Does Grace Simply Enable us to Keep the Commandments?

I want to touch on something I have heard recently regarding grace. I have heard various  Christians, from well-known to unknown, make mention of how God’s grace enables us to keep God’s commandments or keep the law. They give strict warning against anything that makes one think grace allows you to just do whatever you want to. While I do believe that grace enables us to walk out an awesome life of passion and obedience to God, I disagree with the way this is being presented.

For instance, it has been said that we should not think that we are free from keeping the commandments because we are under grace. In one particular message I heard, the preacher went on to mention the high standards Jesus set for us in the Sermon on the Mount. You know, hatred is murder, lusting equates adultery, chop off hands and pluck out eyes to avoid hell.

The problem I have with thinking Jesus was explaining the Christian life in that particular message is that He was not :) He was expanding on a statement He had made concerning having a higher righteousness than that of the self-righteousness of the religious leaders of His day. They thought they were keeping the law pretty well so Jesus, in this passage, was fulfilling the law, or upholding it for what it was.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:17,20).

So in this sermon, Jesus was speaking to Jews under the Old Covenant about what it really meant to be a Jew under the law. He was silencing the self-righteous Pharisees as well as eluding to a righteousness that would come, not by the works of the law, but through the kindness of our Father (which would later be revealed in Jesus’ sacrifice). As Paul mentioned in Romans:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify (Rom. 3:19-21).

So Jesus came to those who were under the law and had to first uphold it (see Gal. 4:1-8). And boy what a high standard that was! I’m sure that many mouths were shut after that message. According to the scripture above, that was indeed the law’s purpose. It silences the self-attempt to live for God as it reveals the depths of the damage sin has done to man’s soul.

But then, Jesus would also go ahead and fulfill the law for us. That opened the way for the righteousness apart from the law to be given through faith. That opened the floodgates of grace. The blood was shed; a New Covenant was made. But not before the blood was shed, which means this was not in force when Jesus spoke to the crowd in Matthew, chapter 5.

For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it.  For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives (Hebrews 9:16-17).

So, back to the main question? Is grace simply enablement to keep the commandments of the law? If so, then we are still living in the Old Covenant, just with a power we did not have before. But the Scripture is clear that the way we now approach God is different, not just the ability vs. inability to keep the law. The book of Hebrews reveals:

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God (Heb. 7:19-20).

The former regulation in this verse refers to the Old Covenant not having a perfect people and priesthood and how the law was not the solution for this. What this all comes down to is righteousness. The better hope that we have when drawing near to God is that Jesus Christ is now our righteousness.

Rather than approaching God in terms of how well we have met the requirement of the law, we approach Him boldly through faith in Jesus and His work. He met the requirements for us. He qualified us and now we are enjoying and ministering the benefits of the New Covenant.

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,  God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4).

So to say that grace is empowerment to keep the law is to completely miss the point. The requirement meeting of the commandments has been superseded by faith in Him who met them. Through the obedience of the One Man, we have been made righteous (see Rom. 5:19). That means we are also considered as having met the covenant requirements.

Now, that does not mean I can go out and live any old way and still experience a blessed life (as some suppose). It means that I do not qualify for these blessings based on my adherence to the old law system. I am simply trusting that Christ is in me and will live through me. His life (His faith, His obedience, His character) is what we will produce as we abide in Him. Don’t be misled by messages on keeping commandments that do not first mention keeping faith. Blessings!

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Never Again: The Power of One Little Word

The Power of One Little Word

Have you ever noticed how one little word in Scripture is enough to bring tremendous revelation and freedom? Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Why does it say we have not been given a spirit of slavery leading to fear again? This is because Paul, in this letter, has been contrasting living under law and living under grace. When the law is proclaimed, we see how short we fall and the fear of judgment enters our lives. Furthermore, Paul addresses this very issue with the Galatians:

So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir (Gal. 4:3-7).

So we see from these two passages that the spirit of slavery that leads to fear refers to life under the law. However, when we receive our Sonship, i.e. become born again as a child of God, we should never have that fear again. In other words, when God commands something of us as New Covenant sons, our reaction should not be fear, but joy and faith in God’s work in our hearts. John speaks about this difference between law and grace living in this passage:

… this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:3-5).

The Two Types of Preachers

So the job of a law preacher was to reveal the utter helplessness of our self righteousness. But what should the aim of a New Covenant preacher be? It is the exact opposite. A New Covenant preacher should build an absolute confidence in Christ’s perfect work on behalf of man. They should inspire a confidence in the unconditional love that the Father has for us.

let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:22-23).

