Grace for the Everyday (Why Was I Not Gifted with Brevity?)

When things hit close to home, when they pierce us right where we've experienced hurt and pain before, when they dredge up past thoughts, feelings, and places of struggling to see the Lord, a passion is aroused in us. Our soul feels stirred up and restless, and, if we're smart, we go to God for clarity, wisdom, and healing. We allow Him to get at the root of our unsettled spirit and show us more of Himself.

Recently, some teaching I've heard has rattled me. It has brought up anger, frustration, and confusion that I've struggled to pinpoint. It has lead me deeper into God's Word and God's heart, because I was compelled to find out exactly why it bothered me so. As God's children, we should long for our Father to be accurately represented through His people and for His Word to be delivered and interpreted accurately. Does it not stir you up to anger when you overhear someone talking falsely about someone you love here on earth? Are you not compelled to run to their defense? How much more should we desire for our perfect heavenly Father to be portrayed as He really is and for His name not to be defamed?

After reflection and analyzing, I think I've pinpointed what's not sitting right with me. I've been brought up in church, thanks be to God, but that can present challenges toward my accurately viewing God and His Word at times. It's no secret that the church can easily become a place of legalism and religion rather than reflecting the heart of God. Being wired to be a fabulously legalistic rule-follower, I was particularly susceptible to the teaching that focuses on cleaning up our behavior and our outside by our own effort and strength. Now, I want to give the churches I grew up in and their members the benefit of the doubt. I want to assume they clearly preached the gospel and grace for both salvation and sanctification (the process where the Holy Spirit makes you more like God intended you to be in the first place, made in His image) and that my little legalistic, sinful heart just didn't have the ears to hear.

However it happened, I grew up with a strong desire to please God and man by following all His rules, yet not understanding the reason or the method for that following. I grew up with guilt and fear of not following the rules correctly, and sought to do my best to be good and follow the letter of the law. I do believe I was saved and a child of God, but I didn't "get" least not for my daily living. This resulted, at times, in my keeping the letter of the law but not seeing and having the heart of God. I was doing my best to do the right thing but not asking God to change my heart and get to the root of the sin. This lead to certain mistakes in my life and an incorrect view of God that took Him years to expose and undo. I lived in an unholy fear of God and His wrath on me. If I kept messing up like this, eventually He'd smite me. Not good. I had no desire to receive any form of smiting.

I think this living in guilt and trying to be good and holy is a trap that women are especially susceptible to. In 2 Timothy 3:6-7, we learn of weak women who are loaded down by sin, leaving them susceptible to being swayed by evil desires and false teaching. Think about it. When you feel the weight of guilt and sin as you are unable to live up to God's standard day in and day out, you eventually just want to stop trying. You find yourself wanting to just give into all the evil desires you find yourself unable to conquer and end up leaving all attempts at holiness behind in order to indulge in the things you just can't stop wanting. It's the "I might as well just give in" mentality. The weight of sin and guilt, the being preached at about being a good, pure person, the unattainable expectations in the church and the law can easily send us running from God to experience the "freedom" of unleashed desires.

How sad that the very teaching of the church can send us running from God. But it shouldn't surprise us, because that very thing was rampant in Jesus' day. He tried over and over to show the Pharisees that self-righteous rule keeping had them and their followers on the fast track to hell, but they were too blind to see it. It breaks my heart when I see these very same things in the church...tearing at the lives and guilt-ridden hearts of those seeking release from that very guilt but only having it heaped on all the more.

Where is the grace? We hear that we are saved by grace, but then we hear that we must spend the rest of our lives trying to live up to that grace. That's not grace at all. Grace can never be earned, by definition. It is the unearned and undeserved favor of God. Jesus devoted His time on earth to shouting, screaming, repeating the fact that our hearts are dead, unable to achieve holiness without some outside force acting on them to change their very nature. He talked about our behavior and our speech being the overflow of what is in our hearts. He talked about bad trees being unable to bear good fruit because their very nature is bad. He talked about the heart of God's Law superseding the letter of the Law. He said that He was the fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures. He spoke of a new way, a completely, radically new way of looking at and doing things. A way that God spelled out in Ezekiel 36:26-27 where He says "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."

Why do we continue to teach and live as if this were not true? Why do preachers and teachers speak of the cross of Christ when referring to our eternal destiny but then urge us to try harder and do better to live like God's Word says we should live? Is not the cross of grace which saves us also the cross of grace which makes us new from the inside out? Why do we keep trying to modify our behavior (and the behavior of our children) by good and bad consequences and guilt rather than repentance and crying out to God for inner transformation? Why do we keep trying to clean up our outside when our insides are dead and rotting from a lack of newness and love?

Having found, in some measure, the grace of God for all aspects of my life....for my eternity and for my here and now, it infuriates me to hear what is essentially a works-based faith taught in Christian circles. It denies our own need to be made new and diminishes the work of Christ on the cross. It says, "He died so you can have heaven, so now act like you deserve it. And if you don't act like it, He might take it all back."

The Good News of Jesus is that He came to give you a new heart when you deserved the dead one you had. He came to make you a new person, from the inside out. Let Him make you new. Let Him wash away the guilt of sin you cannot conquer on your own. Let Him, by the working of His Spirit and the power of His Word, make your heart clean and pure. Know and claim His victory over sin at the cross, both for eternity and for today. Learn His Word, and who it says you are. Combat the lies of the enemy with truth. Allow God to come in and expose the sin in your heart, not to make you feel guilty, but to make you more like He intended you to be.

Don't seek to be good. Seek to know God. To know His heart, His love, His grace, His power to make you new. Don't deny the power of the cross. Don't try to live without the grace you absolutely have to have.

Don't worry about keeping the rules. Just get to know Jesus, and before you know it, you'll start to be more like Him. You'll think like Him. You'll want what He wants. You'll be allowing Him to live through you.

There is freedom and newness and joy and peace in Christ. If this doesn't describe your relationship with Him, then search His Word and search your heart to find out why. The Lord has such wonderful, beautiful freedom and joy and peace for us. Let's not trade it in for the guilt of sin.

In his book The Explicit Gospel, Matt Chandler says, "As we turn our eyes toward Jesus Christ and gaze upon him, as we really see Jesus and behold him, as we become enraptured in his infinite beauties and perfections, then the things of the world grow dim and begin by contrast to lose their power over our heart and life. Christ becomes what we really desire, and earthly things become dead to us and unworthy of our affections."

Do not try to earn His favor. Just get to know Him more. You'll find His favor to be yours already and your life will not be the same.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.  The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.  He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4


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