Tag Archives: definition of grace

Because He Loved Them

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image.  Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”  Thomas Merton   No Man is an Island
 
“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was, and always will be yours. If it never returns, it was never yours to begin with.”  Sherrilyn Kenyon, Unleash the Night

 

Many of us were brought up with the idea that God controls all things.  We talk about His plan and His sovereignty and His will and we just know that He gets everything He wants.  So when God says that He wants all people to be saved, to come to knowledge of the joy and peace found in Jesus, He must get what He wants.  Right?

But when we open our eyes to the real world, it is plain to see that God doesn’t always get what He wants.  He doesn’t want us to sin, but we do.  He wants us to love one another, and that is rare.  He wanted Israel to follow the Law and to stay close to Him, but they didn’t.  This is the Almighty God!  Why doesn’t He get what He wants?

Because of love.

Listen to God’s own description of love:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.   

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NKJV)

Love “does not seek its own.”  That means it does not demand its own way.  Love allows the other person to be a real person.  Love recognizes that the other person is a separate identity and love values that identity.  Love does not demand others to simply be reflections or toys.  Love lets others be who they are.

And God loves us.  He loves all people.

So God doesn’t force anyone.  From the very beginning, God set Adam and Eve in a beautiful garden where all their needs would be provided forever.  They walked with Him and lived in a wonderful relationship with Him.  But they were free.  They were intelligent and able to make moral choices.  He allowed them to grow and create and live.

And, when the time came, they chose.  They chose something God did not want.  He knew it would happen, but we never say that He wanted it.  We like to say that they turned their backs on Him, but the truth is that they simply chose to do something He warned them against.

They did it their way.

Because they were free.

Because He loved them.

He let them go because they wanted to go.  He warned them.  He grieved when they did it.  But He knew they would.  Because they were free.

And they lost so much.  He knew they would and He told them they would.  But He didn’t stop them.  He already had a plan in place.  Because He loved them.

God made every person to live in relationship with Him because He loved each one.  Yet, because of that love, He let each one go his or her own way.  They would suffer apart from Him because He never made them to be alone.  He would call to them, long for them, and always be ready to welcome them; but they would have to choose Him.

So He set in motion an amazing plan.

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No Sin, No Shame

The other day I attended a seminar where the speaker talked about the value of shame.  He lamented the loss of shame in our culture as a way of guiding people to right behavior.  To be fair, there was a context to his statement, but I still didn’t like it.  It’s like spelling a word wrong for a long time; then, when you finally learn how to spell it correctly, you misspell it once in a while just to remind yourself.  I just don’t see any value in shame in the life of a believer.

I have believed for years that guilt and shame are similar in purpose to pain.  Pain is good, right?  You don’t want to be alerted to the fact that your hand is on the burner by the smell.  Pain tells you instantly that something is wrong.  It would be nice to be able to turn off that message when your brain gets the point, but pain continues as long as something is wrong.  If you do burn yourself, you may have pain until the healing is nearly complete and then have sensitivity after.

Sometimes the pain doesn’t go away when it should.  Phantom pain and chronic pain don’t necessarily signal that something is wrong.  Pain may be the result of something like crossed wiring in the brain.  The cause of the pain is gone, but the brain doesn’t understand that.

Guilt and shame point out to the lost person that something is wrong.  They are given by the Lord of love as a way of moving people to Him.  When we are in pain, it is hard to think of other things until that pain is removed.  When we feel shame, we find ourselves driven to healing.  When Jesus told the “heavily burdened” to come to Him, what burden do you think they were carrying?  They were carrying the shame of their inability to please God and their sins against Him.  We understand that.

But, when they came to Jesus, He took away their burden.  He told them that His burden was light.  In other words, they didn’t need to carry around their shame any longer.  They were forgiven.

When you came to Jesus and He washed away your sins, did He leave the shame?  Why would He do that?  No, the shame washed away as well.  No more sin, no more shame.  If the shame remains, it doesn’t come from the sin.  It comes from wrong thinking.  It comes from a lie that tells you that you are still responsible for the sins that have been washed away.

