Summary: We not only come to Christ through the pure grace of God, we also remain in Christ and live the new life of the Holy Spirit only through grace.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ESV
Our only connection to God the Father is through the grace of God the Son, and the connection is made real and experiential by God the Holy Spirit. Thus we are included in the fellowship of the tiune God.
This real, grace based connecting is not only for the initial experience of salvation like when a match is needed only to start a fire but is then thrown away. This Spirit born fellowship connection we have with God through Christ is on a moment to moment basis for now and all eternity. We are joined to the eternal life of God through the grace of Jesus plus nothing.
Sin is any effort we make to skirt around Him in order to save ourselves.
Whatever forms your efforts at self-salvation take, the Gospel turns them all on their head, declaring them all empty and worthless. You can no more save yourself by good behavior than a stone can turn itself into an egg. The Gospel says Jesus plus nothing reconnects and reconciles us to God.
Repentance is when we totally give up trying to save ourselves by rebellion or by good behavior and we unconditionally surrender to what God has done for us through the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. But what then, after this initial surrender?
Let me tell what can and often does happen. A subtle change comes after our initial surrender. We are tempted to disremember grace.
Somewhere we get the idea (probably because we heard it preached) that while grace has given us new life, the way to live the new life is by discovering and rightly applying the steps to victory, or learning certain principles which if practiced skillfully will lead to peace and joy. Learn the step, get the principles and you really have no further need of God. None of this is true, and no one that I know exactly says this out rightly, but the messages and teachings make us know that taking these steps and applying these principles is all up to us.
Tullian Tchividjian (the pastor who succeed James Kennedy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida), writes;
“It subtly becomes all about us and what we do (which leads to slavery) instead of being all about Jesus and what he's done (which leads to freedom).”
We may not articulate all this theologically, but it sure comes out in the way we live. Those who practice this subtle form of legalism say: ‘I live the Christian life by the rules—rules that I establish for myself, as well as the rules I expect others to abide by.’"
Tchividjian goes on to say that these after-salvation legalists; “…develop specific requirements of behavior beyond what the Bible teaches, and they make observance of those requirements the test of holy living. It becomes their standard for judging the acceptability of others.”
Here is the great problem with these requirements; they provide us with a way to avoid acknowledging our very real deficiencies and inabilities, and this “way out” is why we are suckers to settle for a pseudo Christian life lived by doing steps and applying principles in order to achieve joy and victory. It allows us to live with the illusion that we can generate our own holiness. Just do apply principles and you don’t really need to interact with Jesus at all once you are saved.
Michael Horton refers to this as Christless Christianity , and in his book by the same title saying that legalism in its myriad forms is "…the default setting of the human heart: the religion of self-salvation."