Grace is receiving the wonderful gift of forgiveness of Jesus Christ and pouring it out to others. If we spend most of our time arguing about grace to those who are legalistic, or in licentiousness, then we are probably not walking out grace. Grace is love expressed in all we do. Speak with your love first, then with your words.
In Matthew 16:24-26, Jesus says:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
This verse is almost always used by religious people as an introduction to suffering, and “trying harder”. If you want to be a disciple, then follow this path, and suffer. But let’s break this down and see what Jesus really wants. When Jesus says to “take up your cross”, that is not an invitation to suffer, it is an invitation to death. And it is not an invitation to martyrdom.
This is the grace of Jesus expressed as a true understanding of the cross. He starts by saying “you must deny yourself…”. Typically that gets taught as give stuff up, and be miserable. I don’t think we are getting the full weight of this. After the cross, Paul says:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Now, put these two verse together, and you will see what Jesus was calling you to. For us to live in Christ, our old selves must die. In fact, they have (we HAVE been crucified with Christ). We have to deny the flesh (greek sarx-the faith on our self), and take up the life of Christ (living by faith in Him). Denial of the flesh s to not allow the dead flesh rise up again – leave it at the Cross. Paul is saying over and over in His epistles that “you have died”, and “you have been crucified”. It’s a done deal. We now a positioned in the heavenlies seated with Christ. That who we are now.
If you really take him at the religious interpretation, he is not calling you to suffer, he is calling you to die. The suffering and misery idea waters down the words of Jesus. If we interpret Jesus’ words as try harder and suffer more, then we will actually be working by our own flesh, and or own abilities. We will not be walking by faith. But, if we trust the we have picked up the cross, and have been crucified, then we can leave the old dead flesh behind and start living the life of Christ. Only then will we live the life that Jesus promised:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)
If we walk by the flesh, the thief will rule our lives. If we walk in the Spirit of newness of life, we will have life, and we will have it in abundance.
Normally, I like to keep blog posts strictly to the grace of Jesus. It’s the most central thing in my life and what I most like to talk about. Typically I avoid things like Calvinism/Arminianism, Eschatology, and things that tend to be secondary, and often inflammatory (although, strangely a lot of people even get mad about grace). But I had such a great experience this week and I had to share it. [Special note – make sure you read to the end]
I teach a bible Study at a prison every week. Last night I was teaching James chapter 4, and somehow got to discussing how do we live by faith and how do we show the love of Jesus to others. Long story short, I mentioned how I had been listening to a teaching on getting words of knowledge [look it up in 1 Corinthians 12], specifically how it relates to encouraging people in the love of Christ. Now, I know this can be an area of abuse, like when a lady says God told her to marry you, and God didn’t let you in on the secret. In fact, all the gifts get abused. But let’s not throw them out, let’s use them like we are supposed to.
So, I thought I would show the men in prison an example. I turned to one of the guys and said “does February 18th mean something to you?”. Honestly, the date just came out – I wasn’t trying to make something up. He said it was His discharge date for his sentence. That’s when he would be completely done with prison. That was very important to him, and I got to encourage him that God cares for him, and that God remembers him, and the date shows that. It was very impactful to him. I think God likes to encourage us and let us know that we are not forgotten. This is one of the reasons we are given spiritual gifts–to encourage and build up one another,
This was great, because it was the first time I had ever tried this, and God gave me a date, and it was important. I think we often shrink back from walking in the gifts, because we worry about “what if I’m wrong?” — “What if I don’t do it right?” These are great questions. The answer is, take a little risk to share love with someone. If your “word” is incorrect, just say thanks for letting me talk, and try again some other time.
We often hold gifts like words of knowledge to a strangely higher standard than other gifts, like pastor/teacher. Do we expect our pastors to roll out of seminary (or wherever they come from) and speak a perfect sermon each time, every time? I have yet to meet a pastor who didn’t wish he could erase the tapes of some of his early sermons. I have heard pastors say some really dumb things, and then speak sermons to correct earlier sermons.