I remember a time in church as a teenager where we had an old-school holiness guy teach the youth one week. The demands of God’s law were so strongly emphasized and pointed out to us that my heart sunk as I realized this was something I could never accomplish. Little did I realize then, but the law was actually doing its job!

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin (Rom. 3:19).

But I felt confused and condemned because I was ignorant of the New Covenant grace that is present as well as the true purpose of the law. I thought that guy, and many of the other law speakers I had heard, was preaching the gospel. However, the preaching of the futility of our efforts sets the stage for the overwhelming flood of grace revealed in Christ.

 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Rom. 3:21-22).

The problem is that we as a church have not made a clear enough distinction between law and grace. We take a little bit of comfort from the law. We might think that we are doing pretty well when it comes to some of our commandment keeping. We might pride ourselves in how well we “repent” when we make a mistake or how much we pray for revival. But we were never supposed to take comfort in the law. The law (tree of knowledge of good and evil) is good, but will kill man if he eats of it.

Likewise, we bring a little bit of judgement into grace. We might think along the lines of, “Yes Jesus saved me from my past sins, but I better make sure to be forgiven of my last sins before I die so I can make Heaven.  I better keep short accounts with God or else I could slip away into hell.”

But as we see in Romans, we are to never again be in fear of judgement once we receive the spirit of sonship.

In the days of Jesus on Earth, the Pharisees thought they were okay. Sure they might have known deep down that they fell short of some commands, but hey, they sure nailed it when it came to tithing out of their herb garden. Jesus, who came to uphold and fulfill the law said they were not okay. Let’s look at one of His discussions He had with them (in John 8).

First, Jesus offended them by saying, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This was probably great news to the humble. But for those who thought they had their stuff together:

 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

So Jesus, excellent Law preacher that He was, had to drive in the point.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”

In order that they could be saved, Jesus revealed the disease of sin that was present in them. Their sinning was a symptom of their overall slavery to sin. See, a good doctor is one who let’s you know exactly what is going on in you. It would only harm you if they said that your terminal illness was a mere virus that would pass. But blinded by their self-righteousness, the Pharisees replied,“Abraham is our father.”

Does Jesus then say, “You know, you guys aren’t that bad. Take comfort in the fact that you are better than most other Israelites”? No, he had to uphold the law, which was meant to silence them. The more they spoke, the heavier the judgement of the law got.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.”

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 

Wow! So we see what trying to keep the law gets you; an ever-increasing “revelation” about your self-depravity. That spirit of self-righteous ability to be like God started with the devil, the father of lies.

In contrast, to the humble woman caught in adultery, interestingly also in John chapter 8, Jesus did not say, “Okay, you’re still going to be condemned, but I will see what I can do to make it a little better. I’ll throw in some grace with your judgement”?

No, but rather, “Neither do I condemn you. Go (in the freedom of grace) and sin no more.” This is His word to us as well who have received Him. Rather than keeping the law and then receiving “no condemnation”, grace starts us at the highest place of blessing. He does not condemn us, so we have good reason to never fear again and power to not live in sin.

My friends, if you start to get worried or in despair over your stance with God while reading your Bible, remember that one little word. Just stop, relax, and thank God that you are not a slave to fear of law-based judgement again.

 

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The Faith of the Son

 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20, KJV).

That verse is one of my all time favorites and is a defining statement about the Christian life. Throughout my posts, I have hit on the first part; what it means to be crucified with Christ. This speaks of the grace of God expressed through the finished work of Christ by which He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ (Eph. 2:5, MSG).

This takes care of the problem with the “old man”, the flesh, whatever we want to call the thing that stood in the way of us living the life God intended us to live. There are no more excuses now. We have been set free from sin because dead men do not sin.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin (Rom. 6:6-7).

However, we may find that even as new creations, we struggle with stuff and may need wisdom about how to walk out the new life. In this scripture, Paul also talks about how he lived this new life; not just how God crucified the old life. He says that the life he lived was “by the faith of the Son of God.” I believe this means Paul was living in a constant response to God’s grace shown to Him. Christ was living through Him and He was living through Christ. This is the greatest mystery of all time and is now revealed. What the prophets and fathers of old saw but could not have, we have but sadly often do not see.

