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.
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:
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:
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.
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. Therefore, without a sacrifice there was no distinction between us and our sin in God's 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:
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.
Part 4: Our righteousnessIf you've been following along in this series Journey to Understand Grace, you will remember that we have already established that:
1. Jesus hates sin
2. God is Holy
(Wow, it seemed so much more profound when I was writing about it:)
Because of these 2 facts, Christians often manage to override grace and come up with their own solution to living with these truths about God. The solution: RIGHTEOUSNESS. It goes something like this:
We know we are forgiven. We know we serve a holy God. We know that we still sin. We feel like Jesus paid such a big price that now He is now tapping His toes in heaven because He is waiting for us to pay Him back. That something we owe Him is a holy life. We can do that no problem! So we jump head first into "being good Christians" by our own merit.
The apostle Paul describes this type of living in Romans 7:15-24:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.
As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Can you relate to Paul's description? When you live according to your righteousness you will find that there is a great war within you, one that you always lose. Paul sums it up, "What a wretched man I am!" How often do we walk away from situations in our lives feeling exactly like this? But Paul ends this frustrating passage of Scripture with a question, "who will rescue me from this body of death?"
The answer, Romans 7:25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Do you know what follows Romans 7:25? Romans 8:1!! And do you realize what popular verse opens Romans 8?
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
Here's the real shocker: we don't have to live in the description Paul described in Romans 7. We end up in that predicament when we try to live out our Christianity according to our own righteousness. Do you know what the Bible describes our righteousness as?
all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.
I don't think many of us would walk around handing out filthy rags as something valuable. However, we still think that now attaining righteousness by our own merit will get us somewhere. It does; that somewhere is the land of confusion, frustration and condemnation.
But God has a better way for us to live and it is to live according to His grace!!!!
Part 5: The Beauty of His GraceHere has been the journey thus far:
1. Jesus hates sin.
2.Christians still sin.
3.God is Holy and before the cross sin caused a separation between us and God.
4. Because of point 2 we often try to resolve what we see as a problem caused by the truths of 1 &3 by living according to our own righteousness. The result is frustration and condemnation.
Which brings us to today. The beauty of God's grace!! So remember the sermon that sparked this journey? The definition of grace discussed in that sermon (Applied Grace by Sam Dharam on 11/1//09) was this: the enabling power of God.
Think of that in light of the journey we have been on. We know that sin is dangerous and deadly. We know that by our own strength and power we cannot overcome sin. We know that God is a Holy God. Often times people conclude that God's grace is the answer. However, their definition of that grace is simply a "get out of jail free" card, so whenever you do something wrong you don't have to feel bad about it that in fact you can just keep doing it over and over again. This understanding of grace just covers the problem of sin but it doesn't provide a solution to sin. I strongly believe that grace is bigger than that and rather than erasing the conflict between God's Holiness and His hatred of sin, it allows the beauty of all of His character to light and the result is freedom for His children. Grace provides us access to the throne room of God, where God sits in Holiness and where Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus has defeated the curse of the law of sin and death. He has set you free and His grace ENABLES you by the power of God to be FREE. It is a beautiful thing.
We talked last time of how we still try to walk according to our righteousness. If we walk out our faith by trying to walk on a tightrope of perfection, we end up failing (daily) and being miserable! However if you pay attention to the verses I've shared and will continue to share with you, you will see that because of God's grace we don't do it according to OUR righteousness, rather we are invited to live out our lives THROUGH Him.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"
Again, if we could succeed through our own righteousness then Jesus didn't need to die. Don't set aside God's grace, it is the key to living in His righteousness.
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Because of God's grace we get to live through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. If you've been following my blog for a while you know that I am a strong advocate of putting your armor on daily. Why? One reason is because it is a great reminder of the truth of God's word, including the part: putting on the breastplate of righteousness. Whose righteousness? Not ours, His.
Last time we started looking at Romans 8. Here are some more beautiful verses that we all know but I think in this journey of grace they shine even brighter:
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit,
if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ,
he does not belong to Christ.
But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin,
yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die;
but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,
because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear,
but you received the Spirit of sonship.
And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,
if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
...the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
We do not know what we ought to pray for,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit,
because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.
What, then, shall we say in response to this?
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—
how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?
It is God who justifies.
Who is he that condemns?
Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—
is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
I hope you will take time to read all those Scriptures and meditate on them. Do you see the beauty of His grace? Sin was a barrier and before the cross it kept us from being able to even survive in the presence of God. However, now because of the death of Jesus Christ, sin no longer keeps us from the presence of God. Instead, we have full access to the THRONE of GRACE and we can approach with confidence. Better yet, at His throne we are given His righteousness through His grace, which is God's enabling power to OVERCOME sin. He still is a Holy God and when we come into His presence, He is still an all consuming fire, now however that fire consumes only sin and it no longer consumes us. It is by being in His presence and living through the grace of Jesus Christ that we walk in freedom. We don't need to be slaves to sin anymore. We don't have to live out of our own righteousness. We can live through Him. And did you see in Romans 8, you have incredible support. You have the Holy Spirit interceding to God on our behalf and you have Jesus Christ interceding. The beauty of grace is that because of the cross sin is no longer an issue for God. He has cast our sin as far as the east is from the west. Sin no longer has the power to prevent us from access to God. Because of Jesus we have full confidence that God is for us.
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire;
to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words
that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them,
because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear."
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.
You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,
to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.
You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect,
to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape
when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we,
if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth,
but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens."
The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things
—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,
let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,
for our "God is a consuming fire."
This is how I've been applying this knowledge of grace.
1. I still put on my armor daily. It reminds me that I am saved by grace and I can only walk in this life through His righteousness.
2. When I sin, which I do, I bring my heart in confident expectation to the throne of grace. I no longer cower away from God in shame and guilt, or try to fix my darkness by being "a better person." Rather, I say, "Lord, here is my heart, here is my sin. Please show me how to overcome this by your grace." I realize that He wants to set me free and that any exposure He brings to my sin is an invitation from the Father to be free. What a beautiful place to be, in the presence of God, the all consuming fire, who is able to consume the remains of our sin and set us free.
So thank you for reading my journey to understand grace. As I said, it is a journey and by no means am I perfect at it. But I'm living by God's grace, His enabling power, and I'm walking with much more confidence knowing that I have a loving Father, Son and Holy Spirit cheering me on and inviting me to rest in their arms when I fail.