Too often we reverse grace and turn it into striving. The human condition is prone to a religious spirit - religious in the sense that we are prone to believing we must earn our salvation. It seems like our default setting is to try and perform our way to heaven. But the Christian is redeemed first and acts holy in response.
Redeemed then regulated
In the story of Exodus, when the nation of Israel was under the oppression of a despotic Pharoah, God graciously declared that he would rescue his people. God was not obliged to help. He did so out of grace.
"So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of the land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey ..." (Exodus chapter 3, verse 8).
"And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites – a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus chapter 3, verse 17).
By grace God reveals himself as the redeemer of the nation of Israel. And the grace doesn't stop here, God performed mighty deeds so that they might be delivered.
The gracious miracles came first. God delivering and redeeming his people came first. The holy living that God commands is in response to what gracious things he has done for his people. And this holy living would keep them free from going back to slavery of a different type. A slavery to sin.
So let us remember. Grace comes first. Holy living flows in response.
Reconciled then required
Typically, Pauline literature can be divided up into two halves. The first half is theology of reconciliation and spiritual privileges. The second half is how we ought to live in response.
In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, in the first half, Ephesians chapter 1 to 3, Paul first talks about how believers have been predestined, redeemed, forgiven, chosen, made alive, seated in the heavenly realms, saved, declared heirs.
In the second half, chapter 4 to 6, Paul talks about how we should live a life worthy of our calling, be unified, speak truth in love, put off the old self, speak truthfully, not let anger control you, only use your words for building up, not have any hint of sexual immorality.
The grace is first established and the holy living is referenced from this. This is the remedy to the religious spirit that plagues us all. We don't need to earn God's love; we have to accept it by faith.
So, how do we apply this to our lives practically? One key is remembrance.
Every day we have the opportunity to pray and worship certain spiritual truths and privileges.
God has rescued Israel. God reached out to rescue all of humanity and on a personal level God has rescued you. God could have left us in exile, but he paved a way for the restoration of our relationship. God has deposited a new nature in us - a nature he is pruning and moulding to burst forth with godliness.
We are a new type of human, a new creation because of the blood of Jesus. Jesus absorbed the wrath of God and transferred us from the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of the beloved Son. These are examples of spiritual truths.
But it is not enough to simply mentally recall the truths. They need to be seared into our hearts. They need to be meditated on until they are set in stone. They need to be applied and explored in the real world. They need to be prayed and worshipped into our soul.
We need to beg God for deeper revelations of these truths because once we have come to a fresh understanding of the grace we have received, we will be reinvigorated to act in a godly manner.