But, you say, what about the sins we do today?  Shouldn’t we feel shame because of them?  First, I have never seen shame bring a believer to victory, nor do I think it is possible.  Victory comes when we understand who we are in Christ, not when we continually focus on what we have done or are doing.  Truth brings victory.  When I see myself, who I really am, as free from that sin and no longer needing what I think it will provide, then I will have victory.

Also, I like to ask this question a lot: How much sin is on your account right now?  If you are a believer, the answer must be—none!  Jesus has washed it all away.  Even the sins of the present and the future.  Nothing is on your account, holding you back from full communion with the Lord who loves you.  And, remember: no sin, no shame.

Two more thoughts: I have written a couple of posts about 1 John 1:9 and whether we must confess our sins in order for them to be forgiven.  We do not.  I believe that is a statement of simple fact.  When you came to Christ, you confessed and He forgave you.  The need for continued confession seems to be very similar to the feedback loop in the brain that makes you feel pain when you shouldn’t.

Nothing of this minimizes the risk and consequence sin brings.  There is nothing good in sin for the believer and we should avoid doing the things God calls sin.  There are many earthly consequences to sin.  God did take care of the spiritual consequences, but you still hurt yourself and others through sin.

The only reason shame clings to you as a believer is because you don’t let it go.  Take it to Jesus.  Lay it at His feet.  Don’t pick it up again.  Then hear His voice of love and acceptance.

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What kind of relationship?

 

Grace 101

Our relationship with Jesus is so much more than any other kind of relationship.  He is more than a sibling, even though He is called our “fellow heir.”  He is more than a comrade, even though He is called our “friend.”  He is more than a mentor, even though He is called, “Teacher.”  He is more than a spouse, even though we are called His “bride.”  And the Lord God is more than a parent to us, even though He is called our “Father.”

You see, the relationship we have with God in Jesus is LIFE.  We, who were dead in our sins, have been made alive in Him and the life in us is His life.  The spiritual life in us is not ours.  It is a gift from Him.  It is His life.  Eternal Life.

Now, I happen to think that we would have a hard time taking this too far.  He is our strength.  He is our wisdom.  He is our righteousness.  He is our peace.  Everything we need is in Him.

This is not a takeover.  We are still who we are but the life in us is His.  We are connected with Him forever.  This is why we do not need to fear death, because the life of the One who overcame death is in us.  And the Scripture says both that we are “in Him” and He is “in us.”

So Jesus is the One who hears your thoughts and knows your doubts and fears.  He is the One who feels your pain and anxiety.  He is the One who is your source of strength and peace and comfort.  And He is always with you . . . always.

When Jesus says that He will be near to those who call on Him, He means it.  He hears your prayer before you say it and understands what you mean when you say it wrong.

Suppose you could wake up in the morning fully aware that you are in Him and He is in you.  Suppose every breath was communication with Him.  This is what Paul meant when he said that we should “pray without ceasing.”  To know and believe that He is real, He is present, and He is your life—that would make the difference.

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Relationship with Jesus?

Grace 101

 

God wants a relationship with you!

I have been surprised and saddened so many times when I have shared that line with groups.  I get a blank look or a wan smile from too many people.  “That’s nice.”  Far too many who have trusted Jesus for salvation have no idea what a relationship with Him would mean.

But if you loved someone, a true and deep personal love, wouldn’t you want to be with that person?  And suppose you saw the one you loved in danger.  Wouldn’t you want to call and have him/her recognize your voice and trust your word?  Wouldn’t you want to share your life with that person, to walk and talk and work together?  That’s what relationship means.

You were made for a relationship with God.  He made you with intelligence and morals and reasoning beyond the animals because He wanted you to know Him.  You see, He already knows you.  He is already and always with you.  But you are learning about Him.  Now that you are with Him (you weren’t before) He wants you to know Him.

Paul understood this.  In Philippians 3, he wrote about his goal in life.  He said that he willingly gave up everything to know Jesus.

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

 Nothing else mattered.  Just Jesus.

