Friday, December 2, 2011

What is Grace?

(Compiled from several different authors, primarily Joseph Prince and Tullian Tchividjian.)

There is a story about a man standing at the gates of heaven waiting to be admitted. To the man’s utter shock, Peter said, “You have to have earned a thousands points to be admitted to heaven. What have you done to earn your points?”
“I’ve never heard that before: but I think I’ll do alright. I was raised in a Christian home and have always been a part of the church. I have Sunday school attendance pins that go down the floor. I went to a Christian college and graduate school and have probably led hundreds of people to Christ. I’m now an elder in my church and am quite supportive of what the people of God do. I have three children, two boys and a girl. My oldest boy is a pastor and the younger is a staff person with a ministry to the poor. My daughter and her husband are missionaries. I have always tithed and am now giving well over 30% of my income to God’s work. I’m a bank executive and work with the poor in our city trying to get low income mortgages.”
“How am I doing so far”, he asked Peter.
“That’s one point,” Peter said. “What else have you done?”
“Good Lord…have mercy!” the man said in frustration.
“That’s it!” Peter said. “Welcome home.”
This is a silly illustration the writer ended by saying, “Teach the law. The Psalmist called it perfect. Teach it until people recognize their inability to keep it and cry out for mercy…Mercy always comes running.”

1.               Grace is mercy.
The law exists to crush any sense that “we can get ‘er done.” Regardless of how well I think I’m doing in the sanctification project or how much progress I think I’ve made since I first became a Christian, when God’s perfect law becomes the standard and not “how much I’ve improved over the years”, I realize that I’m a lot worse than I fancy myself to be. Whatever I think my greatest vice is, God’s law shows me that my situation is much graver: if I think it’s anger, the law shows me that it’s actually murder; if I think it’s lust, the law shows me that it’s actually adultery; if I think it’s impatience, the law shows me that it’s actually idolatry (read Matthew 5:17-48). The law shows us that our best is never good enough. Even the best things we do have something in them to be pardoned. The law smashes our “rose-colored glasses” view of ourselves. No matter how decent I think I’m becoming, when I’m graciously confronted by God’s law, I can’t help but cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Romans 7:24). The law alone shows us how desperate we are for outside help.
After the law does its crushing work, however, we are then able (like Paul) to break out into the song of freedom–the laughter of the redeemed: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord…There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 7:25-8:1). It’s only when we come to the end of ourselves that we come to the beginning of God’s grace–which yields bona fide freedom! We will always be suspicious of grace until we realize our desperate need for it (“Wretched man that I am!”). Desperate people love grace. Deceived people (i.e., those who think they’re basically “making it”) fear it. Those who know (and I mean really know!) just how much they’ve been forgiven, love much (Luke 7:47).
The reason Paul breaks out into loud praise is because he knows that the determining factor in his relationship with God is not his obedience (the law showed him how bad he was at this) but Christ’s obedience for him. He finds great freedom knowing that his standing with God is not based on his struggle for Jesus (he fought the law and the law won), but Jesus’ struggle for him–that God doesn’t relate to us based on our feats for Jesus but Jesus’ feats for us.
The law reveals how quick we are to run from God; the gospel reveals how quick God is to run after us.
So, “Cheer up; you’re a lot worse off than you think you are, but in Jesus you’re far more loved than you could have ever imagined.”
Romans 4:5 talks about faith that believes God justifies the ungodly. When you believe that God justifies the ungodly, it will give you boldness to come to God, even when you feel unclean because you have just blown it.
When you fail, don’t run away from God. Run boldly to Him, knowing that you are justified by the blood of Christ and not by your behavior.

2.       Grace is unconditional.
There’s nothing more difficult for us to get our minds around than the unconditional grace of God; it offends our deepest sensibilities.  We understand conditions. Conditionality makes sense. Unconditionality on the other hand is incomprehensible to us. We are so conditioned against unconditionality because we are told in a thousand different ways that accomplishment precedes acceptance; that achievement precedes approval.
Everything in our world demands two way love. Everything’s conditional: if you achieve only then will you receive meaning, security, respect, love and so on. But grace is otherworldly because it’s unconditional–it is one way love: Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable.