Notice that it is the “faith of the Son”. A big theological debate that has been going on for a long time is whether this and other verses are talking about faith “in” God or the faith “of God”. There actually is a big difference between those two little words. Faith in the Son implies us reaching out to Him. Faith of the Son implies Him rising up in us. The former is what usually passes as “faith” here in America. “You just have to believe! If you had believed more, you could have had this or that!”

We know that grace is a free gift. Faith is also a gift. For we are saved by grace through faith. And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). What is the “that” in that passage? It is the “grace through faith” that saves us which is the gift.

Grace is God reaching out to us. Faith is us reaching out to God. But it is the faith “of the Son”, not of ourselves. It is His life in us which yearns for the Father. That is what saves us and keeps us. It takes two people to have a true embrace. Grace is God’s arms wrapped around us. Faith is us reciprocating the embrace by wrapping our arms around Him in response.

It is important for us to learn to live by the faith of the Son. This simply means living by the life of Christ in us. See, Christ was not only God’s gift offered to us, but man’s response to God. He fulfilled both ends of the covenant between God and man. “For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting man’s sins against him.”

Likewise, we were in Christ as He carried our old nature, which was dead and unresponsive to God, all the way to the cross. I like to picture Him personally carrying my spiritual corpse to the rescue station of God’s love and mercy; His tree of death became the tree of life for me. Do you know that Jesus’ acts as our Substitute did not start at the cross, nor even the garden of Gathsemane? They began when he was baptized by John the Baptist (who was confused as to why he had to baptize the sinless one). Jesus said that the purpose of his water baptism was to “fulfill all righteousness”.

I picture Christ going down into the water and coming back up carrying fallen humanity around his shoulders as a shepherd carries the sheep. He carried my old dead self through the wilderness, through the cities of Israel, all the way to the cross where He tasted death for us and we were, as a result, crucified with Christ.

What Does it Mean to Carry the Cross?

I believe Jesus’ cross carrying started after his baptism. This is also why he told His followers to carry their crosses and follow Him. Would He, their example, have not been doing the same at the time when He ordered that of them? I am beginning to see “carrying the cross” in a different way. The cross was the means by which we are saved. It is where God in Christ demonstrated His love for us by the giving up of His rights and His very own life blood. It was a selfless sacrifice by which we learn what true love really is. The cross was His mission.

In the same way, we carry our cross for those whom God would like to reach through us. We bear with them and love them to the end irrespective of how they treat us. We love them as Christ loved us; we love them first.

I am in no way saying that we pay the price for their sins. That was accomplished at the Lord Jesus’ cross alone. However, it was love that motivated the cross in the first place. The cross was an expression of the love He had for us from eternity. I read once that Jesus is not the Lamb because He was slain, but rather He was slain because He is the Lamb.

This same love that laid itself down for ones friends is now our new nature. This causes us to want to lay down our lives for others; to become all things to all people, so that they may be saved. Sure we partook in the Lord’s death, but I think there is a present tense cross to bear as a Christian. This might not go over well with some in the grace circles, but again, this is not about paying for our sins or anyone else’s. It is about what Paul said to the Philippians:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:3-8).

It is what he said to the Colossians in this verse:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Col. 1:24).

… And to the Corinthians in this passage:

 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you (2. Cor. 4:10-12).

Again, I am talking about selfless love, not the self-affliction for which religion is infamous. Know that it is actually Christ in us that will move in and through us with this love; the same love that motivated His going to the cross. It is the faith of the Son. It is constantly “looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith”. It is living in response to God’s grace. That’s true faith. That’s good news!

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Seek First the Will of God?

I’m continuing my series on God’s will. I have explained how we can tend to mystify the will of God and create unnecessary confusion and frustration in that area. I want to show that God’s will might not be so limited and unreachable as we might sometimes feel. Are we waiting at that spiritual red light until we get a booming “GO!!!” spoken to us by God (or at least a super-Christian)? In this post, I want to touch on whether or not we need to find out what God wants us to do before doing anything.

“Lord, I seek first your will in everything”, might sound like a noble prayer, but the Bible never says to do this per se. If we are always trying to seek God’s will, we might end up not moving forward in faith and wisdom as we wait for a thunderous voice from Heaven to tell us everything from where to live to what to order from the drive thru menu.

Instead, we are told to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33).” I believe this is saying that in every situation, rather than just saying, “What does God want me to do”, we are to develop a kingdom perspective about everything. “Woah… kingdom perspective… big term. Don’t confuse me even more, I just want to know God’s will!”

