Tag Archives: grace

Is it I, Lord?

Now it’s one of our own. Someone who encouraged us along the way of grace. Someone who understood and said good words. Someone God used to touch our hearts. Now a good ministry is over and a good name is stained.

When the offenders were of the other camp, the one we escaped, we saw their sin as part of their teaching. It seemed natural to associate sin with the rest of the characteristics we saw in them. Yes, some of what they did surprised us, even disappointed us; but it allowed a separation from them that we felt we needed. In a sense, their sin let us think of them as evil.

But now what? Now they will say bad things about someone we respected. Now they will say that our teaching is the problem. Now they will try to take the focus off what they did and point at us. It is tempting to point out the differences between their sin and ours, but we know in our hearts that the differences don’t really matter. The moment we thought ourselves to be better, we opened the door for the attack—just like they did.

Now we have to ask ourselves if our way is really any better. The way of grace was supposed to be better. As long as sin stayed in their camp, we could think of ourselves as better. We could reject their accusations as long as the sin stayed over there. Good people don’t do those things. We wanted to think of ourselves as good people.

But it’s more than that.

Now we have to grow up, and we have to understand the real message of grace.

Here’s the simple truth: as long as we are in this world, all believers will battle the flesh. The choice we have faced is whether we will live under condemnation because of that fact or under the joy of knowing the forgiveness and love of God in Jesus.

That needs some unpacking.

The flesh is the old way we learned life. The flesh in us believes that we need to solve our own problems, that we are identified by our actions, and that compromise reveals truth. When we hurt, the flesh offers us pleasure. When we are afraid, the flesh offers security. When we are angry, the flesh offers us vengeance. The flesh knows what will make us feel better.

But the flesh lies. It only knows the old way. Life without Jesus. The flesh tells us that compromise will alleviate pain. The flesh tells us that compromise reveals who we really are. Then the flesh tells us that more compromise will make us feel even better. Soon we find ourselves walking a path we never wanted.

Even believers. The flesh did not go away when Christ came in. Nor did it lose its power when we learned grace. Legalism gave power to the flesh because it offered a religious system that made sense. Legalism offered the promise of overcoming evil in our lives, but the flesh learned to substitute some sins with other sins Nothing in legalism gave us victory over the flesh.

And neither did grace. Learning that we are no longer under the law did nothing to take away the power of the flesh. Knowledge may bring us to freedom, but it does not give us victory. In fact, knowledge of grace has made some more judgmental than before, more confident in their errors, more bold in their sins. Knowing grace does not make us better.

Victory over the flesh is found only in the person of Jesus. Only as we learn to walk according to the living Holy Spirit, as the Bible teaches, will we learn to walk apart from the flesh. Even then, our progress is slow and inconsistent. A lifetime can be spent just learning to walk. The transformation of our thinking takes time. But we do learn, more and more, to take our pain to the One who loves us and to trust Him for our victory.

The choice between legalism and grace is not which will be better at rooting out the sin in our lives. The difference is between truth and error. Grace is the message of the Scriptures. We are free in Christ, fully forgiven and acceptable and secure and loved apart from our works good or evil. It is error to tell believers that they are under condemnation and law or that they are still eternally accountable for their sins. Grace is true.

The difference is whether we will live our lives in shame or in love. Will we cower in the presence of Jesus, or will we bask in the love of His heart? Will we see ourselves as loved and accepted, the way He sees us; or will we live on the edge of rejection and condemnation? Hope and peace lie in the realm of grace, because hope and peace come from Jesus.

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So I still choose the message of grace because I know it is the message of Jesus. It still brings hope and peace and joy to my heart. It is still the truth of the Bible, the one message that flows consistently through the revelation of God.

Nothing has changed. Abuse is still sin, and so is adultery. A legalist who abuses does not make the abuse wrong. Abuse is wrong because it hurts others, no matter who does it. A grace teacher who commits adultery does not make adultery right. Adultery is wrong because it hurts others, no matter who does it. We must never rationalize or excuse sin just because the sinner is “on our side.”

