Tag Archives: sin

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.

********

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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As A Man Thinketh

Do our doctrines motivate our behavior

or

does our behavior motivate our doctrines?

This question has come up on two discussion groups I deal with.  Interestingly, and perhaps in answer to the question, the doctrines presented in these discussion groups are dramatically different.  The two groups are as close to opposites as we will find within the Christian community.

In one group, we are told that all are saved and there is no hell and nothing will keep anyone from Heaven.  So, the folks who teach that are free to do whatever they want without spiritual consequence.  In the other group, we are told that God is angry with evil and that only a few will get through the gates and that that anyone who disagrees is already condemned.  So the folks who teach there believe they are superior to everyone else and do pretty much whatever they want without worrying about spiritual consequence.  Since the folks in both groups seek to minimize and manipulate earthly consequences, they are almost completely unaccountable.  Yes, it is just that bizarre.

The only difference between the groups, other than their basic beliefs, is their willingness to expose their behavior.  The first group, the one that rejects any negative consequence, is loud and in your face.  The second, the one that teaches others to behave under law and condemnation, has to hide the excesses.  The first doesn’t care about exposure; while the second avoids it.  Otherwise, their behavior is much the same.

Behavior proceeds out of our thinking, according to the Scripture.  So does our doctrine.  What we do comes from what we think.  But what we believe also comes from what we think.  If I think I ought to be able to do something I will find ways to do it and justify it.

So big name preachers mishandle money and women.  And grace teachers get drunk and cuss.  And church leaders abuse their wives and gossip about others.  They do it because they think they should be able to do it.  And they create doctrine that allows it.

Both behavior and doctrine come out of our thinking.  When our thinking is perverse, both our behavior and our doctrine will be perverse.  We are called to “renew” our minds, our thinking, according to the thinking of Christ.  We are to have His mind and His heart.

The Christian life is not a certain standard of behavior.  It is also not a certain set of doctrines.  The Christian life is a relationship with a Person.  It is an exchange, if you will, of His life for ours, of His quality for ours.  He loves us and we love Him.  We walk with Him and He talks with us and we begin to think like Him.

Is there right behavior?  Is there right doctrine?  Of course, but neither matter unless they come out of our relationship with Jesus.

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Reconciliation

Grace 101

 

So let me ask you a question: Is God angry about your sins?  You know, the ones you did in the past.  Or maybe the ones you continue to do.  Is He angry with you?  Are you in danger of facing the wrath of God?

It is interesting to realize that churches that are mostly filled with believers are the ones who hear most about the wrath of God and His anger toward our sin.  Churches filled with people who know little or nothing about salvation or a relationship with Jesus rarely hear about God’s anger toward sin.  So the ones who are still in their sins are not taught about God’s concern with sin, while those whose sins are fully forgiven are taught to be afraid of God’s wrath.  Doesn’t that seem a little backward?

I have met many believers who are afraid of God. They believe that He is still angry with them, that He would zap them joyfully if not for the intervention of Jesus.  They don’t want to get close to God and can hardly pray without all kinds of confession and bargaining and pleading for mercy.  They feel themselves teetering on the edge of condemnation, barely saved.

Why do they feel this way?  Because someone is constantly pointing out their sinfulness and shame.  No, it isn’t the Lord.  It may be the preacher or the teacher or Christian friends.  And, almost always, there is the insinuation that God is angry.  Maybe, they hear, if you change your ways and ask forgiveness, He will overlook your sins—this time.

Well, if you look into the box of the gift of salvation, you will find something that isn’t talked about as much as it should be.  You will find that your relationship with Jesus has fully reconciled you to God.  The good news of the gospel is that the Father sent the Son to bring the salvation we needed.  In fact, the Father sent the Spirit to bring you and me to the Son so that we could be saved and forgiven and fully reconciled to Him.  That means there is no one left to be angry with us.  The Trinity was in this together because of Love.

This is important.  Not only is it wonderful, it is important.  You and I stand in the presence of God who loves us.  We may come boldly into His presence, even joyfully.  We do not need to be afraid.

But what about our sin?  What about the things we continue to do?  Well, God still hates sin; and, as I have explained before, He does so because He loves us and sin hurts us.  He will work against sin in our lives and call us to right living.  All of that is true.  But He is not angry with His children.  He loves us.