Relax, this is actually a simple practice. So how do I seek first the kingdom of God? Well, before we start going after outward things again, Jesus made a statement that is foundational to our understanding of the kingdom.

 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation;  nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

People in Jesus’ day had all kinds of ideas about how the Kingdom would come. They pretty much all thought it would manifest itself outwardly. The king would make it clear that He was the king and overthrow the current oppressive government.

However, the kingdom, as it is now, must be seen (perceived) inwardly. I define kingdom life as living under Christ’s reign and extending that life to others. It is life on God’s terms; the abundant life Jesus said we would have in abundance (John 10:10).

His righteousness is His way of making us right (through the blood of Jesus, by grace through faith) as well as His way of doing right. This means an abandonment of all self-righteousness and trying to fit into other people’s standards of right that they try to impose on us.

Seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness brings a clarity and a power to navigate this world. This means that before we “know what to do”, we know how to be. We see that there is more than meets the eye. We see the reality of the superior eternal Kingdom. We see that He has made us righteous and we are taken care of and dangerous to the kingdom of darkness.

Let me give a practical example.  Let’s say your car breaks down. All kinds of thoughts go through your mind. The money for a tow truck, why the thing quit on you, how this is going to make you late… All sorts of concerns surface.

Then on top of that, the religious influence might cause us to think that God is punishing us for not taking good enough care of the car (it was His will that this consequence occurred). Or, we might think that it was God’s will because He is teaching us to be patient or not to be focused on worldly possessions (even though our beat up car is not desired by any worldly person). This is a bunch of bondage that hides itself in a package labeled “Could this be God’s will?”. If you think about it, it all has “us” at the center instead of the King and His Kingdom.

But what if instead of letting the situation drag you down,  you frame it in terms of a Kingdom perspective. You simply pray, “Thank you Father that you always take care of me and you are with me. I thank you that my life is not my own and I am here to manifest the King. I trust in You Father to not only take care of this, but to turn this into a Kingdom opportunity”

Then, the tow truck guy shows up. You get to talking. He is having a rough time and is wondering why on Earth you are smiling so bright and not bummed about your vehicle. You then feel in your heart that he has a pain in his back from an accident years ago. He is shocked that you knew that and gladly accepts prayer. He receives healing and embraces the gospel that night. You go home rejoicing and it turns out it was just a spark plug that needed replaced, but you have totally lost sight of the car in the light of the King’s majesty.

If we are only concerned with the car and our own troubles, we could miss out on the opportunity to help a hurting person. Also, if we are paranoid that God is punishing us by this mysterious and scary “will” that He had for the car to break down, we will not be empowered to minister the gospel as we fearfully hope we are “okay” with God.

This is just a hypothetical scenario. Kingdom life can come in many different ways and situations. But if we are walking confident as His children, then we won’t always be miserably wondering what His will is. Jesus told us to pray to the Father, “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” We have probably quoted that a million times and not seen the power in it. His Kingdom coming to Earth IS His will.

To summarize, I am trying to hammer in the fact that we can be grounded in the overall, big picture will of God without worrying about the specific details. “Who cares about the big picture! I need to know whether or not to sell my car before it breaks down again! Is that God’s will? I would not want Him to be angry if I sell it and buy the wrong car.”

The specifics will work themselves out, my friend. We cannot neglect to have an understanding of God’s basic will (what He likes) while we struggle to know which car or house to buy or even what church to go to. If we do neglect this, we will end up seeking after outward things, which Jesus warns against. We will spiritualize it by saying we are seeking God’s will, but we simply want the outward taken care of so we can stop worrying.

Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matt. 6:31-33).

I pray that this brings clarity and peace in your desire to do God’s will. I will touch more on this in future posts at some point.

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Is it God’s will for me to know God’s will?

Do you know God’s will for your life? When it comes to finding God’s will, what comes to mind might be things like:

“Does God want me to live in New York city or upper state New York?”

“Does He want me to be a doctor or a paper clip salesman?”

“Should I buy a brown or a black pair of shoes?”

There are many people out there that ask these types of questions all the time. All they want is “to do God’s will”, but it seems like such a hard to reach, distant reality. I used to be in a similar place. For some reason I thought I needed to find out God’s will for just about everything. It was as if I was stopped at a spiritual red light as I “waited on the Lord” to change it to green.