If we learn anything from this, we must learn that judgment is not based on sin, but on response to the truth of God’s love in Jesus. Those who taught legalism and brought shame on so many will not be condemned because of their sins. If they are condemned, it will be because they have rejected Jesus. Sin has never been the real issue. The cross of Jesus took care of sin. The only issue is whether we will let the cross of Jesus be sufficient for us and the life of Jesus be exchanged for ours.

And, yes, even grace teachers will sin. Some will stain their ministries and cause suspicion on their message. Hopefully, grace teachers will find a strength to admit the truth and avoid blame. Some will not. Some will look so much like the legalists in their response to their sin that we will wonder about the differences. And, perhaps, we will see that sin is not different in the lives of those under the law and those under grace. The difference is in the hope. The difference is in the reality of the love of God in Jesus. Those who live apart from that reality will continue in shame, rejecting themselves and others. Those who live in the reality of God’s grace will look to Jesus and find forgiveness and peace.

The grace of God in Jesus is still sufficient for us.

Pray for those involved in these sins. Pray for each other. Look to Jesus and be thankful for His love. And when you fall or fail, look to Him and find that His acceptance and love have not changed.

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Better?

 

Children learn the use of comparatives and superlatives quite young, even though they may not know them as parts of speech. Something might be big, but another might be bigger. A comparison will have to be done to discern which is biggest. Big, bigger, biggest. Adjective, comparative, superlative.

For years we participated in a group that had a slogan boldly proclaimed at conferences and in literature.

“Giving the world a ‘new’ approach to life!”

The word “new” was always in quotes, as I remember. That’s because it didn’t really mean new. It meant “better.” At least that’s what we all were to think. People even quoted the slogan incorrectly, saying “Giving the world a better approach to life.” To be fair, I think the official idea was that the approach was not new, but ancient, since it came from the Bible. But the folks in the program—and the world outside—got the message that the way of this group was better.

And it wasn’t just a slogan. It was the theme of the whole ministry. Comparisons to the way of the world or even the rest of the church were constant. Everyone else was doing life wrong. Only the ones in the group were right. Story after story was told about how the ways of others failed and caused heartache. Story after story was told about how the way of the group was successful and wonderful. Money, marital happiness, family harmony, business success, and even national superiority could be attributed to the “better” way.

Now, if you are bold enough to suggest that your way is better, you should prepare for the challenge to be accepted. In other words, if you tell someone you have a better product or way of living, the burden is on you to prove it. The word “better” begs for comparison. That means analysis, observation, scrutiny, and testing. And you should remember that you started the comparisons.

In order to sell a better mousetrap, you have to establish that the old mousetraps have failings. Then you have to show that your mousetrap does not have those failings. And the makers of the others have the right to put your product to the test to see if you really do have something better. Any failing they find will probably be loudly hailed as proof that your mousetrap isn’t really all that much better.

So that brings me back to the Duggars. While I have a great deal of sympathy for the whole situation, particularly for the girls who were victims, I really am neither surprised nor troubled by the media attention given to their recent exposure. Yes, I think it is more than I want to read about or hear about. Yes, I think some people are taking advantage of their vulnerability. Yes, I think Jesus still loves each one of them. But none of us should be surprised at this widespread discussion.

When you challenge the whole world, don’t be surprised when the whole world responds!

The Duggars, faithful to the same group with the same slogan I once participated in, were willing to hold themselves as models for a “better” way of life, and they should be willing to pay the price of inquiry and analysis by those with whom they compared themselves. Bill Gothard, the teacher himself, experienced the same phenomenon. He proclaimed a “better” way, but failed to prove the comparison under examination—even in his own life.

The church is undergoing scrutiny by the eyes of a world no longer intimidated. The flaws of “superior” spirituality are becoming more evident. We have covered our sins and have failed to remove the log from our own eye. We have excused leaders and teachers and supported systems that deny the truth of our own inadequacies.

When spirituality is centered on behavior or performance, we provide for the world and our own people nothing more than a different list of rules than they have. Our list is better, we say. Follow our guidelines and you will avoid the errors and sins that have plagued you. The only problem is that our product does not compare all that well. Our list is just another list.

