Jeannie Cunnion: The one question everyone needs to ask on Easter

I was 8 years old when God opened the eyes of my heart to His grace and I received Jesus as my Savior. I’d watched a Billy Graham movie, “The Prodgial” with my mom in a movie theatre that evening, and I couldn’t close my eyes that night without responding to what was burning in my heart.

I needed Jesus to rescue me and I knew it. I understood, as much as an 8-year-old can, that grace was a gift we receive from God, as we read in Ephesians 2:8-9, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

But, as time moved on, and I got a little older, and I became much more aware of my ability to stumble into sin, I began to doubt how God’s grace could keep on being enough to keep me covered.  Maybe you know what I mean?

It’s as though we can believe that God’s grace is for our salvation, but we can struggle to believe that God’s grace is also for our ongoing struggle with weakness. So the more aware I became of just how easy it was for me to “sin and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) on a daily basis, the more pressure I felt to attain unachievable perfection in order to keep the love of God that I once believed was a gift that couldn’t be earned and certainly wasn’t deserved.

I lived as though there was a follow-up verse to Ephesians 2:8–9 that reads: “ You can’t save yourself. God does that by His grace in Jesus Christ. But you should try really hard to keep God happy and not lose His affection. It’s the least you can do, after all, for all that Jesus has done for you. You are saved by grace but don’t push it.”

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But of course, that verse is nowhere to be found in Scripture. There is no such follow-up verse in Ephesians that says, “Jesus’ job was to save you. Your job is to keep God happy.” I just lived like there was. I thought God’s love was something we work hard to keep and work even harder to earn back when it’s lost.

It was 28 years later when God opened the eyes of my heart again, but this time He met me on my couch in my living room. I was a coming-undone mother to three boys under 5 who ended most nights in tears on the couch over my parenting failures, feeling certain that God was done (D.O.N.E.) with me and my inability to not only be a perfect Christian but a perfect mom.

But on this particular night, the couch on which I typically cried tears of shame became the couch on which I profoundly experienced God’s grace. It was an ordinary evening. I was reading my Bible to complete homework for a study I was doing with a group of girlfriends, and the study guided me to Ephesians, chapter 3 – a passage I’d read countless times throughout my life.

But on this particular evening, the Apostle Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3, that we may “have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is” was made manifest in my life, and I was never the same. The shame of my ongoing struggle with sin no longer holds me captive. I am free.

I’m not suggesting that our sin and rebellion don’t break the heart of God. They absolutely do. But because of Jesus, our sin and rebellion don’t make us less lovable to Him. That’s the difference, and believing that makes all the difference in our lives.

As God began opening the eyes of my heart to His ongoing grace, everything began to change. No longer ashamed, I became free to confess that I am a great sinner who has a greater Savior. I was free to live in the freedom of the resurrection – the freedom we celebrate on Easter. And here’s the beautiful thing. This freedom Jesus purchased and secured for us doesn’t make us want to continue to live in rebellion to our generous and forgiving Father. It's quite the opposite.

As God’s great grace penetrates and transforms our hearts, our desire to love God outweighs our desire to sin against Him. That’s what grace does. The grace of God makes our hearts break over the same things that break the heart of God. It melts the hardest hearts and inspires us, as new creations in Christ, to stumble toward authentic holiness through life in the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17).

So here is the one question we’d all benefit from asking on this Easter: “How would my life be different if I really believed, and lived from the truth, that God can’t stop loving me – just as I am, not as I wish I were – all because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?”

If you lived from the truth that because of Jesus, there is nothing you have ever done or will ever do that will make God stop loving you, what heavy burdens would you lay down? What painful shame would you shed? What wild freedom would you walk in?

So many of us are living the “try harder to be better a Christian” life because someone wrongly taught us that the only way to receive (and keep!) God’s love is by pursuing perfect behavior. But that theology is nowhere to be found in the Bible.

What Scripture does say, however, is that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).

Meaning, when we are in Christ, we are declared righteous. We are head-to-toe covered in the perfection of Jesus Christ. Made right with God, even while we are yet sinners.

We can stop striving for a seal of approval that has already been given to us by God in Jesus Christ.

When this truth settled in my soul at 34 years old, I finally realized that the perfection I’d been ceaselessly striving for my whole life, in order to feel worthy of God’s love and grace, was already all mine, all because Jesus says, “I have her covered!” I was free to stop pursuing perfection and to start pursuing the person of Christ. And the same Good News is true for you!

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The Good News of Easter is that the cross of Christ outweighs all of our offenses. The big ones. The little ones. And all the in-between ones. We are free to get honest about whatever it is that makes us feel we unworthy of God’s affection and unwelcome at His table. God, who sees into the deep recesses of our heart, welcomes us at our very worst. By His grace, He changes our identity from rebellious sinner to radically loved friend of God (Romans 9:25).

This column is an excerpt from the author's book, "Mom Set Free: Find Relief from the Pressure to Get It All Right."

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