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Grace 101


Imagine attending a funeral of a friend where the preacher and friends and family members all have a chance to say something good about the person.  Each one gets up and says that they can’t think of anything bad the person did.  He didn’t drink or smoke or lust or swear or steal or cheat or lie or anything else.  In fact, each person can tell a story of how this deceased friend avoided doing something bad even though tempted.  Then the funeral is over.

Now, wouldn’t you find that just a little disturbing?  Doesn’t a good life consist of something positive, rather than just a lack of negative?

So often we think of a righteous life as one without sin.  To be righteous, according to most people, is to avoid the negative.  Righteousness is an empty account before God.  I think this is in the minds of many believers because all they have learned of righteousness is that it is the avoidance of unrighteousness.

But is it a joyful thing to stand before God with an empty account?  To have nothing?

Even grace teachers communicate this.  We often teach that the righteousness we have worked for in our lives is as nothing before God.  We have done nothing to earn His love or acceptance.  This is a true teaching, in fact an important teaching.  Otherwise, we allow people to think they have earned their way into God’s favor.

But when you and I stand before God, we stand in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, our Lord.  That is much more than the lack of bad things.  That righteousness is everything good.  Our account before God is full of good!

If you look into the gift box that came with your salvation, you will find, lying close to the top, the righteousness of Jesus.  It’s yours.  It’s part of the gift.  And it isn’t just an empty thing.  It is something full and alive and good.

We do have an account with God, a moral account, I suppose.  Before Christ came into us, every sin was in that account.  The Scripture says that whoever is guilty of one sin is guilty of them all.  Many preachers have made that clear to us.  There is no hope of trying to live a life good enough to deserve salvation.   The accounts of the lost are filled with debt.

But that isn’t true for believers.  Not only are our debts wiped away, but our accounts are filled with the generous goodness of Jesus.  Paul says that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, placed in our accounts.  He says, in 1 Corinthians, that Christ is our righteousness.  So our accounts went from as negative as they could be to as positive as they could be.  We went from being destitute before God to being rich in His goodness.

The righteousness of Jesus is something!  And it is yours because of Him.

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Grace 101

Almost the first thing anyone knows about as a gift from Jesus and through Jesus is salvation.  In fact, many of those who refuse to look deeper into the package still accept and appreciate the fact of salvation.  The gospel message is about salvation and the message of the church is about salvation.  Even those who think you have to earn Heaven by good works talk about salvation. 

The one thing most church people know about grace is that it is for saving us.  We are, they know, saved by grace.  They might even add that we are not saved by works, but so many don’t seem to believe that with their hearts.  If they don’t strive to obtain salvation, they strive either to maintain it or to deserve it.  After salvation, much of the church forgets about grace.

Salvation, at least, is a clear work of grace.  But does anyone know what we are saved from?  Most people would simply say that we are saved from hell, I suppose.  Children often say that we are saved from our sins.  Some people think we are saved from the evil one.  There is a sense in which each of these is true.

It seems to me that the important thing is not what we were saved from, but what we were saved out of.  We were stuck in a realm of darkness and evil, a river that flowed too strongly for us to escape.  We could not overcome the current of that great river as it bore us ever closer to hell.  There was no way for us to save ourselves.  Nor could anyone in the river with us save us.  They were as stuck as we were.

So we needed a Savior.  Someone from the outside.  Someone not in the river, not in the realm of darkness and evil.  Jesus came from God.  He was God Himself in human flesh, and He came to save us.  In a sense, He waded into the river, unaffected by the current, and brought us out. 

Now that’s important.  It isn’t just that we were saved from a negative final destination, although we were.  It isn’t just that we were saved from the things our sins deserved, although we were.  No, we were saved out of all of it.  That realm of darkness and evil is in our past, but no longer in our present.  That world is no longer our home and we are no longer bound to its influences.  Sin no longer has dominion over us (Rom 6:14), and we no longer must do what it suggests.   Since the law was given into the realm of darkness and sin, judging it and moving people to cry out for salvation, we can no longer be under law.  There’s so much more. 

I also believe it is just as important to proclaim what we have been saved into, as what we have been saved out of.  We have been saved into Christ, brought into relationship with Him.  We were not simply rescued from darkness and left on our own.  We were brought into the light.  Sin is no longer our master, but Christ, the righteous One who loves us, is our Master.  And we are no longer under law, but we are under grace.

This is, of course, a simple presentation of the idea of salvation.  The point is that salvation was a gift.  We did nothing to earn it, nor could we have done anything to earn it.  God, in His love, offered it to us and we received it.  It was in the gift.