Since I am well familiar with the confusion and frustration that comes from trying to locate this mysterious “will” in the far reaches of outer space, it brings me much pleasure to help shed some light on the topic.

Might I start by saying that God’s will is not a place (like where to live) or a thing (like the right pair of shoes), but a person. Jesus IS God’s will! The most basic thing to grasp is that God’s will for you is Jesus. To know Him, be like Him, and demonstrate Him is definitely what the Father wants. Everything else will fall into place.

Notice that the questions about God’s will I listed at the beginning of the post all deal with outward things. I am not saying that God will never say to live in a certain area or to choose A instead of B, but I think when it comes to how we perceive what the will of God actually is, our mindsets may need some shifting.

Jesus is not only God’s will for you, but He is the life in you that will desire and accomplish that will. Now what that ends up looking like can vary in countless ways because Jesus is unlimited. The problem is, we tend to think that we need to find this “will of God” thing in order to find Jesus, but when we find Jesus, we find God’s will. I’m not just talking about accepting Him as Lord but when we perceive His heart in circumstances and for people, we have the will of God.

Don’t Worry, God Chose You to Know His Will

After Paul came to Jesus, he was told, “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak (Acts 22:14).” I believe this word is for everyone else who has received Jesus as well. He has chosen us to know His will. But the Bible often speaks about God’s will in different ways than the typical, “Should I be a missionary or a local pastor” type of language.

This will speaks of God’s unfolding plan of redemption for creation. Knowing this will is more in reference to flowing with the rhythms of the gospel of grace as it advances throughout the Earth.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will… (Eph. 1:7-11)

The mystery of His will is all revealed in His Son. Sometimes it comes in a “go here” “do this” or “marry her” type of way, but be assured that it has to do with Jesus’ kingdom permeating this age until all that is left is Jesus and His heart’s desires (in which we are included).

I will delve more into this in my next series of posts and break down different Scriptures that actually mention the term “God’s will”.  Suprisingly, there are not very many compared to what there could be and considering how often Christians cry out for God to show them His will. So stay tuned… Lord willing :)

 

 

Posted in Experiencing the Presence of God, Growth/ Destiny | 1 Comment

The Wisdom of Foolishness; The Power of Weakness

In the early 1970’s, my spiritual father was seeking spiritual enlightenment. He had been trying every religion and spiritual practice in the cosmic candy store that he could.

Then he came across a Bible. He was excited to read it as he thought that book to be one of the top spiritual guides. To his disappointment, he couldn’t understand a word in there. “Sheep, bread… what is this all about?” he thought, confounded. Then he came across a verse that made since to him:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18). 

“That’s right,” he thought. “This all seems like foolishness to me.” From there, he eventually was found by the Author of the book and the rest is an amazing story of a life in God that continues to this day.

In today’s church, we seem to think that we can lead people to Jesus through our cleverness and our coffee hours.

We have schools and seminars devoted to teaching people how to outwit and outlast the heathen in debates. Perhaps if we can, through our superior intellect, convince them that they are wrong and we are right, then they will come to Jesus. Yeah, how’s that working for us?

But God’s ways are higher than man’s ways. He purposely chose the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. He cuts straight to the heart, the innermost being, to deposit the child-like faith that comes by hearing.

The Jews and the Greeks

In Paul’s day, he ran into resistance to the gospel from two mentalities of his day. Both the Jews and the Greeks had obstacles in their cultural mindsets that kept them from the revelation of the gospel.

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom;  but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:20-24).

The Jews

Some have taken “the Jew requests a sign ” to imply that miracles are not necessary in the preaching of the gospel. This is obviously not what it is referring to in light of the fact that Jesus was always performing miracles before the Jews’ very eyes and we are told that they are indeed accompaniments to the gospel being preached.

And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose (Heb. 2:4).

These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover… And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. (Mark 16:17-18,20)

This “requesting a sign” is referring to the fact that many of the Jews were expecting the kingdom of God to come as a military power that would overthrow their Roman overlords. So they were actually requesting a sign that Jesus was truly their king. They did not realize that the enemy that King Jesus came to put a smack down on was sin; the true enemy of man’s soul.

When Jesus told them that the only sign they would get would be the sign of Jonah, He, again, was definitely not talking about not performing healings, demonic deliverances, and other acts of power as He was always doing those things and commanded us disciples to do likewise. He was referring to going into the ground and then being spewed forth again.

