A Love Stronger Than Our Worst Days
(article by Scotty Smith, Pastor, Franklin, TN)
“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”
I’ll never forget the big yes! I felt, almost a quarter of a century ago, the first time I heard this quote by Jerry Bridges. It was 1994, the year his book The Discipline of Grace was published. Those words captured the glorious freedom I’d been savoring many years, after living too long with a “doghouse spirituality,” where I could sleep in God’s love when good but was sent to the doghouse when I had failed.
Good Days and Bad
For years, I bought into what Jerry Bridges called the “good day, bad day” mentality. A “good day” would be measured by my goodness and good outcomes — by having personal devotions, making godly choices, resisting temptation, and so on. The assumption was that faithfully doing these things results in a day of pleasant circumstances — a day “blessed” by God. Even worse, I assumed God loved me more on those “good days.”
A “bad day” was the opposite. If I failed to spend time in spiritual disciplines, indulged a bad attitude, or made selfish choices, God’s smile disappeared. He would arrange challenging circumstances to communicate his disappointment with me, teach me a lesson, or punish my lack of discretion or discipline. I would have to stay in the not-so-heavenly doghouse until I could see how my lack of obedience and foolishness led to things going poorly in my day, week, or month.
Have you ever tried to carry the self-centered burden of taking responsibility for our Father’s love towards and ultimate acceptance of us? I fear many of us do and are.
Jerry Bridges wrote The Discipline of Grace to expose and dispel this grace-less, gospel-lite way of thinking and living as a Christian. For twenty-five years, his book has helped many believers come to understand the so-much-more-ness of the gospel of God’s grace. I’m grateful for the disciplers, mentors, and teachers who did the same for me.
All of our “good days,” Jerry reasons, even our very best days, still need God’s grace, because God’s standard of judgment is his glory — a standard to which we all fall short. Even the Spirit-filled fruit of our faith in Christ is still tainted with mixed motives and woefully incomplete compared with his righteousness.
As for our “bad days,” even our very worst days in Christ don’t alienate us from God’s favor, cause him to love us less, or diminish our Father’s ultimate delight in us. Our worst days don’t put us in the doghouse of shame and penance but in our Father’s house of grace and redemption through faith. Even when God disciplines us, though it is painful, he does so in great love (Hebrews 12:11).
It’s only as we understand just how really bad our condition is that we begin to cherish the gospel and experience the joy of our salvation. God’s law demands a perfect righteousness that only Jesus’s obedience could meet (Romans 8:3–4). This is why it is critical we understand that Jesus came to be our substitute to trust, before he is our model to follow.
Before dying on the cross to take the judgment we deserve, Jesus provided the obedience that we owed. Jesus didn’t come to be our second chance, but to be the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. In this sense, alone, we can talk about being justified by works — Jesus’s finished work for us.
Four Wonders of God’s Grace
Reading Jerry Bridges’s quote a quarter of a century later, here are some of the great truths of the gospel I celebrate more passionately than ever.
1. God doesn’t love and accept us to the degree we are like Christ, but to the degree we are in Christ (Romans 8:1), which is 100%. His never-ending love for us in Jesus is an unwavering love (2 Thessalonians 3:5).
2. Grace is more a Someone than a something. It is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). To be in need of and within reach of God’s grace is to be in the impossible-to-pry-loose grip of Jesus’s palm (John 10:28). Even more so, Jesus is our wisdom from God — that is, our “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). To be a Christian is first to be stunned with who Jesus is and what he has done for us, not what we have to do for him.
3. God’s grace puts an end to all earning and merit (Ephesians 2:8) but not all effort and muscle (Philippians 2:12–13). The gospel frees us to offer our Father the obedience of faith and love, rather than the obedience of guilt and pride. With respect to our sanctification, we begin to pray, “Father, show me that you love me as you love Jesus. Free me to become more like him.”
4. A proper understanding (and experience) of the gospel of God’s grace will free us from the dark perils of legalism and performance-ism, and from the ugly presumption of antinomianism or “cheap grace.” The grace of God is the most transforming power on the face of the earth (2 Corinthians 3:18).
God’s grace is stronger than our worst sins, and his blood is deeper than our lowest days. This does not make us stop pursuing holiness — it makes us pursue it all the more. We hate the sin he died for, and love to see his beauty, his righteousness, and his glory increasingly reflected in our lives. We do not celebrate or settle for failure, but we do rejoice in a love that is stronger than our worst days.