Journey to Understand Grace Part 3: A Holy God

Last time, I wrote how Jesus feels about sin, that sin is DANGEROUS.  I'm not at the end of discussing grace and I'm sure some of you are very nervous about where this is going.  Please be patient, we will get there, but not today!

Another one of the problems people have in accepting grace is that they have a dilemma of how they could be in the presence of God if they are also in sin.  Part of this problem comes from the idea that because God is a Holy God, sin cannot be in His presence.  The general idea that many people walk away with is that sin is God's kryptonite and that He cannot be in the presence of sin.  However, I would like to present several Scriptures that show that this is not a completely accurate understanding.

1.  When Adam and Eve sinned, God came into the garden and spoke to them.  Sin had taken place but God still came to them.  If God was not able to be in the presence of sin, He would have sent an angel to talk to Adam and Eve. 
2. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden because the tree of life was planted there and God did not want them to be able to live forever in their state of sin (Genesis 3:22) thus they were not kicked out to be removed from His presence.
3.  If you read the account of Cain, before He murdered Abel God came and talked to Him telling Him that sin was trying to overtake him and that he must overcome it (Genesis 4:6-7). 
4.  Man didn't begin praying to God until the life of Enosh (Genesis 4:26).  Seeing how God talked to Cain it is plausible that God continued commune with men on an individual basis for a time.
5.  Satan does come into the presence of God.  "One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. (Job 1:6)."  "For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night (Revelation 12:10)."
6.  While Jesus was on earth, He was 100% man and 100% God.  We know for a fact that while on earth He was surrounded by sin. 
Therefore, the idea that we are separated from God, because God cannot be in the presence of sin is not a completely accurate picture.  Sin is not above God, more powerful than Him, or His kryptonite.  A more accurate picture I believe is that because of God's Holiness, sin cannot last in His presence. 
All the Israelites were invited to come to God when He presented the 10 commandments, but they chose to send Moses in their stead (Exodus 20:10).  There was a purification process that did need to take place because death would overtake them if they were not purified.  We also learn in Deuteronomy 4:24 God is a consuming fire.  We see throughout the OT that the people could not be in the presence of God and they had to be separated from the Holy of Holies.  In order for the priests to enter the Holy of Holies they had to go through a purification process or else they would die.  That is because it is sin that cannot survive in the presence of God.  If a sinful man would come into God's presence all by himself, he would die.  The problem of sin is on our end and before the death of Jesus, God set up the veil as a separation for the protection of our lives.
Isaiah 59:1-2 is a verse that many use to justify the idea that God separates Himself from us as a punishment for our sin:
Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.

Our sin did cause a separation between us and God.  In verse 1 it says His ear is not to dull to hear, but in verse 2 it says he will not hear because of our sins.  However, if we read earlier in verse 2 it talks about how our iniquities have separated us from God and His face is hidden from you.  Sin causes a separation but it is on our end.  Sin blinds us from understanding His heart.  To justify that this passage isn't saying He keeps Himself separate from us because He is waiting for us to be sinless we can see that in the exact same chapter of Isaiah that God's heart is for us and He no longer wants sin to cause a separation between us:

Isaiah 59:16-17
He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm worked salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

Sin did not cause such a separation from God that He didn't want to come to rescue us.  He decided to come down and save us from ourselves.

Why is this important?  If you believe that sin is God's hang-up then every time you sin now, as a Christian, you will still think that your sin causes God to separate Himself from you.  You will think that because of His Holiness, He has to remove Himself from you until you get your act back together.  In addition, you will think that the security of your salvation depends on what you do and don't do and therefore you will not feel at peace in His presence.  But if you understand that sin is our issue, that it blinds us from the heart of God and that God Himself chose to overcome the barrier in such a way that sin is no longer even an issue in regards to Him.... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Just know that salvation comes to us in the form of Jesus Christ and as we will continue to see, grace will be one of the beautiful blessings that is attached to His beautiful salvation.

In Christ,

Journey to Understand Grace Part 2: Sin

One of the main dilemmas in understanding grace is the problem of sin.  Sin as we all know still plays a role in our lives, but as a Christian what does it mean that we sin?  Does sin matter and if so how? 
I think a good place to start answering these questions is to look at the very words of Jesus:

Matthew 5:29-30
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Jesus HATES sin.  He believes sin is DANGEROUS and it needs to be dealt with seriously.  However, in our Christianity today we so often embrace sin and we like to downplay it. Instead we label it a "struggle" so that we can continue to hold onto it and don't have to confront it.