This must have baffled them. When thinking of Old Testament heros, one usually does not think of the mighty Jonah who ran from God, became a happy meal for Free Willy, then became mad at God after his evangelism crusade was 100% successful.

Anyway,  the idea of their king dying at the hands of their oppressors was a real stumbling block to their theology. Unfortunately, their own attempts at fighting the physical Roman enemy later turned out to be their destruction.

The Greeks

When Paul preached to the Greeks in Athens during the famous and eloquent Mars Hill sermon, they basically added what he was saying to the list of philosophies of the day (Acts 17). Some wanted to “hear more”, but the fact that Paul left Athens shows that he knew nothing would come of it. Though some esteem the Mars Hill sermon and try to take on that form of philosophical preaching, Paul clearly changed his strategy in the next town he preached in; the town of Corinth (Acts 18).

We read in his first letter to the Corinthians that rather than preaching out of his own human eloquence and wisdom, that he purposed only to talk about the man Jesus and His work.

And my language and my message were not set forth in persuasive (enticing and plausible) words of wisdom, but they were in demonstration of the [Holy] Spirit and power [a proof by the Spirit and power of God, operating on me and stirring in the minds of my hearers the most holy emotions and thus persuading them],

So that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men (human philosophy), but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:4-5, AMP).

So Paul changed his strategy. He went back to the simplicity of Christ and the reliance upon the Holy Spirit. Do you see it? He changed his strategy! The results are written in history. We do not have the letter to the Athenians, but two to the Corinthians, in our Bible.

Do not think that we have to engage people on an intellectual level. Some people, especially the religious, law-based, and philosophical, love debate. They want you to come down to their playing field and engage in the battle of intellect and opinions. Do you really think that most debates consist of people who are honestly trying to learn from one another?

Let us embrace the simplicity of the wisdom of God and not worry about appeasing man’s need for philosophical or intellectual gratification.

For example, when someone asks you a question about how you know God is real, that should be easy. You do not have to start writing a math equation on a white board or rant about how the order of the Universe could not have come from nothing. “Because I know Him”, is a perfect response. You and I know that statement is true (if you know Jesus). What does it matter what other’s think? What more needs be said?

Remember, Jesus often would NOT answer people after they would question Him or would answer with something seemingly unrelated to what they had asked Him.

In summary:

Power is not exerting control over people with fear and force. Power is laying down your life for those who seek your harm in order to save their souls. Power IS the cross.

Wisdom is not a list of principles about how to gain status and be successful in this life. Wisdom is an innocent man taking the place of sinful man by dying a criminal’s death. This is “the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:7).

In light of the cross,  we delight in becoming fools, so that we can be truly wise. We lay down our lives for others because of the perfect love we were shown in the crucifixion. May Christ, the Wisdom and Power of God, flow in you and through you as we learn to live in His nature.

 [This is] because the foolish thing [that has its source in] God is wiser than men, and the weak thing [that springs] from God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:25, AMP).

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More About Identity, Less About Sides

I seem to be stuck on the theme of identity. It seems that everything boils down to this:

  • Who God is
  • Who you are

I’m sure if you stumbled upon my blog, you know that “grace” is a hot topic these days. Today, when it comes to grace, it seems that there are two basic ways people are thinking. I will attempt to imitate them. Please note that these are just generalizations, but can be useful to kind of form a loose grid of what is going on in people’s hearts and minds.

From one side, let’s call it side A, you will hear things like:

“It’s all grace. Jesus did it all. We don’t have to DO anything. Don’t tell me what I need to do for God; He’s already pleased with me.”

Now let’s look at side B. They will look at what is being said on side A and respond, many times on WordPress or Facebook, with things like this:

“It’s all grace, but we still need to obey. Jesus did His work, yes, but now we must do our work. God loves us, but we still need to live excellently and He’s not always pleased with what we DO.”

Do these back and forth comments sound familiar? I am getting pretty tired of these discussions, to be honest. Some of you might think, “Oh, that guy who writes the siggit grace blog thing, he’s on side A.” Though I’ve said things that reflect mainly side A over the past couple years, I never claimed to be on either side, nor do I want to divide the Body of Christ into grace classes.

Is it possible that these endless discussions get us trapped into a linear way of viewing God and His grace? What I mean is that there might be a whole different angle by which to view this debate. Perhaps we are walking in circles trying to convince each other of who is “right”. Here is a standard debate that forms when someone posts a grace-like message on social media:

Side A: Don’t do anything bro, just rest in what Christ did.