Now, I am not calling for people to be sloppy of careless, but rather to realize that starting out in your giftings is a little risky. But, do you know what is way worse than making some mistakes? To never try. To never walk in the great things that God wants to have you be a part of.
OK, here come the total out of the comfort zone part of this. As I was out mowing my lawn and pondering these things, I felt God give me a date: January 17, 1972 (usually I would not worry about the year, but it seemed to be part of the impression. It also helps make it more unique.) Now, is this a guess, or is it from God? I’m not sure, but if it means something to you, let me know in the comments, or by email. If not, no worries. Some who are reading and might find this date will say: “Hey, tens and tens of people read this blog, so it’s bound to match for someone”
Now here comes the double extra discomfort part: I will tell you why I think the date is for the person to whom it is significant. I think it has to do with your father. And the message God wants to give, is that He (God) is your Father in heaven who does not change like shifting shadows. He is watching over you, and loves you dearly. He will never leave you or forsake you.
Now, I may have imagined all this in the hot sun while mowing, or perhaps someone needs to here this. Let’s find out! Please let me know if this is for you.
p.s. I am not claiming to be a prophet, I just feel like God may have a little something to bless someone. Keep in touch, and know that God loves you!
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.
When we read the Bible, sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in the narrative. By that, I mean we read the story, and follow the “plot line”, but we miss the real point. For instance, in Matthew 18, Jesus tells the “Parable of the Unmerciful Servant”. TLDR; version: A guy gets forgiven of vast debt by the king (think mega millions) and walks away only to shake down his buddy for a minor debt (hundreds of dollars). So the king gets mad and makes the guy pay back the debt and punishes him. Jesus finishes his story with the ominous statement “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Yikes! that’s terrifying. If we just read that narrative, we read something like:
I was forgiven. If I don’t forgive someone enough, God will renege on His forgiveness and throw me in prison.
Wow, Jesus is rough and the forgiveness is like a Yo-yo that comes and goes. So let’s read it with some context, and go beyond the narrative. Immediately preceding this story, Peter asks Jesus a question:
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Hmmmm, what’s behind that question? Well, just before that Jesus was discussing sin, and how to deal with those who sin against you. He is emphasizing unity among people, in fact Jesus says in verse 19:
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Wow, we will get whatever we ask, and He is in the midst of us. Is this the same guy that is throwing us into prison a few verses later? With this new information in our heads, lets return to Peter’s question. Why was he asking it? It seems legit, but it is more likely that Peter was really asking “How long do I have to keep on forgiving someone who really bothers me.
The motivation of Peter is not love, and it is not forgiveness. Rather it is obligation. He sees forgiveness as an obligation or duty that he has to do. Peter still does not get this whole “love” thing. Jesus calls us to love. Period. Love is from Christ and loves is poured out freely. Peter is really talking about putting up with, or merely tolerating problem people. He is not yet to the point of LOVE. With this as our background, now lets return to the parable. It starts out:
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
So far, so good. The servant asked for mercy, and the nice king gave it to him. What follows is key. How would you respond to such a debt? Would you rejoice? Would you tell everybody how great the king was? Would you tell your family and friends what a wonderful king you have who removed all you debt? I hope so. However, the servant worked a little differently:
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
So, we get to the fateful end of the story:
31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
So, we already discussed the usual reaction to the story. But what if we looked deeper. What is Jesus really talking about in this parable? Is it just as the level of forgive, or else you’re in big trouble? I don’t think so. That is not consistent with the nature and character of God. So let’s look deeper. Peter asked Jesus about the obligation to forgive, not what forgiveness really is, or how we should forgive. And as Jesus often does, Jesus answers the question that was asked, not the question you would really like the answer to. So Jesus gave Peter answer which was about obligation.
But hidden in the story is the real answer. On the cross, Jesus removed all sins:
He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. [Colossians 2:13-14]
Jesus forgave all sins, but not all have received, or walk in the forgiveness He has provided. In the parable, it is clear the servant never truly “received” the forgiveness that he has given. He went away from the King unchanged and untransformed. He left the presence of the King the same as he was when He arrived. He was forgiven, but did not live in forgiveness. In our vernacular, even though the debt was paid, he was not saved. So let’s make a different summary of the story:
God forgave our great debt. If we don’t truly receive forgiveness and live in His forgiveness, all that remains outside of Him is torment and debt.