I know that some people use salvation to denote everything we received in Christ.  That’s fine, but I think it lessens the wonder and joy to focus on only one aspect of the gift.  So we are going to look deeper into the package.

Get ready.  There’s a lot more in the box than salvation!


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The Gift of Gifts


Grace 101

At our house on Christmas morning, the potential for chaos has always hung over our heads.  With ten people opening gifts, and we love gifts, we have to maintain a sense of order.  One simple rule is that you have to be sure the gift is for you before you open it.  In those rare times when the rule has accidentally been broken, someone is disappointed.

So how do you know this gift is for you?  Well, in our situation, the whole thing hinges on who the gift is from.  You and I have received this amazing gift because of the relationship we have with Jesus.  When you came to the Lord for salvation and expressed your need and the tiny spark of faith the Spirit had brought to life in your heart, God came to you and loved you in the Person of Jesus Christ.  At that moment, Jesus gave you His life.  Your old life died and His life rose in you.

I realize there is a lot of theology in that simple paragraph.  The point is that whatever God wants to give you comes because you are in Christ and Christ is in you.  The gift is yours only through Jesus and the gift is yours because of Jesus.  Call it “union” or “the exchange” or the “higher life” or whatever you want, but the life in you is His.

In fact, the real gift is Jesus Himself!  We who were enemies have now been reconciled (Col 1:21).  We who were lost have been found (Luke 15:32).  We who were dead have been given life (Col 2:13).  All of this has come to us packaged in a Person!

God’s grace, which is the substance of His giving to us, is manifested perfectly and completely in Jesus.  Jesus is God Himself, come to us in human flesh, to be our life and fill us forever with His love.  That’s what God has given us!

So the package we are going to unpack is filled with the blessings that are ours because of the relationship we have with Jesus.  In all honesty, I can’t imagine that we will ever begin to see or to understand much more than the things that lie on top of the box.  Eternity will be occupied with discovering the riches we have in Christ (Eph 2:7).

But what we find will be enough for us to be filled with wonder at His power and His love.

And remember: these are gifts, not things you and I earn.  These are the things that came to us when Christ came to us.  They are ours by inheritance, by marriage, by union, by blood.  The Scripture uses all kinds of great illustrations of the relationship we have with God in Jesus.  But my point is that these gifts are ours as gifts.  We didn’t earn them or deserve them, just like we didn’t earn or deserve our relationship with Jesus.  He came to us because He loved us—and He came bearing gifts!

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Whadja get?

Grace 101

“God has already given us all the things we need for life and godliness.”

What do you think when you read that statement?  Is it true?  All things?  Everything?  For life and godliness?  That seems like a lot.

Yes, this comes from 2 Peter 1:3.  I used it here before:

.. . His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 2 Peter 1:3

Now wouldn’t you like to unpack that a little?

Suppose you learn that someone has sent you a special gift.  They sent it through the mail and it has just arrived.  They want you to open it and enjoy it, but you decide just to let it sit in the living room.  That big box is filled with very special things, but you don’t enjoy any of them.  In fact, you don’t really know what they are.

Well, the Lord says that He has given you a gift.  The gift of eternal life.  The gift of salvation.  The gift of grace.  Isn’t it time to unpack that gift?

Over the next several weeks, the Grace 101 series will be about answering a simple question.  It’s the question we most often hear at Christmas and on birthdays:  “Whadja get?”  You know what I mean.  The birthday child slowly unwraps the present and all the other kids have wide eyes and are leaning forward in their seats.  Everyone has the same question.  They all want to know, “What did you get?”

The world around the Christian is wondering what the Christian has that they don’t have.  They want to know what we got in that gift from Jesus.  There are believers who have never opened their gift.  They still work as though they are earning their salvation.  They are still afraid like they were under the law.  They don’t know what they have in their gift, so they are watching you and me as we dig through ours.  So the world and the fearful believer have the same question: What did you get?

I think you will be amazed.  I really do.  I am beginning the study and I am already amazed.  What a wonderful God we have!  He loves us so much!  And what a wonderful gift He has given us!

One quick thing:  Beginning this week, I will be blogging only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  I hope to do some serious writing through the summer and this will help.  (Narcissist Fridays will continue as normal.)  But there is another reason for this schedule as well.  I hope you will take some time to think about each of these blessings we discover as we unpack the gift God has given.  Rather than just run through them quickly, let’s take a day or so to pray, to enjoy the wonder, and to be grateful.

When we unpack this amazing gift, I believe we will finally understand why Christians under grace walk in victory and live in joy and are filled with love.  Life with Jesus is the best of all possible lives!

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