The Christian faith was never about a list. It was and is about a Person. According to the mystery, the Lord God loved us so much that He took on Himself humanity in the person of Jesus. Jesus, the love of God personified, offered life to those who would come to Him. Those who will admit their need, their inadequacy and failure, can find forgiveness, life, and joy in Him.

Christians are not better people than the rest of the world. Jesus is better. Our hope is not in our good, but in His good. Our forgiveness is not based on our love, but on His love. Our success is not based on our performance, but on His performance. Christians are forgiven, righteous, and hopeful—because of Jesus alone.

What Christians offer to the world is not a better list, but a Savior. The heart of our message depends on our willingness to confess our need. The flesh in us is still pulled to everything the world struggles against. But our hope is not in us or our ways. Our hope is in Jesus.

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Are you open to Manipulation?

(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!)

 

 

From time to time I read Seth Godin’s blog.  He has some great insights about marketing and people.  The most recent blog entry is an interesting item on what makes some people more open to being manipulated.  Read the blog for yourself, but here are some of the things I found interesting in his list.  His blog is not intended to be Christian in any way, but these things are more than worth our consideration.   I will insert my comments, particularly in relation to the religious/performance manipulation I have seen.

  •  Believing something because you heard someone say it on a news show on cable TV.   (Or an unreasoning acceptance of the authority of the guy up front.)
  • Repeating a mantra heard from a figurehead or leader of a tribe without considering whether it’s true.   (Again, an unquestioning attitude toward perceived authority.  So many of these teachers have no evidence for the assertions they make, but their followers accept every word as truth.)
  • Trying to find a short cut to lose weight, make money or achieve some other long-term goal.  (“Seven easy steps to being more spiritual than others.”  “Five ways to make God love you.”  “How to raise your kids the right way.”)
  • Ignoring the scientific method and embracing unexamined traditional methods instead.  (The key word here is “unexamined.”  There is an obsession among many homeschoolers or conservatives for the “old ways.”  Some of the old ways are gone for a reason!)
  • Focusing on (and believing) easily gamed bestseller lists or crowds.  (If the teacher can fill the bleachers, he must be true, right?”)
  • Inability to tolerate fear and uncertainty.  (This is the big one.  The desire to control the fears and uncertainties of life opens many people to the manipulation of leaders.)
  • Allowing the clothes of the messenger (a uniform, a suit and tie, a hat) to influence your perception of the information he delivers (add gender, fame, age and race to this too).  (What, judge someone by what he wears?  You’re kidding!)
  • Reliance on repetition and frequency to decide what’s true.  (If you hear it often enough—say, that Cabbage Patch dolls have demons—it must be true, right?)

There are other characteristics that open people to manipulation at Seth’s Blog.  What do you think?

 

Thanks to:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/

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Perfection

One of the most important teachings of the church is that God is one.  This was a truth revealed in the Old Testament and held highly by the Jews, especially as the other nations looked to many gods.  When the revelation of the Son and the Spirit came, the people of God had to understand three Persons in one God.  This remains one of the fundamental doctrines of the faith.

So, if I were to ask you where the Father dwells, what would you say?  Heaven?  Everywhere?  How about in you?  No, you probably wouldn’t say that because you weren’t taught that.  We were taught that the Spirit dwells in us.  Maybe Jesus.  Not the Father.  The Father is holy and separate and majestic and big.

But the Scriptures clearly teach that the Father is in those who belong to Him.  He dwells in us.  He is far greater than us, of course; but God the Father dwells in us.  That’s what Jesus meant for us to understand when He said:

At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. John 14:20 (NKJV)

There is a oneness between the Father and the Son and a oneness between Jesus and us.  That means, by simple logic, that there is a oneness between the Father and us.  And that’s exactly what Paul tells the Ephesians:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:4-6

If I died with Christ on the cross (Colossians 3:3) and rose with Him from the dead (2 Tim 2:11) and He is now my life (Galatians 2:20), then I am what He is.  And if Jesus is one with the Father (John 10:30) and Jesus is one with us (1 Cor 6:17), then the life of the Father is now in us.  We share in His holiness, His righteousness, His life.