That’s a little more consistent with the God I know. He is the great forgiver of debt. He wants us to live lives of love where forgiveness flows freely, not by obligation. If we will not live our lives empowered by Him, walking with Him, and loving like Him, we will choose to live in a debtors prison.
Feelings and emotions can sometimes get a bad rap. We can be a little hard on them. Sometime, we live by our emotions, and that is a problem as well. So, how shall we then live?
First, emotions and feelings are a gift from God. They are part of who we are. There are “good” feelings like happiness and ecstasy, as well as “bad” feelings like pain and sorrow. Both of these serve important parts of our lives. Feelings are both part of the richness of our lives, and they are indicators that we might need to pay attention to.
Your car has a little light that indicated when you are out of oil. That light is an indicator that a bad thing is happening. You could just disconnect that light, and you would never be annoyed with it again. But it serves a purpose. It tells us that there is a problem we need to deal with. If we ignore the indicator, the problem doesn’t go away.
Likewise, we are given feelings that are much more delightful. We can experience pleasure. But when we pursue the feeling of pleasure without the complete package (relationships, growth, maturity, etc), we end up as addicts to the feelings. We miss the richness for which God has designed us. It’s like eating sugar instead of food. It has some of the ingredients, but it leaves so much out.
Sometimes, we pursue the pleasure to mask the pain. That is a terrible place to be. We ignore the indicators, and lose the richness of life we are designed for. We are made to be princes and princesses in the kingdom of God. He has destined us for goodness and pleasure in Him. And we will experience that in this life. We will also have things that come into our lives due to this fallen world that will bring pain and sorrow. The question is, “what will we do with it?”
God has designed us to lean first on Him, and to share our burdens with one another. We are to be people of joy and passion, and we are to share it with others. We are to bring our pain to Him, and to receive His help, and the help of those around us. When we try to “fix” life on our own, we head down a path where we look to just avoid pain, and seek pleasure. The end of that road is not pretty.
Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you. God is not a means to an end, He is the end. He is the reward, and all joy is ultimately found in Him.
When we walk by the flesh, we are walking outside our true identity and we have more problems. When we walk in the Spirit we walk with power and authority and we conquer the enemy. Too often we view ourselves in very negative terms. We are weak. We are prone to fail. I’m just a sinner saved by grace. All of these pronouncements are focusing on our flesh (which has been crucified), rather than who we are in Christ. We tend to view ourselves in terms of what our flesh does, rather than who we are in the Spirit. Our flesh was crucified with Christ and we should no longer be “taking it out for a spin.”
When we view ourselves in the flesh we will continue to walk in the flesh. I teach a Bible study in a prison and deal with a lot of addicts. Most are taught in recovery to say, “My name is X, and I am an alcoholic.” This is one of the reasons that they stay addicts. I realize that admitting there is a problem is important, but this becomes their identity.
They are alcoholics. If that is the case, then what do alcoholics do? Drink. They define themselves in terms of the problem. In fact, much of the rehab mentality is that “I am only one drink away from disaster.” Then they live in fear and on the brink of failure. I am not being flippant with these words or trying to imply that alcohol abuse is no big deal. Rather, I want to bring about a more powerful way to walk in victory.
The better solution is to say “I am <your name>, and I am a son of the Living God. I am a new creation in Christ.”
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Christ gave His life for me. “The life I live is no longer mine, but Christ who lives within me.” This puts us in a mindset of victory rather than defeat. The same is true of all areas of our lives. Is Christ an alcoholic? Is He a sex addict? Is He a gossip? Is He a failure? I am in Christ and Christ is in me. I have a new nature and a new identity. I must not live by the flesh!
If I go around telling people that “I’m just a sinner saved by grace,” then I am reinforcing that my identity is sinner. I start at a point of weakness and my identity is in my flesh and the old man. There is a much better way: To see yourself in Christ; to see yourself as Christ sees you. That means I can say I am redeemed. I was bought with a price. I am worth the life and blood of Christ. I have the mind of Christ. In Him I have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. I stand forgiven and righteous. I have the Holy Spirit indwelling me.