3.       Grace is shocking.
The gospel of justification by faith is such a shocker, such an explosion, because it is an absolutely unconditional promise. It is not an “if-then” kind of statement, but a “because-therefore” pronouncement: because Jesus died and rose, your sins are forgiven and you are righteous in the sight of God! It bursts in upon our little world all shut up and barricaded behind our accustomed conditional thinking as some strange comet from goodness-knows-where, something we can’t really seem to wrap our minds around, the logic of which appears closed to us. How can it be entirely unconditional? Isn’t it terribly dangerous? How can anyone say flat out, “You are righteous for Jesus’ sake? Is there not some price to be paid, some-thing (however minuscule) to be done? After all, there can’t be such thing as a free lunch, can there?”

4.       Grace is to be cross-conscious.
1 Corinthians 2:2
2For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
To be cross-conscious is to see Jesus, who loves you so much that He willingly died for you on the cross. To be cross-conscious is to look to Jesus, who offered His own body to be punished, so that your body can be free from all punishment.
To be cross-conscious is to fix your eyes on Jesus, who has provided for your deliverance and victory at the cross. At the cross, all your enemies were vanquished. All your diseases were destroyed. Your poverty was removed at the cross. Your sins were wiped out at the cross.

5.       Grace is NOT religion.
I've discovered that religion is man's poor attempt to make himself feel responsible for that which Christ alone can/could accomplish.  Papa (our Father) is not about rules and regulations, but His own Word reveals that He is all about freedom from such.  I find that religion cannot exist apart from those rules, whether they be mandated, implied, or simply expected.  

Religion is the greatest enemy of grace because it exists in a culture where the currency of survival is performance.

Life is, quite simply, all about a relationship with Him, in which rules do not even exist.  Love does not need them, much less impose them on another.

6.       Grace is unmerited favor.
God loves to bless you. He has even declared that “blessings shall come upon you and overtake you”. This means that you can’t run fast enough to escape them! When you turn one corner, there is a blessing waiting for you. When you turn another corner, you run smack into another blessing!
Now, you may think that you don’t qualify for God’s blessings because the Bible says that these blessings will come to pass only if you diligently obey God’s voice and keep all of His commandments. You know that no matter how hard you try, you just cannot keep all of God’s commandments. In fact, the Bible says that if you fail to keep just one commandment, you fail to keep all. (James 2:10)
I have good news for you: Jesus is the one who qualifies us for every single blessing because He has kept all of God’s commandments. When He died for us on the cross, He not only fulfilled all of God’s commandments, He also redeemed us from the curse of the law. (Galatians 3:13) Note that He did not redeem us from the blessings of the law, so the blessings are still ours today!

7.       Grace IS the Gospel
The grace of God stands in a category all by itself.  There’s nothing to compare with it because there’s nothing else like it in time or eternity. Grace is expression of the complete goodness of Pure Love toward those who have done nothing and never can do anything to deserve it or reciprocate for it. Either grace is a unilateral (one-way) act or it’s not grace. The minute we think we owe anything for it, we have insulted both the gift and the giver. Those who spend their lives “trying to pay Him back for all He has done for me” will spend a lifetime unwittingly insulting the One they most want to please.

Grace throws parties for returning prodigals without saying a word about their sins. Grace pays everybody the same regardless of what time of day they began to work. Grace restores dignity to whores that everybody else wants to stone. Grace hugs the diseased leper (or AIDS patient) that nobody else wants to touch. Grace looks past a person’s behavior and sees the person for who they are in the eyes of God.

Grace is irrational to the thinker. It is unfair to the judge. Grace is foolishness to the achiever. It is a waste to the selfish. Grace is a mistake to the disciplinarian. It is shame to the religionist.

