Tag Archives: God’s grace

Why oh why?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

You sit in your chair staring at the television. It’s off. The room is dark because you don’t want to be in the light right now. No one is around and you are grateful. Your mind and heart are numb, yet racing with thought. Numb thought. That’s about right.

What you did was wrong. It was a foolish decision. Yet, you did it knowingly and willingly. You didn’t stop at the warnings, you just did it. And it felt good. Or did it? There was something in it that felt good, but that numbness was there as well. The laughter and happiness were tempered by the knowledge that regret was coming. You knew you would pay a price.

And maybe this wasn’t the first time. It’s like something builds in you and needs to be released. The release brings pleasure, but also pain. The problem seems to be that the pain is future while the pleasure is present. As long as the pleasure comes first, you long for it. The pain, which seems so real as you sit in your chair staring at the TV, is far enough away to be ignored.

Pastor Jones preaches in favor of marriage and family, but visits the adult bookstore when he goes to the big city. He lives in fear that someone will see him and hates himself later, but rarely misses the stop. Mrs. Smith has a bottle hidden away and seeks comfort in its contents. The last bottle, like the ones before it, was poured down the drain in shame and guilt. But there’s always another. Another few dollars from the register at work, another few “extra” hours on the time card, just one more night together, just a little lie: these seem to take the pressure away—for a while.

Why do we do what we don’t want to do? Why do we keep making these bad decisions? What in the world is going on?

Well, the problem may be old, but the answer isn’t easy. It has to do with how we believe we are accepted or loved. The old saying is that everybody needs to be somebody to somebody. We need affirmation and, to get it, we will do just about anything.

Almost all of us grew up with affirmation that came on the basis of some kind of points. We earned points by doing the right things. We lost points when we did the wrong things. Our culture, whether from the church or family or community, sought to mold us by a system of rewards and punishments. And, for the most part, it appeared to work. We are affirmed when we do well and shamed when we do not.

But inside, where our thoughts and desires live, affirmation comes from feeling important or valued. We want to feel good about ourselves. Yes, that might mean that we want to feel righteous, but it also means we want to feel strong or desirable or rich. We aren’t usually content with feeling acceptable to the community, we want to feel like we are “somebody.” The community affirms us when we conform, when we are not independent and creative. Our hearts affirm us when we express our uniqueness and value.

Most of the vices in life minister to our need to feel special. Alcohol, overspending, porn, drugs, lying, theft—all are there because they promise to meet that need. They may do it through fantasy, but even fantasy feels good for a while. They all have consequences, but the feeling is sometimes worth the price. The vices calls to the needs of our hearts.

Keeping the rules and cultural standards may satisfy the community, but that doesn’t satisfy the heart. The points we gain from “doing right” are not enough. We seem to need more. Points come from the other side as well. The fantasies give us points that feel good. It even makes us feel strong and independent to break the rules. Those points count. They don’t satisfy either, but they seem to give us something.

Once the cycle begins, and it begins early, we go from breaking the rules and scoring the points that make us feel good to keeping the rules and trying to overcome the negatives with points from the good side. So Pastor Jones preaches about faithfulness in marriage, then visits the porn shop, then preaches a stronger message about marriage the next week. He isn’t being simply insincere. He is struggling with these feelings of acceptance. He thinks he can overcome the negative points with more positive ones.

But the more we try to overcome the negatives with positives, the more we feel phony and the less any of the points help us feel good about ourselves. Our goal is to feel good, but those feelings diminish the longer the process goes. The cycle becomes more and more frantic until something happens to break it. It will begin all over again unless we find a way to get away from points altogether. As with any addiction, we have to find a way to break free.

There is a way, but it is contrary to most of what you have been taught and most of what you feel. That way is to accept the love and affirmation of the One who made you. He does love you. It doesn’t matter what you have done. He welcomes you. He values you. He wants you to know that no system of points, either in your culture or your heart, will ever be enough to satisfy your need. His love will be enough.

The message of the Gospel of Jesus is a message of love and acceptance. I know that preachers have made it sound otherwise, but they are as bound up in their system as you have been in yours. The message of the cross is one of sacrificial love for those who neither deserved nor understood it. It allows all of us to get off the point system and accept our acceptance.

Think about what you will give up when you leave the point system behind. No more spiritual comparisons. If there is no need for gaining spiritual points, then no one can be better than another. No more sleepless nights worrying about regrets. You are accepted by the Lord regardless of your past and your mistakes. No more fear of judgment. The One who judges you loves you and has given all to have you with Him. No more fear of failure. Results and accomplishments are in the hands of the Lord who loves you. On and on. The things you give up by leaving the points behind are the things that have hurt you so much.

