Hindrances to Grace
and the path to living in freedom

Partway through a sermon I was preaching on Galatians chapter 2, one of my mentorees leaned over to her husband and said, "If you want to know what we've been doing in spiritual direction, this is it!" She was so right. The ministry of spiritual direction specializes in identifying things which hinder us from living in grace, and discovering paths that allow us to walk in the grace of being accepted, loved and free. This article is drawn from my sermon which speaks of this work.

Paul is quite adamant that we can’t count on rituals or any other human effort to provide us favour with God. It’s only by receiving God’s grace that we can come into a relationship with him. But that part--receiving grace as a free gift to initiate a restored relationship with God--is the easy part.

The harder part is living by God’s grace day by day.

This is the problem the people of Galatia were facing. Their faith was being threatened by those who were telling them it was up to them after all. They were being told that grace was not enough, that they needed to add works to their faith. Paul was absolutely convinced that embracing this teaching offered only hindrances to grace which would undermine their faith.

So how do Paul's words apply to us? We don’t struggle with figuring out whether we should follow Jewish rituals. But we have a similar problem whenever we believe we need to do things to be truly loved and accepted by God.

I think I can safely say that we all deal with hindrances to grace on a day-to-day basis. The sources may be deep-seated, things we’re not even aware of. Or we may be aware of the cause but find ourselves unable to overcome them.

Identify the sources of the hindrances to grace
and counter them with truth

When we are able to identify the cause of the hindrances to grace, we unmask them and strip them of some of their power. We then can counter these things with God’s truth and make the choice to live from a different point of view. Here are several common hindrances to grace and some corresponding truths:

1. Self-doubt Self-doubt says God couldn’t really love me. If he really knew me he'd reject me.

Truth: Yet God does know you. He sees into the depths of your heart and yet he loves you still. He loves you so much Jesus gave his life for you. You are precious in his sight. You are dearly loved. He delights in you. And he believes in your potential in Christ.

2. The need to achieve This says God can’t accept me just as I am. I need to change myself if I'm to gain his approval. If I could just overcome this habit or addiction! I’m consistently disappointed with myself and I can never seem to reach the goals I've set for my growth. The result is that we beat ourselves up for our failures and strive even more. But striving doesn't get us where we want to be.

Truth: Striving never works until we come to realize that living the Christian life isn’t only difficult, but impossible! Until we truly grasp that, we just keep on trying to do things in our own strength. But when finally realize that we can’t live the way Christ wants us to live, that’s when faith kicks in and Christ's power becomes available to us. In Christ there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1) but he supplies the power and resources to live a life which is pleasing to him (1 Peter 1:3-4).

3. A sense of religious obligation Whether this was bred into us through our church upbringing or whether we’ve picked it up from other sources along the way, this involves things I believe I need to do in order for my life to be pleasing to God. It takes on as many faces as there are faith traditions. I may have a strong sense of obligation to read my Bible daily. I may feel that if I was truly spiritual I would be praying for the needs of the world on a consistent and structured manner, or that I would be willing to give up my wealth to care for the poor. I may believe that, if my faith had just been larger, I or my loved one would have been healed. Or I may feel that if I truly was a faithful disciple I should have been able to win my colleague to Christ by now.

Truth: This is where the truth of Galatians 2:16 is applied. A person is made right with God only by faith in Jesus Christ and not by obeying the law. As a righteous Jew, Paul reasons that he had tried adhering to the law and it didn’t work. He simply came up short. But what the false teachers were doing was imposing rules for others to follow which had never worked for themselves anyway! This was what made it a false gospel. You can never please God by following a set of rules. You just can’t get there by that road. And the same is true for whatever religious obligations we are trying to live by in order to gain God’s favour.

4. Childhood baggage We all learned very young how we needed to act to receive our parents’ approval, and what we needed to do (or not do) to experience their love. Tendencies toward perfectionism, insecurity or the drive to achieve were birthed in us in our formative years, and we bring these patterns of thinking and behaving into our relationship with God.

Truth: We need to realize that our heavenly Father has none of the limitations of our parents. Some of us have much we need to unlearn with regards to the brokenness we've inherited from our upbringing. We might need some help to do this, but as we deal with our childhood baggage, we replace our inadequate views of God with the truth of God’s unconditional loyal love for us … of his extravagant acceptance of us … of his grace which he more than desires to pour down on us. These are his gifts for us which are meant to displace all of our striving.

Imagine God giving us each a bucket with which we can receive his gift of grace. All the things I bring into my relationship with God are in this bucket already, along with whatever hindrances to grace I experience. As I hold out the bucket to receive God’s grace, grace flows into it like water from a waterfall. Gradually the force of the water will break up all those things which are in the bucket, and they will flow out over the sides along with the overflowing water. And the bucket will eventually be filled with God’s grace alone.

God says I love you, I accept you. My grace is yours today. You don’t have to do, achieve, or prove yourself. Let all those hindrances to grace be broken up and washed away as you receive my boundless grace for you.

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