"Can I change my life by availing myself of God's grace? "
Dear Wounded Pilgrim,
It has been said that "so called" believers can behave very un-Christ like, while members of other religious faiths can behave closer to the loving nature of Christ. This claim is undeniably true and has caused me to give a great deal of thought to the question.
Cults and false holiness groups often make a big deal about the disparity between the profession of Evangelical Christians and their behavior. The idea of salvation by grace is offensive to those who have given great effort to produce something for God (when I speak of salvation I mean the Biblical version, that is, the gift of eternal life that can not be added to by us).
What really happens when we are saved and receive God's grace? Is our sinful nature eradicated at that moment? Do we begin to think in a godly and mature way in an instant? Does my behavior cease to be effected by my former egocentric practices?
If we are honest we will admit the answer to all the above questions is "no". We do sense a struggle against sin in our lives, and a hunger for the righteousness of God, and a constant battle seems to rage within between two forces.
How then do we experience the power of God in our lives as Christians?
In the Assembly we were told that we could actualize the power of God through a "walk of reckoning faith". I believe this is nothing more than an attempt to merit grace by the exertion of one's will versus true reliance on the promise of God.
Grace is for sinners, not holy seekers. Grace changes us from within as we honestly confess our inability to change ourselves. God weans us from self-reliance to a dependency on the hope of the power of God in our souls.
We see in the Gospels the kind of people Christ met and changed and many were mired in obvious sinful lifestyles. As Christians we must never forget that grace always works the same way in our lives as it did in the beginning. We never get the "Christian life" so down that we achieve mastery of our souls.
Christians are often those who had obvious trouble with sin in their lives before coming to Christ (I know all have trouble with sin, but some seem to have stronger natural character than others) and this "trouble" will be always present in one's life, to some degree.
Believe it or not, this is the true nature of sanctification and when we think we are the most hopelessly trapped in our own need we are the closest to the heart of God (a broken and contrite heart God will not despise). This is not an invitation to a soul-searching higher life teaching, or to a morbid self-preoccupation, but to an honest assessment of one's condition and a deeper discovery of the love of God.
It will cause you to accept your own humanity and the humanity of others. It will also cause there to be a compassion for others who are struggling with sin. These are the kinds of behaviors that cannot be self-manufactured and bear the marks of the Holy Spirit.
There may be others (I'm sure) who have stronger wills than I, more disciplined lives, and even make more courageous sacrifices than I, but God intends us to be to the praise of the glory of His grace.
Jacob became Israel when God broke his leg and he learned to lean on his staff. Jacob leaned on that staff the rest of his life. He called his days "evil", for he was reminded of all his failures, yet God fulfilled his promise in Jacob and brought him to full blessing.
Yes, Jacob was a wounded pilgrim and was near to the heart of God. God loves us and fulfills his promise to us, not on the basis of our good example, but simply because of the goodness of His heart.