I understand that this post is long and may seem convoluted. Let me summarize by saying that we tend to gravitate to that which promises to make us feel good—and those feelings come from both sides of the moral system. There is a better way. When you get up in the morning, remind yourself that the Lord loves you. Let yourself feel accepted and valued by Him. Throughout the day, seek His presence and remember His love. At the end of the day, thank Him for loving you. Then accept the rest He gives. Is it that simple? Yes, I believe it is.

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Filed under grace, Grace definition, heart, Narcissism, Relationship

Imputed Righteousness

 

Back to Grace!   

“How righteous are you?”

That’s a question I ask from time to time. The answers I receive are predictable. “Well, I try. Hopefully I have some righteousness. I know I’ve done a lot of wrong things, but I’ve done some good things, too.” It’s a question that makes believers squirm. We have been trained to think of ourselves as unrighteous. In many churches, believers are told how their sins separate them from God and they have to repent in order to be forgiven. Then they are led in a prayer, asking God for forgiveness. But they know it will never hold. Next week they will have to do it again.

So, how righteous are you?

Do you get a little squirt of righteousness each Sunday and try to live on that for a week? Are you trying to do good things so that the righteousness in you will outweigh the unrighteousness? Are you hoping that no one will see the wickedness in your life and you can just somehow slip into Heaven unnoticed? Or are you expecting a good scolding and some temporary punishment when you get to those pearly gates? Christians have all kinds of strange ideas, and almost all of those ideas come from bad teaching.

Ready for an answer?

“How righteous are you?”

“I am as righteous as Jesus!”

WHOA! How can you say that? Jesus was perfectly righteous. He never did anything wrong. He never sinned. He always did right. Everything Jesus did pleased the Father. How could anyone say that he or she is as righteous as Jesus?

Then out come the verses:

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God…”
“There is none righteous, no not one…”
“All we like sheep have gone astray…”
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…”

And all of these verses are true, and I believe all of them. But that’s what we were, not what we are. Yes, we have all sinned and fallen short. No debate. It is true that no one, save Jesus, is without sin and righteous on his or her own. No argument on that. If we say that we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves. That’s true also. Those statements are about what used to be and what would still be true if we were apart from Christ.

But we are not apart from Christ. We have been washed and sanctified and justified (1 Cor 6:11). We have been cleansed of all sin (1 John 1:7). We have been forgiven (1 John 2:12). In Jesus, all these things are true of us.

In the Bible, the concept of righteousness is portrayed as an account sheet. Sins are listed as negative, I presume; while good works are listed as positives. We have a couple of problems. There are so many sins that our good works will never catch up. Then, even our good works are so often compromised by our sins. We do things we want to do and in the way we want and for the people we want. So few good works are truly pure, without the stain of sin in themselves. And more, even those few good things we do that are actually close to selfless are not truly our work, but the work of Jesus in us and through us. All of that means that our moral account is in pretty bad shape. Not even close to righteous.

The theological word connected to all of this is “imputed.” To impute something is to give it to another. In the Bible, this particularly refers to moral or spiritual accountability.  And righteousness is imputed, given to us from outside of us.  The only righteousness we have is imputed righteousness.

So the gospel teaches us that Jesus, who was perfectly righteous in Himself, washed away our unrighteousness by His sacrifice for us on the cross and granted to us His own righteousness. So Paul says:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21

We become the “righteousness of God.” Even about himself, Paul says that his only goal in life is to be found in Christ:

…not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith Philippians 3:9

In other words, if you were to ask Paul how righteous he was, he would tell you about the righteousness of Christ in him. Why? Because there was no other righteousness in him.

So here you go. Apart from Christ, no one is righteous. But those who have come to Him for salvation by faith are not apart from Him. In Him, you have His righteousness. Because He is in you and you are in Him, His righteousness is your righteousness.

How righteous are you? If you belong to Jesus, you are as righteous as He is. That’s the message of grace!

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Filed under grace, Grace 101, Theology and mystery

What must I do?

Sometimes we learn a great deal from what isn’t said in Scripture.

When Paul and Silas were in prison in Philppi, there was a great earthquake and the chains of the prisoners fell open. The jailer, who was responsible for the prisoners, had been sleeping and woke to see that the prisoners were free. He prepared to kill himself for his neglect, but Paul told him that all the prisoners were still there. Apparently, he had been listening to the message of the gospel before he fell asleep and he asked Paul a simple, but profound, question: “What must I do to be saved?”

So there it is. The question. It almost seems incredible that we would still be asking it when it is answered so simply.