Keep this context in mind as we look again at that verse that has been used in such a deceitful way to discourage so many.

Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48

Now follow me here: if the Father is perfect, then so are you.  Those who belong to God through a relationship with Jesus, have the Father’s life in them.  The Father is perfect.  Therefore those who belong to God are perfect.

Jesus is not telling the people to become perfect.  They couldn’t do that.  They might have interpreted Him that way, but they couldn’t have done it.  No, He is saying that if God is their Father they are already perfect and they should live like it.  Whether God was their Father was the real question.

So here’s the point: those who are in Christ are perfect, as He is perfect.  Because He is perfect.  Do we live that way?  Absolutely consistent with who we are?  No.  But that’s the call He gives.  Live according to who you are.

No one will ever become perfect by living a good-enough life.  That’s the clear message of the Scriptures.  Christ is the perfection of the Father in us.  He has already given to us what we could never gain for ourselves.  His love accomplished that for us and in us.  And He gave it as a gift to those who would receive it.

So the call is for us to live according to who we are.  Be who you are.

 

Comments?  Questions?

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But what about…

Grace 101

There are times when the preacher goes from preaching to meddling.  Some people might think of this post as meddling.  You might be right.

Jesus told us to treat others in the way we would want to be treated.  I think there’s a reason He said that.  It’s because you will never receive what you are unwilling to give to others.

You see, the hardest part of the path is not what we find in the church or even in our judgment of ourselves.  The part of the path that is least likely to receive the message of grace is our judgment of others.  We see the sins of others more clearly than we see our own.  We sometimes have less patience and forgiveness for others than we would like to experience ourselves.

Often, when I talk with people about grace, the fact that God has dealt with our sins and no longer holds them against us and has done everything necessary for us to be saved, I get a response like this: “That’s nice but what about…?”  The example given is usually some behavior observed in others that is offensive to the person.  Usually it’s something the person doesn’t see in himself.

Can you live with your girlfriend and still be saved?  Can you drink to excess and still be a Christian?  Can you be a part of XYZ church and still go to Heaven?  Can you smoke, cuss, look at porn, cheat on taxes, steal cable TV, lie, drive badly, or have doubts about some facts in the Bible?  If these behaviors won’t keep a person out of Heaven, what will?

It is very difficult for us, even with an understanding of grace, to let go of the judgments we learned.  We have invested in a game that measures success on the basis of doing better than others.  Notice that it is not doing well, not really.  No, we have trouble believing that we can do well, but we sure can do better than some of the people we know.

Listen, I do this.  I suspect we all do.  I know grace teachers who proclaim boldly the love of God and sufficiency of the person and work of Jesus but criticize and complain about other people’s behavior.  I know that there are certain things that trigger my irritation and are hard to ignore when it comes to letting Jesus deal with His people.  After all, they are only accountable to Him, not to me.

Why do we judge?  Some of it comes from the values drilled into us by parents, church, or life.  We see certain behaviors as wrong, simply because we were taught they were wrong.  Some people, according to our prejudices, are unacceptable because of those behaviors.

And some of this comes from the energy and frustration we spend trying to avoid the passions and temptations that come along in our lives.  We work to stay away from sin, and then we become frustrated when we see others who don’t seem to try to avoid it at all.  We are especially tested when we are supposed to understand that Jesus accepts them just as He does us.

But listen: how will we ever really accept the truth about the way the Lord accepts us if we can’t believe that He accepts others the same way?  If He rejects one because of a certain behavior, then why would He not reject us when we do the same thing—or anything else that is sin in His eyes?  We will not receive the joy and peace of knowing the love of God if we don’t see that He accepts all people just as He accepts us.

Yup, that’s meddling.  Lord help me to remember this throughout the day!

