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I grew up in a Christian home.  My parents took my siblings and I to Sunday school, church, and lots of church events.  My dad led family devotions with us at the table after supper and on Saturday morning after breakfast.  As I grew older, the responsibility and discipline of spending time with God shifted from my parents to me, and I began to read and study on my own, drive myself to youth group, and get involved in church events more independently.  I didn't smoke, drink, or "hook up" with girls because I knew those things were not what a Christian should do.  From the outside, I'll bet the majority of people thought I was a good, happy Christian.

But I could not fool myself and I could not fool God.

Inside, I hated myself.  I beat myself up emotionally, calling down condemnation on myself because of the sin I kept committing.  I was a Christian!  How could I keep on sinning like this?  I was able to tell others that Jesus loved them and that He died for them, but inside I couldn't believe He would do that for me.  After all, He knew how wicked my thoughts were.  While others saw I wasn't cussing, going to parties, or having sex, God knew my thoughts were frequently on those things.  I would read Matthew 5 through 7 and know that God saw my heart and that I wasn't measuring up.  I had trusted in Him to save me, but how could I accomplish all the things I was reading?  How could I keep my mind pure?  I was told ways to help in certain areas, such as sexual purity: "Bounce your eyes," one man told me.  "Install software that blocks bad images," another would say.  But all the practical, tactical methods did not stop me from sinning.  Indeed, they could not stop me from sinning.

These are things no one knew about me because I didn't often talk about them - things like, how inside I hated myself and was disgusted with myself.  That inside I believed that Jesus saved me, but that I was doing a miserable, hopeless job of keeping His salvation because of my sin - that I was afraid of losing my salvation and coming under His judgement and wrath.  I tried and tried and tried to make myself more appealing to God through keeping the moral law, all the while digging and digging and digging myself into a deeper hole of condemnation because I kept failing to keep it.

This is the danger of what I call now "performance-based Christianity," where what I do and don't do determines the level of God's love and grace for me.  It is the trap of the pharisees, who thought by their own moral uprightness, God was pleased more with them than others.  The pharisees placed rules on the people that no one could do completely, not even them.  But they played the part well, and in so doing fooled others.  So it was with me.  So it is with many attending church today.

The truth of the Gospel is this: Our joy does not come from our performance.  Our joy comes from Jesus Christ.  The happiness a Christian enjoys is not from his or her own performance, for at one moment when we keep the law, we are happy, but the next when we break the law, we are sad.  There is no true joy in our performance.  There is only joy in Jesus Christ - for He has set us free from the law of sin and death, which means we are no longer condemned because we cannot keep the law (Romans 8:1-2).  Christ has accomplished what we could not; therefore, we rejoice!

We are foolish to believe that Jesus Christ's death and resurrection are good enough to justify us as righteous before the Father, but then after that to think we can somehow keep ourselves in that grace by keeping the law - the same law we were incapable of keeping to justify ourselves as righteous in the first place.  Jesus Christ's death and resurrection are good enough to save and good enough to keep us saved, sanctifying us into holiness, and good enough to bring us into His glory.  This is what the apostle Paul spends so much time laboring over in his letters: the law is death, but Jesus Christ is life.

In Romans 6:14 Paul writes, "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace."  Some in Paul's day could not accurately see how doing away with the law would be a good thing, and that being under grace would lead to righteousness.  They rebelliously and facetiously declared, "Well then, we might as well just keep on sinning so that God's grace can abound more and more.  Who needs to try to be righteous and do the right things outlined in the law?  Let's just do what we want and rely on grace."  This, of course, is not what Paul meant at all.

In Romans 6:15, Paul attacks this false idea by writing, "What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  May it never be!"

Paul understood - as one having been raised a pharisee, practicing extreme lawfulness - that no hope or joy or peace rested in one's own attempts to keep the law; on the contrary, this lead only to death and condemnation because no one can keep the law.  This is precisely why Jesus Christ's death and resurrection are such good news to this world held under God's law that all of us are hopeless to obey.  Paul was freed by grace from trying to obey the law as a means to righteousness and good standing with God, and his mind and heart were unveiled to believe in faith the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, by whom all hope, joy, and peace are given to those who believe.

We have a promise from God that He will finish the good work He began in us - that Christ is good enough to justify the sinner as righteous and to sanctify the believer through that same power, and to bring the sanctified believer into glory!

Does this, then, excuse us from working in righteousness?  Of course not.  Instead, this frees us from the condemnation of our conscience to do good works, and allows us out of thankfulness and joy for Christ to work in righteousness.  Paul says as much in Romans 6:16-18: "Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?  But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."  In summary, Paul is saying, "You can either try to keep the moral law of God, thus making yourself a slave to it, which is only going to result in your own condemnation because, I guarantee you, you will fail.  Or you can offer yourselves up to God, whose mercy will give you joy, and create in you a spirit that will work in righteousness that will not fail.  Yes, you will struggle with sin, but your standing before God will no longer depend on your ability, since Christ has given you His righteousness and His Spirit to be victorious."

Thanks be to God, my story changed drastically a few years ago, when God the Father in His infinite, abounding, sufficient, sovereign grace freed me from the condemnation of the law and brought me into the joy of His grace and love in the finished work of Jesus Christ, who kept the whole law and died for me so that I didn't have to do it and fail.  And praise Him who was raised to life, being the first fruit among many brothers, of which I am one.

"These things (all the thing listed in John 15:1-10, speaking of how the Vinedresser takes care of His vineyard, doing all the work Himself!) I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full" (John 15:11).