So again, we need to step back and look at Jesus.  How did He deal with sin in the temple:

Matthew 21:12-13
Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there.
He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers."
The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.

Jesus boldly confronted sin in the temple of God.  He didn't gently ask the moneychangers if they could leave at the end of the day and not come back tomorrow.  He came in with zeal, drove them out, and then did the work of God in its place; he healed the lame and blind.  Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. 

I Corinthians 6:18-20
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,
who is in you, whom you have received from God?
You are not your own; you were bought at a price.
Therefore honor God with your body.

To think that somehow now because of grace Jesus feels differently about sin in His temple I think is a misrepresentation of His heart.  To think that He rearranges furniture in your heart to make room for your pet sins, or that He has a room called grace so that you can comfortably keep your sin is a lie.  Hopefully, by the end of this series you will see that it is precisely because of God's grace that we can call sin, sin, evil, evil and we do not need to be afraid to confront it head on.

Journey to understand Grace Part 1: My journey

I became a Christian at 7 years old.  I still clearly remember the day I was baptized, one day before my 8th birthday.  I remember my Dad sitting me down later and showing me my first one year Bible and telling me to read it everyday, and ever since that day I have done pretty much that. 

When you are 8 years old you are also first learning mathematics, mostly as rote.  2+2=4, 3+3=6.   You memorize it and you can spit out the answer.  My journey to understand grace started out pretty much the same way.  What is grace?  Unmerited Favor.  What does that mean?  God loves me even though I don't deserve it.  Rote.  I can spit out the answer in 3 seconds or less, but it didn't really mean anything to my heart.

Fast forward 11 years.  I began going to a church called Mad City Church.  My pastor, Shane Holden, a rebel saved by grace preached with a "one string guitar of Grace" as he liked to call it.  This string he plucked week after week truly did sing something to my heart.   God loves me even in my weakness, for real!  It took off years of guilt and never thinking I did enough to please God, years of thinking that He was always mad at me.  It opened wide the door to freedom in Christ.

However, a chasm still remained in my understanding of grace.  In my youth, I could tell you what grace was but I didn't live in it.  In my 20's I could live out of grace and feel its transforming effects in my life, but I couldn't explain it.  In my years as a Christian, I have seen two extremes in regards to grace. Extreme 1: Grace is a dangerous thing, it gives people a license to sin and therefore we should be quiet about it. This extreme is a complete reaction to the second extreme that states grace is a license, I can do whatever I want and sin does not matter any more because I am free by the grace of God. This extreme wears their sin proudly like a badge of honor on their chest.  They are providing an opportunity for God to pour on a little more grace...

In my journey of grace, I personally have been pulled to both extremes, seeing the hearts of so many Christians whose lives have been shattered by blatant sin done under the covers of "grace" makes me want to hide grace, too.  But experiencing the freedom of grace in my own personal life, I knew it had to be more than I understood; it is too good to be hidden.  So knowing the truth of God's word in regards to sin and knowing and living in the beauty and freedom of grace, I knew that there was a way they are connected but I couldn't explain how.  Then 7 months ago, I heard a sermon that has been an "Ah, ha" moment for me ever since (Applied Grace 11/1/09 by Sam Dharam).  The words that he said on that day, registered with my heart and have settled some things and opened doors to many other things.  So I've been thinking about this concept of grace for 7 months and observing, contemplating and wondering if this is too good to be true:)

This post is Part 1 of a 5 part series.  It has truly been a journey to understand grace and that is what describes it best (sorry to Amber and her blog Journey of Grace:) it's just such a good description that I had to borrow it.  The purpose of this series Journey to Understand Grace will simply be me sharing my thoughts, observations and things that I have thought about during the last 7 months (or perhaps 22 years).  I am not a theologian by any means, I'm just a wife and a mother trying to walk out this thing called Christianity the best that I can and thus I will be sharing what I'm in the process of learning and living.

In Christ,

Whose Truth?

I was chatting with a friend the other day and she said, "God is supposed to be all loving and all kind.  If that is who He is, I don't understand why such and such happens."  As we talked, I had to stop her and point out that one of the main problems was contained exactly in what she said, "God is supposed  to be..., IF that is who He is..."

