When Grace Doesn’t Feel Free

In Christian RealTalk by Antwuan Malone

We know the hymn. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

It’s a cornerstone principle in Christianity: grace. It’s the linchpin connecting a loving God, with a sacrificial Jesus, and sinful humanity. Without the unmerited favor that is God’s grace and forgiveness, where would we be?

But grace is hard to understand. I get that grace is free, that salvation from God is not something I work for or meet some performing standard to receive. But when we take a closer at a proper relationship with God shows, good works seem so tethered to God’s love that it could distort our view of the relationship altogether.

I sometimes feel that living my life that pleases God gets in the way of the very relationship he sacrificed so much to have with me. And when that happens, it becomes easy to forget that God’s grace is the foundation of our relationship, not my supposed good works.

Is grace free? Really? If so, what do we do with all the imperatives in the gospel. Imperatives like Go. Seek. Baptize. Pray. Worship. Serve. Read the Bible. Love.

For a religion that says it’s not predicated on works, there sure seems to be a lot of work to do.

Life In The Small Print

Deep down we want to please God. It’s the core desire lying inside all of us.

Sure, we’re all born into sin, but we also innately know God is unhappy about that sin. The insanely popular, but deeply flawed, idea that God simply wants us to be “good people” is the result of this yearning. It’s the result of us wanting to control the situation, not in a I-Want-To-Be-God kind of way (at least not today), but rather in a let-me-have-control-of-my-destiny kind of way. We really want to fix the problem of our sin ourselves.

We want to work ourselves out of the red area of error into the green area of “right” and “good.” And that means the concept of grace sounds a little too good to be true. Subconsciously we wonder, “Okay, where’s the fine print?”

We know what the Bible says about grace. We may even say our efforts to live a life pleasing to God is not about proving our worth. But do we really accept that as true? If we really excavated our motivations, would we find our need to please God stems from the need to feel worth it to Him?

It turns out, the all those imperatives we mentioned above feel like the fine print. So, instead of living out of the freedom of grace, we live our lives in the small print. Instead of living in freedom, we live worried God will decided we weren’t good enough for his Heaven.

The truth is, it’s often the badly prioritized, overemphasized good things that get in the way of truly enjoying God in our lives. Could it be that the great-sounding desire to please God is a bad thing? Quite possibly. Actually, quite likely.

We Can’t Please God

Living a life driven by “pleasing God” can be dangerous. Not that pleasing God is something we should not want, or aspire, to do. But if we deify such a goal to the point of nullifying the grace God has given us, we have missed the point of God’s love story entirely. The amazing thing about God’s grace explodes out of the singularity of this one thought: we can’t please God. At least we can’t earn that pleasure with philanthropy, good will, discipline or religion.

We don’t work to get God’s love and approval, we work because of it. We don’t will ourselves toward good works because we have to save face, we do so because the love of God has entered into us, and has decided to use our lives as a medium for his love and grace.

We work out of surrender to Him, because we love Him. The Bible says we love Him because he first loved us.

We live out the calling God has on our lives, not because we need to control our situation, but because we have relinquished control. Because we have surrendered. We are obedient out of love, not fear. We are moved by compassion, driven by God’s purpose, and are willing conduits to God’s will. Not out of obligation or some need to prove ourselves, but because we are free to live a life soaked in the grace of God, free from the chains of measuring up.

It seems that if we fully grasps this for our lives, the Christian world would be a safer place for us to work together through the struggles of sin and shameful deeds. There’s no sense in trying to outshine the Son. Let him shine through us, and we can be better conduits of God’s grace. And then, the world can truly understand how amazing God’s grace really is.

 Do you have a story to share about God’s grace in our life?  Care to share?


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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.