In some churches today you have to become members to be saved. Or be baptized. Or obey some list of rules. Or live a good life. Or give time or money. Or pray a certain prayer. In some you have to be good enough before you can be saved. In some you have to become good enough after you are saved in order to stay saved. In some you can never be sure. And in some, you have to be among the “elect,” the chosen ones.

But the jailer didn’t hear any of that in answer to his question. He just heard:

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

That’s it! Nothing about obedience or personal righteousness. Nothing about joining anything. The man wasn’t even a Jew!

Just believe. Just trust Jesus. That’s it.

Of course, some have a vested interest in complicating the simple gospel message. They can control those who come to them if they set up the right requirements and structure. And others just think it seems right to expect certain lifestyle changes and behaviors when giving such an important privilege. But anything more than “believe” is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, I have to add that Paul also did not tell the man he was already saved, like some would say today. He did not tell the man that all people were saved but they just don’t know it and that nothing is required. Paul had the opportunity to do that, if he believed it. No, he said that the man simply had to open his mind and heart and believe.

You see, the gift of salvation is already paid for and available to anyone who is willing to receive it. Jesus doesn’t force anyone to be saved. He offers the gift. If you believe Him enough to receive it, it’s yours. He wants you to have it.

Yes, everything changes from that point, but the changes are good. The jailer “rejoiced” because he had believed. No doubt the Spirit led him to a much different life, but that was after he believed and was saved.

The gospel is really that simple. Beware of those who add to the simple message. The lies are everywhere. The truth is found in Jesus.

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Filed under Church, grace, Relationship, Theology and mystery

The Real Message

There are so many reasons I consider the message of grace to be the central message of the Scriptures and the ultimate doctrine of God’s love. The Scriptures tell us over and over that God loves us and that He is the only one who can do what is necessary for us to be saved—and sanctified—and glorified. He does what we need. That’s grace!

There are many messages that have come to and through the people of God. Some say that we have to work for our salvation, either to earn it or maintain it. Some are saying today that all are already saved, no matter what they have done or what they believe. But God sent only one message of love to us—Jesus. And, I believe, the only message that allows Jesus His true position in the world and in our lives is the message of grace. It rings true throughout the Scriptures because it is the right message, the message God wants us to hear and to tell.

So here it is: God loves you and offers all that you need for “life and godliness” in the gift of His Son, Jesus. Your part is simply to be willing to receive, to take what He offers, to let Him love you. The day will come when we will see Jesus at the center of our existence, the source and goal of our lives, and that will truly be Heaven.

The message of grace is the message that keeps our eyes on Jesus.

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It’s all ours!

Imagine inheriting a beautiful estate, fully furnished, in the location of your dreams. The house is massive, full of rooms and treasures. There are outbuildings and what seems to be unending land with fields, trees, water, and paths. It’s all yours.

The caretaker welcomes you to your new home and offers to show you around. He wisely shows you just the places you will need and then leaves you to discover the wonders of the rest on your own. At any time, you can call on him for help or information; but he understands the special pleasure you will have in discovering these things on your own.

Something like that happens when we first enter into the knowledge of grace. We are told the basics, but there will be a lifetime of discovering the wonders and privileges of our relationship with Jesus.

This is the kind of experience I have had as I have learned about grace. I read the Scriptures and pray and more is opened almost every day. I read and listen to people who understand and am in awe of the new treasures I find. Some of the things I could see faintly, but when I looked closely I found them even more wonderful than I had thought. Some of the things I could almost expect as I reasoned through what I already knew, but some were amazing surprises.

You and I are loved by the Lord God Almighty. He has done all that is necessary for us to be with Him forever. He has provided, through our relationship with Him, everything we need for life and godliness. Jesus is our Friend. He is with us and He will never let us go. The rest of our lives will be spent learning more and more about what all of that means. As we learn, we will see more truth and feel more freedom and peace with every new day.

Perhaps it is true that we will never fully understand the grace of God in this world, but we are on our way. We listen and watch and more is revealed all the time. And we don’t have to distort the Scriptures or make up new doctrines or ideas. Instead, we will discover the beauty of the things that were plain all the time, except that we were not able to see them. We didn’t realize they were ours.

The old song says, “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before!” I am beginning to understand.

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Relationship, Theology and mystery, Uncategorized

Logic

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

Suppose I were to posit that all dogs eat dog food. What if I then suggested that you could become a dog by eating dog food? Would that work for you? Of course not. We understand that many things can eat dog food. Crows will eat it. Kids will sometimes eat it. Skunks will eat it. But eating dog food doesn’t make someone or something a dog.

Simple logic. Most of us use it every day to keep us from foolish errors.