Her statement brought up the question, "whose truth are we going to believe and live by?"  Do we live by our reality and our assessment of what is taking place or will we choose to let the TRUTH of God be our main foundation?

As I've thought about our conversation further I've come up with 2 of the reasons why we allow our truth to supercede His truth:

One reason is because we have drawn wrong conclusions about what God's character means and thus when we face a trying circumstance we doubt God is who He says He is rather than doubting our conclusions. 

As I've walked through this season of suffering I have come to realize that in general the church in America has very little teaching to support people who are walking in a place of suffering.  Rather the overwhelming feeling people walk away with is, "the people suffering aren't living in the fullness of God and that is why they are going through a time of suffering."  The result of this conclusion, is that in the time when people need God the most they actually, with the help of the church, feel He is as far away as possible.  However, as I have read the Bible it is very clear that God is in exactly the opposite position that people conclude:
Psalm 34:18
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

He also is an ever-present help in time of trouble (not instead of trouble).

Psalm 46:1-3
He always helps in times of trouble. 
So we will not be afraid even if the earth shakes,
or the mountains fall into the sea,
even if the oceans roar and foam,
or the mountains shake at the raging sea.

We all love the Psalms and when we think of David's life we often view him when he was at the pinnacle of his life, often forgetting the many years where he had to run away from his enemies.  However, if you study the Psalms and the life of David you will see that many were written in the very times when he was at his lowest and his circumstances didn't line up with his understanding of who God IS.  In those times, David chose to declare "This is WHO you are God" even though his circumstances weren't lining up perfectly for him.

A second reason we choose our truth over His truth is because we want God to move on OUR terms not His.

When we come into a conflicting situation instead of standing upon His truth and walking through it His way, we spend our time arguing with God, "Prove to me that you are who you say you are because I'm not seeing it.  I'm not going to do another thing until I see you move."  While God in His kindness allows us to ask these questions we often don't get the results we are looking for.  Instead, we end up being very frustrated with Him.  What we can and should do instead is say, "Lord this IS who you are, my present circumstances are causing me to be confused, misunderstand and doubt that aspect of your character.  Help me to walk in the reality of who You are in THIS situation."

Psalm 46:10-11
God says, "Be quiet and know that I am God.
I will be praised in all the nations;
I will be praised throughout the earth."
The Lord All-Powerful is with us;
the God of Jacob is our defender.

We all have situations and circumstances in our life which cause us to question who God is.  The purpose of this post is not to condemn the asking of the question, rather it is to help us to take the next step when we are faced with a time of conflict.

My question to you is, "What do you do in those times?  Do you let the "truth" of your circumstances define who God is for you? Or do you declare His TRUTH and let His truth change your understanding of your circumstances?"  I personally have seen that despite my circumstances, (whether good or bad) I experience a greater reality of His presence, peace and joy in my life when I allow HIS TRUTH to trump mine.

The Limits of His Love

As we all know, we live in a microwave  society.  We want things taken care of as quickly as possible.  We often apply this same philosophy to our understanding of how God feels about  us and our problems.  We feel like God has set a time limit on His mercy, grace and love for us.  We need to hurry and get our act together before His time limit runs out.  It goes something like this: 

 You are going through a difficult time, there is grace but only for a season. 
 It has been one month.  Are you getting any better? 
No, not yet. 
Alright, you have 6 months left and then you are on your own...

 Is that true?  What exactly is God's time limit?

Psalm 106:3
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

Forever.  Really?  We have no grasp of understanding for this.

Jeremiah 31:37
This is what the Lord says:
"Only if people can measure the sky above
and learn the secrets of the earth below,
will I reject all the descendants of Israel
because of what they have done," says the Lord.

Good news for us, here is what scientists today still say about the universe: "How indeed, do we measure something that many believe to be infinite?" (from "How to measure the universe?")

So let us change the way we think about God and His love.  Stop applying limits to the depths of His love.   He has gone to great lengths to prove it with His infinite universe and He has declared it through His word: His love ENDURES forever.  The word endure implies withstanding, holding firm, not wearing out, or giving up.  In our lives, especially in times of pain, we as humans want to do the exact opposite.  We want to give up and throw in the towel.  Instead, we need to learn to lean on the arms of Him whose love ENDURES Forever:

Isaiah 40:29-31
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Finally, if for some reason, you did want to put limits on God's love the picture from above is from a galaxy 6 million light years away.  So you could start with that limit:)

In Christ,

Daily Prayer

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