God’s Work For Us Versus In Us

In the grade exchange, Jesus does the work and we get the credit. He studies; we succeed. This is called justifying grace, where God works for us. However, there is another kind of grace that takes place when God begins to work in us. This is called sanctifying grace, where God indwells his people in the person of the Holy Spirit and produces from within them the fruit of new life.

In Galatians 5 we read about what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” He is referring to the virtues that begin to be displayed in the lives of those who have experienced the grade exchange—fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, etc. This fruit is evidence that these folks now have the indwelling presence of God in their lives, the Holy Spirit. As they continue to believe who they are in Jesus (newly minted A+ students), the Spirit flows like sap in their lives to produce fruit, as if from a vine into a branch. This is how God works in us. We could say that as grace becomes the internal, spiritual life-blood of the believer, fruit begins to grow. That is the dynamic of grace.

If someone wants to intentionally reject following Jesus in practical ways, he reveals that he really has not understood grace in the first place. He probably has experienced nothing more than religion, which doesn’t have the power to transform anyone at a deep level, especially not the motives of the heart.

If someone intentionally rejects following Jesus in practical ways, he really has not understood grace in the first place.

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This is because there are essentially two ways to motivate change—one is by fear and shame, the other is by love and grace. When I have been loved, it compels love in return. So, if I have no desire to love Jesus through following his ways and will, it reveals that I really do not know what it means to be loved by Jesus.

In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul said that he had a new motivation that was driving his life. No longer was he compelled to follow God out of fear or shame, but rather because of the love and grace of Jesus. Paul now wanted to serve and love the Savior—not out of guilt or duty, but out of gladness and joy. As John said, “We love him because he first loved us.”

Therefore, the way to experience life change is not to beat the horse harder in order to get more obedience out of it. The solution is to go back to understanding how God has worked for us. When we begin to get it and believe it, God will begin to work in us. Not only will we see new fruit, but also, we will begin craving it. In this light, both justification and sanctification are all of grace, and both serve to magnify the greatness and glory of God.

The Grade Exchange

In our last post, we discovered that God requires perfection. But we have all failed the test... and miserably.

But there is hope!

This hope is what I call grade exchange.

Here is how it works.

I fail the exam and Jesus makes a perfect score. As the grades are being handed out, Jesus stands up and makes an offer to the class.


Anyone who made an F is invited to come forward and exchange that grade for the perfect score achieved by Jesus. If I will make the exchange, in God’s record book, my grade will be changed forever. The result is that my status changes from unrighteous to righteous, from condemned to justified[1], from an object of wrath, to an object of mercy, from an orphan to a son. I will no longer have to live in fear of God as a judge, but can know him as a good, wise, trustworthy, strong and loving Father. 

This Father’s love for his children is such that he cannot love me more, even if I do good things, and He will not love me less, even if I do bad things. It is a perfect, complete, eternal love that will not ever, ever let me go—regardless of my past, present or future performance.

So how do we make this exchange? There are only two steps in the process.

First, we take our F to Jesus. This is what we call repentance. We simply admit our failing grade and acknowledge the consequences that it deserves. We confess not only our rebellious sins (the stuff we know is wrong), but also our religious sins (the stuff that think is good and feeds our prideful self-righteousness).  

Second, we receive Jesus’ perfect score as our own. This is what we call faith. Faith is not just believing that there is a God or that Jesus was a real person who lived, died and rose again. Gospel faith believes that Jesus‘ record is now my record.

This exchange is what we call a gift, or grace. It is not deserved and cannot be earned. We can think of it as charity (after all, our English word charity comes from the Greek word that means grace, charis). In that light, we can say that every Christian is a charity case! This is because, in the gospel, rather than achieve for God, we receive from God. Period.

Of course, this entire picture defies religion. That is why Christianity is not religion in the sense that we expect it to be. We are not saved by our works and effort, but by the works and effort of Jesus for us, and now can affirm Romans 8:1 with full confidence, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

After we have made the grade exchange through repentance and faith, what now? This is where true Christianity often gets derailed. If you have ever heard anyone say that in salvation God “gives you a clean slate” or “a second chance,” then you know what I am talking about.

We'll address that hot potato tomorrow in the next post. 

[1]  To be justified is to be declared by God, as if in a court of law, to be seen “just as if I’d” never sinned and “just as if I’d” done everything right. It is a legal term that denotes a new legal status.