But it is a stream of water to the thirsty. It’s freedom to the imprisoned. It is life to the dead. Grace is rest to the tired. It is another chance to the failed. It is hope to the despondent. It is a way out for the lost and a way in for those who can see the Door.

Grace. It’s not a theological premise. It’s not a doctrine. It’s not a philosophy. It’s not something to be balanced with anything else. It’s not even the most important thing. It’s The One Thing – The Only Thing. It’s a Person – a Person who has held you in His heart before the first molecule existed and One who will never let you go. 

Contrary to what we conclude naturally, the gospel is not too good to be true. It is true! No strings attached. No but’s. No conditions. No need for balance. If you’re a Christian, you are right now under the completely sufficient imputed righteousness of Christ. Your pardon is full and final. In Christ, you’re forgiven. You’re clean. It is finished.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Faith vs. Denial

Romans 4
16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did

We have been given authority by God to do the same thing.  
(If you don't understand how or why you can read more here;

There is, however, a huge difference between

The first one is faith.  The second is denial.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Grace Notes

THIS is good news!
Here are some excellent blogs and websites to follow to learn more about grace.
Grace is a fancy way of saying, the completed work of Jesus.  Most all believers think they believe in grace, but not all believers understand that since Jesus' sacrifice was so perfect and so complete, it requires no additional work on our part.  All that is required is belief / faith / trust that Jesus paid it ALL.
Please read more;

more to come...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

embracing God's work

There is a common theme throughout Romans that becomes clearer by reading it in the Message version of the Bible;

We all agree, don't we, that it was by embracing what God did for him that Abraham was declared fit before God? Romans 4:6

This is why the fulfillment of God's promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God's promise arrives as pure gift. Romans 4:16

Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Romans 12:1

The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. Galations 3:11

But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs... Romans 2:9

And it means further that Abraham is father of all people who embrace what God does for them while they are still on the "outs" with God, as yet unidentified as God's, in an "uncircumcised" condition. Romans 4:12

And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. Romans 8:3

How can we sum this up? All those people who didn't seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as he straightened out their lives. And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their "God projects" that they didn't notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. Romans 9:20

This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—"Jesus is my Master"—embracing, body and soul, God's work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That's it. You're not "doing" anything; you're simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That's salvation. Romans 10:4

It becomes obvious that it's not about us. It's not about our goodness, it's not about our will power, it's not about our performance. It is about embracing God's work, Jesus' work, the Holy Spirit's work in us and for us.

Embrace is an interesting choice of words. What does it mean to embrace?
There are various definitions;

to take or clasp in the arms; press to the bosom; hug
to take or receive gladly or eagerly; accept willingly
to avail oneself of
to adopt

I think that every one of these definitions perfectly describes how we view God's work, especially once we realize our huge need for it, and our own immense lack of ability to accomplish ourselves what God has done and is doing.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6

Embrace what God has done.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Going Out, Coming In

There are some great promises in the Bible that use the terms “going out ” and “coming in” that we might not fully understand. For example;
Ps 121:8 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore
Num 27:16-17 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore
Deut 28:5-7 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

What do these phrases mean?
Going out to where?

Coming in from where?With religious lenses on, we want to take this to mean coming in to church and going out into the world.Is that the real meaning here?
1 Samuel 30:17-22 David fought them from dusk until the evening of the next day, and none of them got away, except four hundred young men who rode off on camels and fled. 18 David recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives. 19 Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back. 20 He took all the flocks and herds, and his men drove them ahead of the other livestock, saying, “This is David’s plunder.” Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow him and who were left behind at the Besor Valley. They came out to meet David and the men with him. As David and his men approached, he asked them how they were. 22 But all the evil men and troublemakers among David’s followers said, “Because they did not go out with us, we will not share with them the plunder we recovered.