You see, for many of us, anger suggests rejection.  We get the idea (sometimes through the simple words of the sermon) that if we do something wrong, we just might get kicked out of the club.  God will reject us.  I once heard a man tell a group of children that God hated cheaters.  So, the logic must go, if one of the children cheated in the competition, God must hate him.  How sad and how wrong!  I might suggest that God hates cheating because of how it hurts people, but He doesn’t hate the people who come to Him.  And He will never reject anyone who belongs to Jesus.  Never.

Abraham was called the friend of God.  Abraham came to God in faith, faith that is used as an example for us.  Those of us who come to God through faith in Jesus are God’s friends.  Fully reconciled.  No longer enemies.  And whatever barrier there was between us was destroyed by His initiative.  He did it because He loved us and He wanted that reconciliation.

So come to God with peace in your heart, trusting in His love.  There is nothing to fear.

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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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An Incongruent Life

Grace 101

 

And if when I died fully
I cannot say,
And changed into the corpse-thing
I am to-day,
 
Yet is it that, though whiling
The time somehow
In walking, talking, smiling,
I live not now.

– Thomas Hardy, Dead Man Walking

 

Although it is a popular phrase today, used by some even to mean people about to be fired or let go from their job, “dead men walking” seems gruesome to me.  But it is a particularly accurate description of the existence Adam and Eve had after the Fall.  In fact, it is a description of anyone’s life apart from Christ.

Obviously we won’t get far trying to convince those without Jesus that they are dead.  But they already know that something is off, something is not the way it should be.  The life/existence of the lost person is incongruent.

Congruency is agreement or harmony.  It is a description of things working together to perform or be identified as a unified whole.  But the lost person, apart from life in Christ, is not whole.  How much of our art and music has come from the deep longing of the soul?  How much sin has come from the search for fulfillment?  How many good works have been done in the search to bring wholeness to human life?

But, apart from life in Christ, we are the walking dead.  Our first parents were unable to pass on to us the life they shared with God in the Garden.  That communion that fulfilled their lives, that brought them into harmony with God and each other, was lost.  The grief they felt has reverberated throughout humanity to this day.

And we use hard words to describe those who remain apart from Jesus.  They are lost; they walk in darkness; they are under condemnation and shame; they are in sin and in Adam; they are doomed to hell.  Words of pain and struggle and grief.

This is the death that God warned them about.  It was their choice, but this death was the consequence of their sin.  It was more than separation from God.  It was separation from life.  And there was no going back.

No matter how hard or what they tried, they could never regain that life.  It could never again be theirs.  Good works, striving, even religion couldn’t bring it back.  It was gone forever.

And the only answer was new life from outside themselves.  Their only hope was in something that wasn’t theirs.

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What Happened?

Grace 101

If God made us to live in relationship with Him through the very life He placed in us, what happened?  How could that have changed?

The subject of sin is broad and deep and complicated, I suppose.  So let’s just assume the fact of sin, the action and attitude that Adam and Eve had when they stepped outside the will of God.  Remember that it was their choice to move into a territory or state of being apart from God.  God had told them something and they chose to disobey.  In fact, He told them very clearly that they would die.

But did they die?  They didn’t fall down and stop moving.  They didn’t stop breathing.  They don’t seem to have died at all.  So we reinterpret the simple words of God.  What He meant, we say, was that they would die eventually.  It took Adam 900 years to die, according to the Scriptures.  900 years later, the words of God happened just as He said.  Really?

No.  God told them something very specific.  He said, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  In the day.  What day?  A day lasting 900 years?  I don’t think so.  I think it was in the same day, at the same time, the very moment.  When Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, the spiritual life of God that connected Adam with the Lord died.  The light went out.

Since both Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, stepped outside the will of God, they both lost communion with Him.  The life died in both of them.  And they were no longer able to pass that spiritual life on to their children.  What was supposed to be a wonderful uniting of all people to the heart of God didn’t happen.

The physical life continued, of course.  What we see after the Garden is a testimony to the love and mercy of God.  He did not destroy the people.  He did not end humanity as a failed attempt at love.  He had a wonderful plan in place that would welcome people back to a real and lasting relationship with Him.  And He would use that plan to show us what love was all about.

But in the meantime, the only relationship any human could have with God was as two separate beings seeking to relate through the walls of sin and unbelief.  We were the “walking dead.”  The heart of God was something foreign and the love of God was so difficult to see.  All we knew, apart from Him, was that something was seriously wrong.  And many of us simply forgot even that.

So the life that was supposed to be in us, supposed to define us, was lost and we were lost.  Adam and Eve, our ancestors, entered into that realm called, “Apart from God,” and humanity has been there ever since.  The purpose of our existence, the reason for humanity, was lost on that day.

But God had a plan.

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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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