I believe that one of the most serious problems in the church today is this lack of knowing Jesus.  We know of Him and we know some things about Him, but so many do not know Him.  Like a mail-order bride who has never met her husband-to-be, they look forward to the day when they leave their country to be with him forever.  But the relationship Jesus has given to His people is today.  Right now!  He is near to you and He loves you.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13

You can talk with Him and walk through your day with Him.  You can know that He is with you at any moment.  He will never leave you nor forsake you—that’s His promise.

You see, Jesus is a real Person and He wants a real relationship with His people.  The primary goal of His life is that you would know Him.  Why?  Because when you know Him, everything else falls into place.

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The Gift of Love

Grace 101

 

Let’s face it, even the strongest legalists believe in God’s love.  They just don’t think He loves you or me. 🙂  And they aren’t too sure of His love for them.  In their minds, we would have to keep the Law perfectly so that we could deserve God’s love.  If we were able to do that, then God would notice us and appreciate us.

There are many problems with that idea.  Here are a couple.  What about the sins I did before I even knew Jesus?  How can I undo those?  Well, the legalist suggests that those are the sins Jesus died for.  Now, after salvation, we are responsible to live perfectly.

Okay, what if I haven’t done that?  What if I have sinned (just like everyone else) even after salvation?  This is much harder for the legalist to answer.  Some suggest that those are covered when you confess and repent.  Some say that those sins have to be worked off with good works.  Some even say that those sins might just disqualify me from Heaven and, since I don’t know for sure, I had better be real careful from now on.

In other words, they believe that God is still angry about my sins and will punish me if I don’t perform according to the formula.  (Of course, the formula is a little different depending on which group you are in.)  And then they add the bit about God loving me.

When someone tells you what you have to do to earn the love of someone else, don’t you wonder whether it will really be love?

Yes, God hates sin.  He hates sin because He loves us and sin hurts us.  But he doesn’t hate us.  He loves us.

God’s love for you is a gift.  It comes from His heart.  It is all about you, but you didn’t earn it or deserve it.  He just loves you.

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What I know about you . . .

… you are completely forgiven!

 

When was the prodigal son forgiven?  Some people say that he was forgiven before he returned home, as evidenced by the father watching for his return.  Some say that he wasn’t forgiven until he came home.  Believe it or not, this is a current topic of theological discussion.

But does it matter?  What matters is that the father’s heart toward his son was not focused on the son’s sin.  He loved his son and wanted him home.  What he had done made no real difference.  Remember that, in the story, the father never sent the son away.  The son’s heart was pulled away from his father by the lures of the world and the son followed the bait.  The sin was never the issue.  The father was focused on the relationship.

It is true that Jesus went to the cross to wash away our sins.  But that was a consequence of His real mission.  He gave His life for ours—an exchange, if you will—so that we, who were dead, could live in and through Him.  He came to save us.  The heart of the Father was full of forgiveness toward us.  He desired a restored relationship between us and Him.  That’s why Jesus came.

The Christian life and the gospel message do not focus on sin.  Sin is what the wandering heart does.  It is the normal activity of the heart and mind apart from the Lord.  Just because some people cannot look past sin does not mean that God cannot look past it.  In fact, He simply washes it away.  His focus is on relationship.

If you belong to Jesus, you are completely forgiven.  There is nothing more for you to do.  You don’t have to be more sorry or do more penance or pray for more forgiveness.  The work of Jesus on the cross is complete and is yours because of Him.

Yes, I understand that some of your sins are big ones and that some might still be hidden.  But listen: nothing is too big for Him and He knows every single one.  He has already welcomed you into relationship with Himself.  Even if you have earthly accounts to settle, the account with Him is clear.  There is no sin on your account with God . . . because of Jesus!

But what if you don’t belong to Jesus?  What if you have not come to Him to receive His love and have no relationship with Him?  You can!  He is watching for you, desiring that you would come.  He is not focused on your sins, but on your heart.  He loves you and He calls to you.

And when you come, you will find that your sins are forgiven.  Jesus gave His life for you, too.  You will be welcome and nothing will be on your account against you.

