Ephesians 2:4-5 says, "But God, rich in Mercy, because of His great Love, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive in Christ - it is by Grace we have been saved."
It is by grace we have been saved. But what is grace when we still live as if we're holding onto what's been freely given? None of it is ours except what He's given us. 1 Chronicles 29:14 says, "All things come from thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee." By God's grace we have been saved, not by our own righteousness.
This is all common knowledge, though, in the church today. Yes, we all know that we have been saved by grace. But do we? I will venture a guess and say that we don't. The reason for this is self-righteousness.
Self-righteousness is prevalent in America because we live in a society that "does the right thing," morally and socially. It is "right" to live good lives. People even look better on those that live somewhat holy lives, calling these elite people "gentlemen," "ladies," "considerate people," "he's a solid guy," "she's not that kind of girl," etc. Sin is tolerated in the non-religious sector of America (and even in some religious circles), but there is still respect in our society for those people who seem to have it together more than the rest. But we don't. No one does.
Yet, in our self-righteousness, we hear ourselves say, "Well I've never done this," or "At least I haven't done that." And if we don't say it, we're thinking it, if not conciously, then subconciously. And if it's not what we haven't done, then it's what we do. And so we keep adding up our good points and subtracting the bad ones and adding on more for the bad things we don't do. What does it amount to? Some number that really means nothing because it all adds to zero every time. And that's the point.
The point is zero. No matter what I do or don't do, my works add up to zero when counting righteousness. (I'm not talking about bearing fruit, so please don't be offended and think that I'm saying good works mean nothing. They do, but NOT in regards to our state. Good works are an outpouring and outflow of the state we are put in by God's grace. Because we are righteous by his grace, we bear good fruit out of obedience in that grace and freedom.) And here is where I believe that it is hard for us to understand His grace until we have messed up big time, over and over again. It is then that we see that we cannot add up any points; we're getting into negative numbers here and we're losing hope. We're realizing our depravity and desperation for some way out, and we can't find it. We're cycling through sin, and we want out so badly, but just can't leave it behind. Here is where we find the grace of God - when we see that we cannot even live one more day without His help, and that nothing we do can make up for what we've already done.
The sad irony of this is we're all in this place - liars, murderers, thieves, homosexuals, gossipers, haters, lusters, etc. No matter the size of the sin, or the weight that the world places on it, we all add up to zero. And that's the beauty of grace - when we realize our depravity and that the size of it is huge, and always has been huge, and always will be huge, we can surrender and realize that "no one is righteous" and we need Him to give us grace. And then we need His mercy day after day after day, and then some more.
I pray that we would realize our need, whatever it takes. It may take falling into sin. It may take being hurt by someone elses sin. But when you reach that place where you know without a doubt that God saved you and no one else, and that He'll save you every day from the bonds of sin and guilt, and that He provides endless stores of grace and mercy for past, present, and future mistakes, you will know the depths of His love for you.
And the wonderful thing is that when you know His love for you, and how you still can't comprehend it fully, then your heart longs to step out in obedience. And that is how we love Him back.