But if I go to church and hear a sermon my logical defenses may break down. I am tempted to trust the words of the preacher. For example: Paul was a great man for God. Paul served with great sacrifice. Therefore if I serve with great sacrifice, I will be a great man for God. God loved Moses and Moses accomplished great things. Moses left the comforts of life. Therefore if I leave the comforts of life, God will love me and I will accomplish great things. Many preachers are guilty of making these connections and many listeners eagerly accept this kind of teaching as being helpful in living the right kind of life. After all, why are we told about these people if not for us to use their lives as examples? Right?

Well, not that kind of example. Paul was a great man for God – because God chose to do great things through him. God loved Moses and God chose to work mighty things through Moses’ life. These things are not the result of effort or wisdom from these men. The amazing events of their lives are the result of the choice and activity of God.

That’s grace!

 

 

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Is it Legalism?

 

Occasionally I get a challenge on my use of the word “legalism.”  Some say that I don’t use it right, that I am just using it to categorize people in a negative way.  They think it is unfair for me to use the word to describe those who hold to higher standards or certain kinds of behavior.

What these challengers don’t understand is that I have been where they are.  In fact, years ago, I wrote a little pamphlet entitled, “The L Word,” in which I debunked the challenges of those who pointed at my church and called us legalists.  I said that legalism was only properly used in reference to a system teaching that people can be saved by keeping the Law.  Since I always believed that salvation came through Jesus alone, by grace through faith, I could not have been called a legalist.

Have you ever been right and wrong at the same time and about the same thing?  Well, I have been.  The above assessment is technically correct.  Legalism teaches salvation by law.  What I didn’t understand then is that all forms of performance spirituality stem from and return to legalism.

Now, let me give you a little of the theology I believe.  There is one requirement for salvation and it isn’t something we do.  It is receiving, by faith, the gift God has given to us in Jesus.  That’s it.  Just saying yes.

And that’s where some people disagree.  Yes, it’s faith, they say, but it is also obedience.  It is also doing the things God says.  If you don’t do what God says, then you aren’t really saved, they say.  And I reply: that’s legalism.

If my behavior is a requirement for my salvation, then I am under the law and saved by works.  If it is 90% Jesus and only 10% me, then I cannot be saved because I can never measure up even to that.  It doesn’t matter what ratio you bring out, if it isn’t 100% the love of God through Jesus, given freely as a gift to those who will receive, then it’s legalism.

Still, most performance-based people would agree with this.  And that’s where I was.  But then I began to hear people say things like, “Well, real Christians don’t ___.”   Or even, “I have to wonder if so-and-so is still saved.”  And sometimes, “We have no fellowship with people who don’t ___.”  I began to understand that we still had some requirements in addition to Jesus.

If the teaching produces feelings that some are “real” Christians while others are not; or that a person could lose his salvation on the basis of some evil act or the lack of some good act—how is that not legalism?  It is still under the law and not dependent on the grace of God in Jesus.  It’s grace plus whatever rule or standard the teaching promotes.  If you have to speak in tongues or be baptized a certain way or wear certain clothes in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus doesn’t make real Christians.  He only makes potential Christians.  We have to do the rest.  And if you have to avoid smoking or divorce or television or alcohol in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus can’t keep what He has made.  It’s up to us to keep ourselves in the kingdom and keep ourselves saved.

And—listen—if it’s up to us to keep ourselves saved, then we are under law and not under grace.  And those who are under law are legalists.

So what does your church or organization teach?  What do the people around you say, particularly about others who are not like you?  Are some people “real” Christians while others who profess Christ in some other category?  Are some people you talk about in danger of losing their salvation or of never having been saved because of something they do or don’t do?

Legalism is the antithesis of grace.  It pushes the love of God into a side category considering it something like an influence, rather than the answer and hope of the believer.  The cross of Christ is not enough for the legalist, we must do our part.  And the legalist will tell us what our part ought to be.

The truth is that the cross is enough.  The work of our salvation was accomplished by the love of God in Jesus.  That’s the past work, the present work, and the future work.  All that is necessary, He has done.  Our part is to believe and receive.

And about now the objections are being shouted.  “But what about sin?”  “We have to do our part!”  “What about the commands?”  “What about those people?”  Go my blog page and type the word “sin” into the search box.  You can read my many answers to these objections.

My mom and I used to play cribbage and she often said, “No matter how many times you count it, that’s all you get.”  Count it any way you want.  The truth is still the same.  All the challenges and objections and qualifications boil down to a simple fact:

If Jesus is enough, that’s grace.

If Jesus is not enough, that’s legalism.

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Filed under grace, Grace definition, Legalism, Theology and mystery