Num 27:18-21 (Amp) The Lord said to Moses, Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand upon him; And set him before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation and give him a charge in their sight. And put some of your honor and authority upon him, that all the congregation of the Israelites may obey him. He shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him before the Lord by the judgment of the Urim [one of two articles in the priest's breastplate worn when asking counsel of the Lord for the people]. At Joshua's word the people shall go out and come in, both he and all the Israelite congregation with him.

(same verse in Contemporary English Version) The LORD answered, " Joshua son of Nun can do the job. Place your hands on him to show that he is the one to take your place. 19Then go with him and have him stand in front of Eleazar the priest and the Israelites. Appoint Joshua as their new leader 20and tell them they must now obey him, just as they obey you. 21But Joshua must depend on Eleazar to find out from me what I want him to do as he leads Israel into battle."

We know that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but spiritual. Eph 6:12 

1 Jn 3:8 But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.

Deut 28:5-7 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

Doing the work that that Jesus did, destroying the works of the enemy, is accomplished in spiritual warfare, in going out and coming in.

1 Kings 3:6-7 (Amp) Solomon said, You have shown to Your servant David my father great mercy and loving-kindness, according as he walked before You in faithfulness, righteousness, and uprightness of heart with You; and You have kept for him this great kindness and steadfast love, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of David my father, and I am but a lad [in wisdom and experience]; I know not how to go out (begin battle) or come in (finish battle).

“Until we come to terms with war as the context of our days, we will not understand life. We will misinterpret 90% of what is happening around us. “ 
John Eldredge

Jn 14:12 (Msg) … I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I've been doing.

Let’s look at several other uses of the same phrase.
1 Sam 29:6 Then Achish called David and said to him, As surely as the Lord lives, you have been honest and upright, and for you to go out and come in with me in the army is good in my sight; for I have found no evil in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Yet the lords do not approve of you.

Zech 14:3 Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle.

Joshua 14:11 I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.

Judges 9:38 Then Zebul said to him, “Where is your big talk now, you who said, ‘Who is Abimelek that we should be subject to him?’ Aren’t these the men you ridiculed? Go out and fight them!”

1 Samuel 8:20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

1 Samuel 17:32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

1 Sam 18:13 So Saul removed David from him and made him his commander over a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people.

1 Samuel 18:30 The Philistine commanders continued to go out to battle, and as often as they did, David met with more success than the rest of Saul’s officers, and his name became well known.

2 Samuel 21:17 Then David’s men swore to him, saying, “Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.

2 Sam 10:8 And the Ammonites came out and put the battle in array at the entrance of the gate, but the Syrians of Zobah and of Rehob and the men of Tob and Maacah were stationed by themselves in the open country.

2 Sam 11:17 And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab, and some of the servants of David fell. Uriah the Hittite died also.

1 Chron 7:11 All these sons of Jediael were heads of families. There were 17,200 fighting men ready to go out to war.

2 Chron 26:11 Uzziah had a well-trained army, ready to go out by divisions according to their numbers as mustered by Jeiel the secretary and Maaseiah the officer under the direction of Hananiah, one of the royal officials.

Ps 44:9-10 But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us.

Ps 60:10 Is it not you, God, you who have now rejected us and no longer go out with our armies?

Luke 14: 31 Or what king, going out to engage in conflict with another king, will not first sit down and consider and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand [men] to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?

It is obvious that the phrase “going out and coming in” is about warfare, about going out to battle, and then coming in from the battle after it is finished.

As John Eldredge writes in Waking The Dead:
We are called to war, to destroy the works of the enemy.
With spiritual warfare as the context, let’s look at the promises from God again, in a new light;

Ps 121:8 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore

Num 27:16-17 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore

God is our strength in battle. The war has been won, but our individual earthly battles continue.

2 Chron 20:17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.’”

Ez 46:10 The prince is to be among them, going in when they go in and going out when they go out.

Micah 2:12-13 “I will surely gather all of you, Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. The One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their King will pass through before them, the LORD at their head.”

Luke 14:23-24 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

John 10:8-9 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.