Why is grace important to the christian experientally? Largely because grace is God’s truth. And that truth is what Dr. Francis Schaeffer called “true truth”. That mean anything outside of the reality of God’s real grace is a lie. And as the apostle wrote “every lie is a lie against the truth”. ThenhHow does that affect us?
Notice when Martin Luther, whom we celebrated 500 years of christian reformation recently, became conscious of his need for God, he became terrified. Luther became a monk out of his terror. His mentor could not provide confession enough for the acute sense of unworthiness Luther suffered under. Johann Von Staupitz often told Luther to go away and not come back until he really sinned. And still, once Luther truly learned of God’s grace he would later say of those former times “it seemed as if every time I looked at Christ I saw the devil”. Luther punished himself, deprived himself extensively, but it was all in vain. That is how twisted religion is outside of “the true grace of God wherein you stand” (I Peter 5.12).
What Luther suffered is what we call asceticism. That roughly means we think suffering helps us gain credence with God. That superstitious error is the result of not understanding the true truth of grace. I suffered from years of charismatic asceticism myself. I know the mental torture so many men that God raised up to witness mightily to His grace suffered. Asceticism is the denial of or the lack of understanding of the all inclusive finished work of Christ to rid us of every trace of sin. Jesus in his offering for us was perfect. His offering of his divine, perfect life in exchange for ours is a vast over payment! This is no miserly, just enough payment for my affronts to God. No, this was enough of an over payment for my life that I have stored up fountains of righteousness in my spiritual and moral account with God. In fact, it will never run out, forever.
Now there is the low church teaching that grace means God is simply passing over sin, my sin, my sins. But no! Grace proves that sin is so great a thing that nothing I could possibly do could unravel them, could possibly atone with a perfectly righteous, holy and all seeing, all knowing God. No, grace proves that sin is so terrible a thing that nothing would do to fix it but a supreme and divine action- the finished work of Christ on the cross as the payment for sin. Luther exclaimed that “my sins are invincible” after trying for years to subdue and eradicate them by ascetism. But one day the Holy Spirit whispered to his heart while paying penance a little word of scripture, “the righteous live because of their faith” (Romans 1.17). He immediately “got it”. And rising he looked back at the scene where he often punished himself and declared, “I will never do that again”.
And there is another aspect of this great finished work of Christ to accomplish what no man can for himself. It is this: “If you concentrate hard on the state you are in, it would be surprising if you have time for anything else. ” ― Benard of Clairvaux. Luther found what Benard found what I found too. That asceticsm will take all of your time, your energies and simply sap you of all living resources. John Nelson Darby wrote on this point very clearly. “Humility is not in thinking badly of ourselves, true humility is in not thinking of ourselves at all.” He went on, “If we have thought of ourselves as in Romans 7 that “no good thing dwells in me” then we have thought quite long enough about ourselves… this looking at ourselves at the bottom is really pride.” Because of grace we are entitled to forget ourselves, we are entitled to forget everything but the loveliness of God who is indeed worthy of all of my thoughts.
The end of all of this is to be filled with the wonderful knowledge of the grace of God. The grace of God is indeed objective- meaning that all of the finished work of Christ happened outside of me, my consciousness. But the subjective result of understanding it fully and moving beyond that to a practical application of living this way because of his grace is subjective, and results in “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4.7). And this is how the grace of God is important to us who believe experientially.