Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Great Grace: Greatly Forgiven

33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 NKJV

Not long ago we began a detailed a study of His great Grace. Recently, we've looked in-depth at the various performance-based faith concepts currently in the Body of Christ. Having thoroughly defined what a performance driven faith looks like I sense the impression to examine another aspect of our great redemption. 

Greatly Forgiven

 When we get a clear understanding of our perfect redemption in Christ, one of the greatest aspect of His Grace is understanding just how forgiven those of us in Christ actually are. It is such good glad news knowing you are cleansed and totally forgiven. No matter what you've done. No matter how bad your sins seem you are totally forgiven in Him. 

Wait, isn't all humanity forgiven of their sins?

 Perhaps you took note that I said only those in Christ are forgiven. This is a challenging topic to address. You see Jesus paid for the sins of all humanity. 
He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. 1 John 2:2 NLT
This is marvelously good news!Yet how do we reconcile this passage with this one?
46 and He said to them, Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Luke 24:46-47 NASB
 Is there a contradiction to the Gospel message? It really isn't a contradiction to the Gospel. The Gospel is the Grace of God. It is still good glad news. The truth we must always include is that any gift no matter how good and wonderful and life transforming must still be received to enjoy the benefits of it. Look at Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 5. See that he makes it clear only those in Christ are a new creation. Then he shares are work as ambassadors for Christ.

Take note that Paul says God isn't counting men's sins against them. What does it mean God isn't counting men's sins against them? It means He is not looking for you to come up with a payment plan for your failures and faults and sins. He is satisfied with the once for all payment of sins, Christ's shed blood.

Our work as ambassadors for Christ is to urge the World to be reconciled to God. We proclaim to them God isn't holding anything against you, so please receive this free gift. Redemption is a two-way street, God offering the gift and mankind responding by Grace through faith freely receiving it. Look at Jesus' words, the person of Grace Himself makes it clear.
18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ Acts 26:18 NASB 

 It is clear then that those not yet in Christ still need to receive the forgiveness of sins to walk in the benefits of it. Because Christ Finished Work bore the full punishment for sins on the Cross though, there is now no more "punishment" for sins today. Meaning God isn't sending tornadoes or tsunamis to punish wicked nations or states or cities.

 Now let me make it clear, only the rejection of Jesus is what results in a man choosing eternal separation in Hell. Yet, if you look at Revelation, in the end of it all, you see men having to answer for their works. What does this mean? It confirms that the Gospel is the Grace of God.

 Let me explain, the Gospel of Grace says we can't ever do enough, we can't earn or achieve salvation by accomplishing a task or carrying out an action. We can do nothing but simply respond by believing Him and receiving His work on our behalf. But you may be asking I thought all sins were forgiven, so why the need for the lost to answer for their works? That again confirms the Gospel is the Grace of God.

 Picture this. An extremely wealthy tycoon walks into a department store. There are only 3 people inside browsing. All three are poor and destitute. They are all just admiring the beautiful items in this store. Now let's suppose this tycoon lays down a million dollars cash and says whatever they desire I'm paying for it. He made an overpayment.  Two of the customers respond with great joy and freely receive all that was offered. They take their items to the register and the clerk says this is all paid in full have a nice day.

 Now the final customer says no thanks, I am not worthy. Or they may be saying I am not that poor I can handle paying for my purchases. Even though the products were paid for this one rejected that payment and sought to pay for their items with their own efforts and funds. Of course, they would come up short. That is what is happening in Revelation. Mankind who are bankrupt spiritually, who have rejected Grace seek to find their own method of paying for their sins. 

 Grace has freely provided forgiveness to all mankind but this forgiveness must still be received to be activated. In order to reap the benefits of a clear conscience and freedom from dead works, one must freely receive what has been freely given. That answers this supposed contradiction of the Gospel message. Pastor Ryan Rufus has a great article on this if you're interested in further study.