Side B: Rest in what He did, but also do good works.

Side A:  Yes, do good works,  but these flow from grace, brother.

Side B: Yes, but what we do is important.

Side A: I never said it wasn’t. Don’t accuse me.

Side B: Don’t accuse me of saying you said it wasn’t. I’m just saying we need to be doing God’s will and be living sacrifices.

Side A: Yes and God’s will is to believe in His sacrifice.

Side B: But these beliefs must lead to actions, man.

Side A: Yes, but all actions are born from rest and not striving.

Side B: You’re driving me mad, brother.

Side A: You should REST in the finished work of Christ if I am “driving you mad”, brother!

Side B: You should WORK at not driving people mad!

I hope you see my humor in this and I hope we can all laugh at ourselves and thank our Father, seeing that He knows it all and we can trust Him. But seriously, I am sad as I see so many people who do not know their identity. They may be able to quote scripture or sermon, but their lives reflect that they truly do not know who they are.

See, if I know who I am, I’m not going to strive like some of our Side B friends might (although anyone can strive, its not hard to do). But I’m also going to be living an awesome life (what side B is telling side A to do although side A might not always be doing it).

Side A tells me to rest in the finished work of Christ. If I know who I am, I will be like Jesus who knew His beloved status before the Father and wasn’t shaken by anything that said otherwise, but nor ever acted otherwise. He was at rest in the Father’s heart throughout every storm.

Side B tells me to do good works. If I know who I am, I know that it is my nature is to do good works. Love is not something we do, but something we are. But how can who I am not lead to what I do?

I’m sure you have heard about how as a man thinks in his heart, so he is (Prov. 23:7). The awesome news is that God’s picture of us is far greater than we could ever imagine. What He thinks in His heart needs to become ours.

For Side A, why would we ever be freaked out if, God forbid, someone tells us to “do something”? For crying out loud, the same Spirit who raised Jesus Christ from the dead lives in me. Do you think God is going to tell me, “Hey John, I know I put my Spirit in you, but I want you to do this big colossal thing in your human strength with no reliance on me or help from me.” That’s crazy!

We on Side B should not be thinking that our works come before our new identity, as if we can earn anything. If we know who we are, we will do those good works but we won’t have to do them to prove anything. And we won’t need to shove good works down side A’s throats, assuming there all a bunch of lazy pansies for Jesus. I mentioned recently how Jesus did not feel the need to prove anything to satan when he was challenged to turn stones into bread. He simply trusted the word that proceeded from the mouth of God:

“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)

Am I trying to justify or beat up either side? No, I am saying I want to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified! Thank God it is not my job to “balance out” or “shepherd” these two sides into some kind of communist unity.

If I only know my Jesus, then I will not know how to “feel condemned” (the horror of Side A). Neither will I know how to not do good works (the thing that strikes fear in Side B). I won’t be able to help myself.

Please hear my heart. I’m sure we have a bit of both sides in us somewhere. So don’t beat yourself up if you get a thought and think, “I can’t think that! I’m on Side A! Stop it, brain!”

So if you have a Side B bro come up and condemn you to hell for not following the Levitical tithe law or because you aren’t living as a missionary in  jungles occupied by witch doctors and terrorists, don’t receive it. Politely stand firm in your Christlikeness, knowing His great plans for you that are indeed birthed in the quiet place of rest. They probably love God with all they know, but desperately need to know their identity as God’s beloved. They probably just are trying to get you to help them with their guilt problem by off-loading some of it onto you :)

Likewise, if you see a Side A’er living like a slob and being a jerk on Monday and a grace drinker on Sunday, don’t be afraid to tell them that God has a better way for them to be living. But don’t assume that because they listened to Joseph Prince, they got a little to carried away with grace and now think it’s okay to smoke crack and go to orgies because God’s grace makes it all okay. They probably just don’t know who they are either. Sure, they may know about Christ’s finished work, but might not link it to how, because of it, they are now His “workmanship”, destined for good works (see Eph. 2:8-10).

I propose that both resting and working come from knowing who we are and of course, Whose we are. I love you Daddy! I even love your Kids :)

I leave you with a challenge. Look at the passage below, penned by Peter, and honestly tell me that you do not see how both Side A and Side B could get their view of the gospel. Identity is what makes it all work!

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.

Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:2-10).

 

 

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