What Work Clothes Look Like Under Grace

I took the above photo of Mt. Baker from Port Townsed, WA (a great place to visit). Many have compared the differences between a rowboat and a sailboat to the differences between living under law versus living under grace. Under law, we trust in our own works and rely on our own power. Much like a rowboat, we do it all, and we quickly tire out. With a sailboat, there is much work to be done by those in the boat, but it’s all done working with and in reliance on the wind. The wind will drive the boat forward. It gives it the power it needs and we work in tandem with it. You can only row for so long, but you can keep moving forward in a sailboat for as long as the wind is behind you.

I want to now briefly transition into how the Trinitarian grace we receive fleshes itself out in our lives. In part 1, I hinted at some of the ways right knowing (theology) of the grace we’ve received leads to right living (ethics) through grace. And we’ve hopefully established the foundation, that sanctification through grace starts with an understanding of who God already is for us—Adopter, Sanctifier, Justifier—and who we are right now in Jesus (identity).

Sanctification through grace looks like living with freedom, by faith, in the refreshing waters of love.[1] It isn’t a matter of living according to a different set of rules, but it’s being changed so we both like to play by the rules of the game and are able to do so. The law is still important and has purpose, but it’s also impotent, meaning it tells us what is right but it’s incapable of accomplishing in us what is right.[2]

The three passages I’ve referred to most—I Peter 1, Romans 8, and Galatians 5—not only harmonize on God’s grace but they also speak in accord  to how that grace expresses itself in our lives: freedom, faith, and love.[3] Growing through grace means I’m thankful the law helps me see what is right, but it’s only through a free work of God in us we can desire to enjoy what’s right and receive strength to do what’s right.

Here are some of the differences between what it looks, smells, and feels like to actually live under grace versus living under law. These should act more as diagnostics to know which way we’re leaning than a prescriptive list we try to follow.

The Characteristics of Living under Grace

Gratitude and Freedom

When we live under law our motivation is guilt-driven. We look for a laundry list of things that will win God’s approval. The frustration sets in because under law we’re slaves who work for a master that will never loosen the chains. Under grace, we’re motivated by gratitude and follow Jesus as a response to receiving favor rather than an effort to gain favor. The freedom we have in Jesus is the fountain from which all of our efforts are watered and nourished (Gal. 4:1-5:15).

The Spirit’s Internal Compulsion

When we live under law we live according to the flesh (old man) and our desires remain what we’ve always wanted. In this case, the laws of God are an external constraint of rules needing kept. Under grace, we live in the Spirit (new man) so our desires are reoriented and we start to want the things God wants. Here, God’s laws move from an external code to an internal compulsion. They become the things written on our own hearts so we’re able to do them willingly (2 Cor. 3). The Spirit not only remakes our hearts but he reorients our desires. He shapes both our desires and our ability to walk in them by His power.

Gift and Promise

When we live under law we think our works have merit and we rest on what we can accomplish through our performance. This never ends well because we’re aware of how weak our best efforts are and we’re frustrated by how much is left undone. Under grace, we live by faith because we know everything we have and everything we’re equipped to do is a gift from God. We live not by our performance but according to God’s promise to justify us by faith alone in Christ. We live out of the fullness of who God is for us not who we think we need to be for Him (Gal. 2:15-3:29).

When we live under law we do so by our own power. We strap up and hope that if we do enough, try hard enough, and check all the Christian “to do” boxes then we’re sure to become a better person. Under grace, we remember our insufficiency and neediness and we live through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit working through us. We do work and we make obedience to God a priority, but we walk by faith in the Spirit who does the transforming work in us and causes the spiritual growth in us (Phil. 2:12-13). We can work because He is at work in us.

Selflessness and Love

When we live under law we’re self-focused and devoid of love. We don’t love God intimately because He’s the task-master keeping us on the clock. We don’t love others because they haven’t gotten their act together like we have, or they stand in the way of what we really want. Living under law leads to pride because any apparent success is a result of all my effort. Under grace, we become selfless and are enabled to live out of love. Through communion with the God who’s given us grace our hearts are reshaped so we can love God and others. Since Christ has justified us and we have nothing to do with it, we’re humbled by our helplessness and released from the bondage of having to worry about what else I need to do, fix, or change (Gal. 5:13-25).


These are just a few recognizable differences between living under grace and under law. Can you see how the Trinitarian grace we receive changes the way sanctification works itself out? We need to know about our adoption as God’s own children and then live knowing our Father is for us, He loves us, and He actually likes us. We need to know the Spirit has released us from sin’s ownership over us. We can now live and mature as new people under new management, strengthened through the Spirit’s indwelling presence and power. We need to know that the Son purchased the forgiveness of our sins and we’re now declared righteous in him. And, because of that, we can finally rest in our knowledge that in Christ we have a firm identity, a full acceptance, and a fixed destiny.

We live with freedom because of the grace of the Father’s love to us, the grace of the Spirit’s power in us, and the grace of Jesus’ accomplished work for us. We live by faith because we receive these things from God to us as gifts and not as something we earn. We live in love because the driving force in our life is the undeserved and unprovoked grace we’ve received.


For an article with a similar focus but thinking through sanctification as gospel-centered as opposed to self-centered, see here.
[1] Sanctification through law operates under the assumption our work gets God on our side and leads to us becoming what He wants us to be. In our mind’s eye (under law), we see God as either Uncle Sam with his finger pointed saying “Be all you can be,” or we see Him as the always disappointed Dad who’s there to point out our faults.
[2] This means we’re freed from the law as our judge (convicting us of guilt) but it doesn’t mean the law isn’t still a guide (showing God’s will). The law was an enemy because of our powerlessness to walk in it becomes our friend as Christ justifies us through it and the Spirit enables us to walk in it (Rom. 8:1-4).
[3] In I Peter 1, because the Father loves us, the Spirit has sanctified us, and the Son has cleansed us we can live a life of faith (1:5-9, 21), we can walk in freedom (1:18-19), and we can love others (1:22). In Galatians 5 we’re told by walking in the Spirit and not the flesh we will bear the fruit of the Spirit. Paul bases this on our freedom in Christ (5:1), which allows us to live by faith and not works (5:5-6), which then issues itself in a life of love (5:6, 13-14, 22). In Romans 8 the language of freedom is clear (8:1, 15) but the terms of faith and love aren’t mentioned. However, the parallel passage of Romans 5:1-5 mentions all three. Also note, the overarching argument of Romans is our righteousness by faith (3-8), and later Paul gives specific applications of how this leads to love (12-14).

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You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram @IndyCrowe for the short & sweet stuff.

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