Based on this, I will walk in power and authority. I will walk in strength. I will not be ashamed and I will not be defeated. Many people fear this, because they have been taught that a Christian must be humble and lowly. They mistake defeat and self-deprecation for humility. They confuse the poor state of their flesh with the power and authority they have in the Spirit.
I am no longer thinking about myself, but rather I think about Christ in me. That is who I now am—and He is awesome. So guess what? I am awesome and so are you. Let’s stop talking about us and what our flesh is doing. Rather, let’s talk about Christ in us and how we are now more than conquerors. We are victorious. Rest in it. Delight in it. Praise God for it.
[This was an excerpt from “Extreme Turbo Mega Grace”, chapter 3.]
. 2 Corinthians 5:17
. Galatians 2:20
. 1 Corinthians 6:20
. 1 Corinthians 2:16
. Colossians 1:14
. Romans 1:16
. Romans 8:37
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you[d] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
This part is our victory over the condemnation and judgment of the Law. But that’s not enough. Paul goes on to say:
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Stop living in bondage, and under the judgment of the Law (and of others). Start living in the leading of the Holy Spirit and the Power of Christ. We are more than conquerors. We are His children, and should live as such.
God does not look upon us and say “I wish they would just behave better”. Far too often, we think what God cares about most is our behavior. That is putting the cart before the horse. God desires our heart. He desires that we are led by Him and are empowered by Him. When we do so, the behavior will follow.
The wrong order is: behavior -> intimacy
The correct order is: intimacy -> behavior
When we focus on behavior first, then we tend to fix the behavior through our flesh. We do get “better”, but we are doing so independently of God. God loves us deeply and His desire for us is that we walk in intimacy with Him. When we do that, we will also walk in a manner that is pleasing to him and produce Godly fruit. When we do it our own way, we produce worthless things.
A final emphasis: behavior is not a goal; it is a result. It is one of the fruits the Spirit will produce through us. Our job is not to produce fruit, but to bear fruit. We do that by staying connected to the vine. He is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from Him, we can do nothing!
Some time ago, I read a story of a guy who studied Kung Fu. He wanted to do the really cool things that you see in the movies. However, his master always worked him on the basics: How to punch and how to kick. He went over them over and over, year after year. Eventually the student was getting tired of the boring basics and wanted to do the “cool stuff”. His master just kept emphasizing the basics.
One day, it dawned on the student that he always won his fights. He did it not by spinning back kicks, or something from the movies. Rather, he won because day after day, he practiced a few things and had them perfected. He did the basics and he did them well.
As Christians, we can get into trouble when we forget the basics, and try to go out into the esoteric and obscure things. There is nothing wrong with learning things that are little “out there”, but if the foundation is not there, the house will fall. We will be defeated by the enemy. So here are a few of the basics:
- We must be convinced of the character of our Good and Loving God. He sent His son to seek and save the lost. He is love and He loves us. He pursues us passionately. He is always faithful, and will never leave us or forsake us.
- We have become sons of God through the work of Christ. We are reconciled to God, and stand in forgiveness of all of our sins.
- He empowers us and leads us by His Holy Spirit.
Those are just a few, and there are many more we will talk about in future articles. So why are those so important?
When we have a false view of the Goodness of God, we will tend to view Him as hostile to us and unapproachable. We will either move away from Him in fear, or try to approach Him through works of our flesh. As a result, we do not ever rest in the divine rest that Christ has called us into.
If we are not confident in who Christ has made us (sons and standing in forgiveness and righteousness) we will act in weakness and the flesh. We will not confidently walk in the Spirit, and we will not come boldly before the throne of “Abba, Father.” This will masquerade as humility, but it is weakness and fear.
If we are not led and empowered by the spirit, then we are led and empowered by the flesh. Those are the only two options–choose wisely. So walk in who you are. Not in arrogance, but in confidence as a son of the Living God. Walk as one who is righteous and is loved by his Father.