This is love that keeps no record of wrongs.  Jesus just wants you with Him.

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What I know about you . . .

. . . you are acceptable to God!

 

Most Christians know enough to be able to say that God loves them.  Some might even allow that He loves those who refuse Him.  But to say that someone is acceptable to God—well, that brings up some baggage.

I have known preachers who taught that you had to change your ways in order to become acceptable to God and then He would save you.  But that’s not possible.  No one can make themselves good enough.  No, God is willing to accept you just as you are and make you just as you ought to be.

Evangelistic crusades have used the little song, “Just As I Am,” to call people to the altar for years.  But too many have used it in a “bait and switch” scheme.  They say for the sinner to come as he is, but they expect that he will abruptly change his life and become acceptable.  Repentance, in their minds, means getting rid of those bad habits and living the straight life.

Speaking of “straight,” can a gay person be saved?  Of course!  God accepts gay people and straight people and all the rest.  Can God accept someone who has had an abortion, or someone who is divorced, or someone who doesn’t believe in creation?  Of course!  He welcomes anyone who will come.  This isn’t about what kind of sin is in your life.  Some preachers seem to say that you should come as you are unless you are xyz.  If you are xyz, then you have to change first in order to be accepted.

But God knows the truth about you and me.  He knows that we don’t have what it takes to change ourselves.  If His idea of acceptable is clean and perfect, then He will have to do that Himself.  If He wants certain sins out of our lives, He will work in us toward that goal.

So, yes, come as you are and find His love.  Whatever He wants of your life, He will accomplish.  He accepts you and He makes you acceptable.  Those who belong to Jesus are complete in Him, as acceptable to Him as He has made them.  Those who do not yet belong to Him lack nothing but to come to Him.  His arms are open and His love is great.

…to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.      Ephesians 1:6 (NKJV) 

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Dynamic Grace

I believe that the grace of God is dynamic.

Something that is static just sits there.  It is positional, rather than relational.  That means that a person receives grace by doing something or being something.  If you belong to a certain church, you receive grace.  Because of your position as a member of that church, you have grace.  If you clean your room, you receive grace.  You have come to the position held by one whose room is clean and thereby you receive grace.  Static grace is like the power held in the electrical system of your home.  It kicks in when you do something to turn it on.  Otherwise, it sits in readiness, waiting for you.

Some people like that idea, of course.  They like to be in control of what happens in their lives and it makes sense to them that grace should be tied to the things they do.  The idea of static grace gives these folks goals and excuses and a system of understanding their lives.  It gives them a sense of hope.  If they can just achieve the next level of performance, they will receive the grace they desire.

The problem, of course, is that this is not the grace of God.  God has no interest in being controlled or made into a system.  Static grace isn’t grace at all.  It is a lie.  Many of those who have worked hard to reach higher and higher levels of “spirituality” have expected to receive more grace and have found nothing.  They had no more than they had before.

The grace of God is dynamic.

Dynamic grace is grace that moves freely and vigorously.  Dynamic grace is unpredictable and uncontrollable.  Dynamic grace comes out of relationship.

Because God’s grace is a Person, it is outside of our control.  It moves as He moves.  It is given as He gives.  It comes from His mind and His heart.  We cannot command it or control it.

For several years this ministry has had one goal, to proclaim Jesus as God’s grace for the heart.  When I came to understand Jesus as a real person who loved me, I wanted Him.  When I understood that He was forever my life and strength and I could trust Him in all things, everything changed.

Is it easier to trust in dynamic grace?  Not for my flesh!  My flesh wants to hold something, to be in charge of something.  This idea that someone else is in charge is frightening.  But, yes, ultimately it is much easier.  I am not responsible for the results.  I am not responsible even for maintaining my position.  I have a Friend who loves me and cares for me.  He bears my burdens, if I will let Him.

Knowing what I know now, I would choose dynamic grace anytime.  I need someone who is greater than me, someone who loves me enough to protect me from myself.  I want someone who will be there when I fail and forget.  I would never return to legalism and a system of trying to earn points with God.

