Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Get "graced again"

As many of you know, I've been focusing on God's grace for a while now. I hope you will understand even if this is all I ever speak of again. It is all I really have that is of any lasting value to offer you. It is God's grace that makes the Gospel truly good news. It is also the very idea of grace that I, like most people, am very inclined to resist. We are proud creatures; and that is not a good thing. We think we are basically good, and, at the very least, a lot better than a lot of people. We got our goodness by our upbringing and/or our bootstraps. We don't want something for nothing as if we were lazy and shameless. We not only want to earn our own way, we want to merit everything we have - well everything good that is. Everything good that comes our way, we want to be able to think it came to us because of what we've done right. We want the control over our futures; we want the credit for our successes. In short, we want the glory - we want our outcomes in life to be reflections of who we are rather than who God is. This does not go away when we become Christians. Grace is at the heart of our faith. Grace means the favor of God which can not be earned. There is nothing we do which causes God to favor us - to smile upon us, to do good for us - but His own decision. This teaching of God's grace is always under attack. We start off simply wanting to obey God because we love Him as our Father and adore His beautiful holiness so much that we want to emulate it in our own lives. We want to reflect His glory, because we finally see that there is no greater thing any created being could hope to do. But sin wastes no opportunity to subvert this work of grace in our lives. For instance, our desire to predict and control the future coaxes us into trying to use God's Word as a predictor of outcomes in this life, and to strive for and expect those outcomes. The outcomes we hope for are generally very good things: mental health, happy marriages, faithful spouses, healthy churches, fruitful ministries, adequate incomes, favor with our employers, absence of debt, obedient children, physical healing. When we experience good outcomes, our sin leads us to credit our good works - God honoring our obedience - which we of course acknowledge that God enabled us to do. Like the famed Pharisee we stand giving a prayer of thanks and glory to God that, "I'm not like other men..." (You do understand, don't you, that the sin of the Pharisee was in thinking that he was not like other men.) A good temporal outcome has become the goal of our obedience, and we thus view the good outcome as the result of our works. Grace has been subverted.

And that is the sunny side, where we can sometimes walk along quite nicely. The dark side comes, when by God's grace the outcome of all our plans and good works is a bad outcome, when the things we've believed God for and hoped for in this life do not come to pass. Then we find ourselves in a predicament. Were we hoping for the Kingdom of heaven, or this life? Were we trusting in God or our works? If it is in our works, we will feel that God was unfaithful. He did not keep up His end of the bargain. But, and this is where most of us sinners will find ourselves, what if we failed in our good works? What if we did not do everything right? What if we did not repent of all our mistakes? What if we still sin every day, and not always notice? What about all the sinful thoughts and attitudes that others see in us that we haven't even noticed, and the things we've done as a result and haven't repented of, and never will because we've long since forgotten them? Then all the bad outcome is our fault. We've failed in our end of the bargain and experience the angry frown of God. We must find out how to get back into His good graces. We look for fruit of the Spirit in our lives, and where we lack them we seek to manufacture them ourselves, through hypocrisy. We act like we're loving, or patient, or kind. We feel guilty and try harder. When that doesn't help we feel our guilt even more keenly. We know we must grieve for our sin - but that may not be enough - we must grieve hard - no harder. You've got to be really, really grieved to the core of your being to be forgiven, right? Perfect forgiveness must require perfect repentance, right? Grace comes through repentance, right? Wrong. If you are repentant, it is an evidence that God's grace and favor already rests on you. If your repentance is perfect, it is evidence that you have died and gone to heaven - the only place where anything any of us does will be perfect. To try to earn God's favor through repentance, is not repentance, it is penance. It subverts grace.

Nothing we can do can earn us God's favor. Nothing. Every work we do is nothing but wood, hay or stubble unless it is done in the absolute freedom of the gospel. Every act motivated by slavish fear or guilt will perish. Every ounce of God's favor toward mankind for all of time was purchased by Christ on the cross of Calvary. Every time we try to earn anything from Him we diminish the work of the Cross. And this brings me to my point. To believe that God accepts us purely on the basis of Christ's substitutionary sacrifice is the hardest thing in the world to believe. Because of this we all need to hear the gospel every day - every hour of every day. To that end, I would like to introduce you to the e-mail ministry of Graced Again. "Gracedagain is compiled by Tom Wood, Church Multiplication Ministries, a non-profit, whose mission is starting, strengthening, multiplying grace-centered churches through consults and coaching church planting pastors, leaders and emerging leaders." They send weekly e-mails with gospel quotes like the one below, which I received yesterday:
To doubt the good will of God is an inborn suspicion of God with all of us. Besides, the devil...goes about seeking to devour us by roaring: 'God is angry at you and is going to destroy you forever.' In all these difficulties we have only one support, the Gospel of Christ. To hold on to it, that is the trick. Christ cannot be perceived with the senses... The heart does not feel His helpful presence. Especially in times of trials a Christian feels the power of sin, the infirmity of his flesh, the goading darts of the devil...the scowl and judgment of God. All these things cry out against us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us. In the midst of the clamor the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts, 'Abba, Father.' And this little cry of the Spirit transcends the hullabaloo of the Law, sin, death, and the devil, and finds a hearing with God. The Spirit cries because of our weakness...(and) is sent forth into our hearts...to assure us of the grace of God." Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians
This ministry has been a real blessing to me. I know it will be to you as well. You can sign up here: http://www.gracedagain.com

Many thanks to my friend Deb at Philippines Journey who introduced me to this ministry.

5 comments:

Lynn Cross said...

Thanks so much for the post. We can't hear enough about Grace can we? I sent the quote to Ken just a few minutes ago. Keep writing and trusting. Love, Lynn

PS I am so glad you are getting to know my friend Deb. Maybe, even before Heaven, we can get together.

WhiteStone said...

Thanks for the link. I'm signed up! Grace! God's Grace! The more we understand it, the more we love God for His Goodness towards us. And the more we want others to see Grace!

Laurie M. said...

Lynn, I'd love a get together, should God allow. Deb has given much joy and comfort to my often guilt-plagued heart.

Judy, my husband and I both yessed and amened your comment. His love and grace free us to love others and want to see them set free as well.

Betsy Markman said...

Wow, there is so much that is rich and deep here! I had to read it twice, and I've bookmarked it as well. This is masterful and Spirit-breathed. I needed this tonight.

God bless you!

countingmyblessings said...

Laurie, This is wonderful. We cheapen grace in so many ways simply because we fail to receive it in its purest form. I had to just sit back and be blessed by your beautiful reminder of God's perfect love. Thanks and Blessings!