(Since I wrote this post, I have received a comment on the previous post that has prompted me to add this paragraph.  When others hurt us, they are accountable to God for their sin.  If they truly belong to Him and He chooses to forgive them, that’s His business because He is their Master and they answer to Him.  But that doesn’t make their actions less evil or sinful.  God is not the Author of evil nor does He condone evil done by the hands of His people.  We can acknowledge this without being legalistic or unforgiving.  It is certainly true that Christians can hurt each other and participate in the work of the evil one as we operate in the flesh.  There are many admonitions against believers hurting each other in Scripture.  If we fail to understand that Christians can do things which are evil, we will misplace the blame for that evil.  Instead, we must allow the Lord to love and forgive as He wills and trust His servants to His hands.  He may discipline or change them, but He will not stop loving those who are His.  And remember, not all who claim His name are His.)

 

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Salvation

 

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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Grace Plus?

I once heard a preacher say that he was 90% grace and 10% law.  He was, of course, concerned about the behavior of those who claimed they were under grace.  It fascinates me that so many people are so concerned about behavior in the lives of those who trust in Christ alone for life.

Frankly, I haven’t seen all that much difference between the behavior of those who claim the sufficiency of Christ and that of those who say that we must maintain our salvation by our behavior.  We who know that we are under grace still struggle against the flesh and the ways of the world.  We still do things the Lord calls sin.  And law hasn’t really helped behavior throughout the centuries, has it?  It seems to me that legalists are just as compromised as we are.

Behavior isn’t the issue.  The issue is life.  The grace message says that life does not come through good behavior but through the love of God in Jesus.  The grace message says that we can add nothing to nor take anything away from the work of Jesus on our behalf.  In other words, we are saved, and kept saved, by His behavior, not ours.

The message we reject is the one that suggests we need to watch ourselves or else we will lose the gift Jesus has given us.  If we do certain wrong things we may wake up one day and find ourselves on the outside.  We reject the idea that anyone has to maintain his own salvation by his behavior or add to the work of Jesus in order to be “really saved.”  We reject the idea that some people are more saved than others on the basis of their good works.  We reject the idea that saved people walk through life with sin yet to be forgiven or washed from their lives.  We reject those things because we believe Scripture rejects them.

Are there people in the grace community who think that sin isn’t a big deal?  I suppose.  But saying that there is no sin on the account of a believer is not the same as saying that sin isn’t a big deal.  Anyone who has read my writings should know that I teach sin is always hurtful and always foolish.  God does hate sin and that’s because He love us.  Sin hurts us. 

And, again, the problem of sin is not a grace issue.  Under the law, people continue to struggle with sin.  Who could deny that? 

The difference, of course, is that those who are under grace walk forward through their lives with the knowledge of God’s love and forgiveness.  We don’t have to look over our shoulders, wondering whether we have done enough or been careful enough.  We can trust the finished work of Jesus.

Listen: If my behavior will keep me out of Heaven, then I am doomed.  You are too.  My salvation has to be completely outside of me, because there is nothing of me that can earn it or keep it.  I am being transformed in my thinking, but I continue to look to the flesh for my responses in life.  I find that I walk in the Spirit more and more; but, if perfect behavior is required, I’m not going to make it.

So if it is grace plus behavior/law, then what percentage is necessary?  Is it 90% grace and 10% behavior?  Is it 99% what Jesus does and 1% what I do?  Maybe 99.9% a free gift of God’s love and .1% a work of my flesh?

No.  No one is good enough to earn .1 % or even .001%.  The stain of sin runs throughout my flesh, even after I come to Jesus.  The flesh is what remains of my old thinking, built and damaged by years apart from the Lord.  If my hope is built on grace plus any amount of good from my flesh, there is no hope. 

When you examine the objections people bring against the message of grace, you will almost always find a desire to place some level of trust in the work of the flesh.  They will almost always say that we still have to behave ourselves or else.  Even those who don’t say what the “else” is, steal hope from the believer.  And if hope fades, victory fades.

Victory in the Christian life, even victory in behavior, comes from the assurance that the work of Jesus is sufficient and permanent in our lives.  Sin is a defeated enemy.  It no longer identifies us, controls us, or condemns us.  In those times when I do something sinful, I can get up and move forward again in the certain knowledge of the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

That’s the message of grace!

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