Yet, I admit that this dynamic grace is still a little uncomfortable at times.  Jesus is not the genie in the bottle that I can command.  Often He tells me that I don’t need what I want.  Often He waits to act until my deadlines are past.  Often He chooses results for me that I would not have chosen.  He is always right and always kind, but He does things His way, not mine.

But through it all I know that He loves me and from that love I draw my life.  All that I need for relationships with others and for peace in life is in Him.  And He will never leave me.

That’s dynamic grace!

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Static Grace

“I love mankind.  It’s people I can’t stand.” 

Those famous words are attributed to Linus, from the comic strip Peanuts by Charles Schulz.  After his life with Lucy, poor loveable Linus admitted that he found certain people hard to love. 

In fact, Lucy was abrupt and unkind and self-centered.   We remember how she used to convince Charlie Brown that she would hold the ball for him and then jerk it away just as he was about to kick it.  And we remember her little counseling booth where everyone was welcome to receive her latest impersonal word of wisdom, without regard to their real problems.   Lucy sounds like a good legalist!

The god of legalism is cool and detached.  No one would think of approaching him as a friend.  He has formulas and judgments and impossible expectations for all people.  The Bible, for legalists, is God’s book of rules and standards, with an account of how people failed throughout history.  And the god of legalism is angry all the time.

I am increasingly convinced that legalism must depersonalize both God and people.  Legalists see God as an impersonal force consisting of expectations and guidelines and condemnation.  They see people as little machines that must operate according to programmed standards or be considered inferior and defective.  There is no patience for individuals and no relationship with God.

Why do I think this?  This is the legalism and these are the legalists I have experienced.  They are hollow in their relationships and conflicted in their hearts.  In the face of impossible expectations for themselves and others, they are failures striving only to look better than someone else.  And their system of belief is no better.  It offers a formulaic and static grace that brings little hope and less personal connection.  Legalism is empty.

The grace of legalism, no matter how much it is touted, is a weak and distant grace.  It comes from a god who doesn’t really care about you or me.  It is carried on a message of performance and judgment.  It is laid out in standards and rules and formulas that have no heart.

Praise the Lord this is not the grace of the Bible or of Jesus! 

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Good Works? pt 2

(We are making the move back to CO and the office, school, church, etc.  Please enjoy these posts from the archives.  You are welcome to comment as usual and I will respond on the other side.)

The question I received asked about Ephesians 2:10, the verse just after a wonderful assurance of God’s grace where Paul says that we were “created for good works.”  Doesn’t God expect us to be out doing good works now that we are saved by Him?

What about good works?

What a great question!  It seems obvious that “good works” are important to the Lord.  No respectable teacher of grace would dismiss the call to good works.  However, there are a few things to understand.

First, the verse you mentioned helps us to understand the order of things.

10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.   Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)

“Created in Christ Jesus” is a reference only to those who are believers.  In Christ we are new creation.  So this has nothing to do with becoming saved.  These good works come after salvation and have nothing to do with getting us saved.  You are right about that. Titus 3:5 says much the same thing.  There are many verses that support this.

However, there are at least four more points that should be noted.

1.  The Scriptures speak of two kinds of “good works”.  There are those we perform by human effort; the ones we do.  Then there are those performed by the strength and will of the Lord, whether in us or not.  It will be important to discern the difference as you read.  One is of little value; the other is everything.  I will try to note the difference by referring to “our good works” and “His good works”.  Understand, however, that both may look like they come from us.

Paul seems to separate the two by calling one “works” and the other “grace”, at least when he is teaching about the difference.  Interestingly, he says that it is the works system that is set up against grace.  When Paul thinks of the law, he is thinking of a system of our good works.  He makes a strong case that these works, this human effort or performance, are contrary to grace.  Our works lead us to expect spiritual blessing from God as a wage (Romans 4:4).  Thus, if our good works were counted, our spiritual blessings would no longer be of grace (Romans 11:6), and we would be entitled to our boasting.  So there is a difference between the works we do in the strength of our flesh and the works God does in and through us.

Point 2 is next…

 

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