are still living thinking they need to walk that tightrope. I get a pang of guilt if I miss Bible study, and in order to make it go away, I need to read the passage and listen to the sermon online. I always need to measure myself up against other people in the church in order to make sure that I'm not the most wobbly tightrope walker; as long as I'm ahead of someone else in the way that I pray, the way that I serve, the way that I get excited about church camp or Christian conferences, I'm okay.
To live by Christ doesn't mean that I am free from obeying the law. It means that I'm free from obeying the law out of fear. I am free to obey the law out of love, to follow Jesus in my life. So if I am in Jesus, I no longer do good things in order to perform. Performing is for tightrope walkers. I obey Jesus because I love him and he is my king and he has freed me to love him. So if you're in Jesus, keep going to Bible study! Keep getting excited about church camp! Keep praying fervently and growing in the way that you pray! Use big words if you want! Be eloquent! Impress your Christian friends with how you pray! That's all okay; just don't think that doing those things can add to your resume in the eyes of God. Because Christ has already accomplished that and given you a perfect resume. Amen, thank you Jesus!