Freedom from pain and the cure for shame and guilt

 Now that we understand the message of forgiveness let's see how this knowledge of forgiveness is the cure for all shame and guilt. If you recall Paul's words in 2 Corinthians, he stated old things are passed away and the new has come. In Christ, we are made new. God's Grace makes all things new.

 So many have a past in which they were abused, mistreated or even abandoned. Some have experienced unspeakable horrors and cruelty at the hands of others. Others have seen the worst life in a fallen World has to offer. How can people live today free from the pain and hurts? What if you were the one doing the wrong and hurt another how can you deal with the guilt and shame?

 The Grace of God reveals His sinless blood shed for your imperfections and pains and hurts perfectly cleanses and heals you. The work of redemption is a Finished Work. Take all the pain and misery of the past and see it nailed to that Cross. See Him bearing all your pains, your sorrows, even your guilt and shame and exchanging it for His righteousness and total forgiveness. 

 In Christ, you stand complete. You are made whole, nothing missing. There are no spiritual birth defects. You are perfect in Christ. You are remade new, and He sees you cleansed, righteous and forgiven. Rejoice, your slate is wiped clean. You have a zero ledger balance. You don't owe a thing. 

 So great a salvation. So greatly forgiven. Now, what about our future sins? In our next study, we will see that we truly are forgiven of all our sins, past and present and future. You don't want to miss it.
Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Great Grace: Religion or Relationship?

33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 NKJV

 We've begun a study of God's great Grace. In the recent weeks, we have been flowing in a stream focusing centrally on the works, the efforts, and the varied performance-driven mindsets plaguing the Church, the Body of Christ. We've briefly touched on demand-driven legalism, Lordship Salvation, and Old Covenant rooted faith teaching.

 Today, I sense the impression to follow this stream even further. The objective is to further expose these performance-driven thinking patterns in the Church. Thus allowing believers to more easily recognize if they are in religion or relationship.

 Religious-rooted preachers and believers are performance-driven, checklist minded, and relate to God from a blended mixture of Old and New Covenant principles. The reason some reject this call to examine their teachings or beliefs or actions to see if they are rooted in a performance based faith is because they can't recognize that they have adopted and minister and function from a legalistic mindset. They feel because they don't demand that ladies, not wear makeup or they don't forbid jewelry and they don't have an enforced "dress code" they cannot be legalistic. 

 They look at the words of Paul and Peter and James and only see them as regulations and rules. They follow them as a checklist that needs to be observed to the letter so God will favor them more and more. They use all their efforts and strength to comply with and conform to these regulations so God will be more pleased with them. 

Jesus plus nothing? 

 Now it is easier to understand why the concept of Jesus plus nothing is almost sacrilege to these trapped in legalistic performance. To them, this sounds like rebellion, slothfulness, irreverence. It drums up images of affirming sinful pursuits and an overall disregard for the instructions of the New Covenant. This is the performance-driven outlook. We've identified it. Now how can we rescue people from it? Sure, we can be angry and bitter for how they've altered the message. The problem is that doesn't resolve anything or assist anyone. 

Ritual or Relationship?

 Due to their religious outlook, those under legalism aren't relating to God from a relationship.  The actions they partake in are in reality more ritual than relationship. When we see the words of Paul and Peter not as instructions and exhortations but as regulations we begin to form checklists in our minds. We inevitably engage in rituals to come before our Father. We create rules about how to approach God. We have guidelines about praise and worship. We even go so far as to speak for our Father and reveal there are hurdles to leap over and hoops to jump through in order for Him to be pleased and accepting of our praise. 

 What do I mean by performance based faith? What do I mean by rituals? I went online and just typed in the word performance to see how it is defined. What I saw pop up so clearly defined legalistic, checklist minded, ritualistic relating to God. The definition was "the action or process of carrying out or accomplishing an action, task, or function." 

 Think of that. A process of carrying out or accomplishing a task or function is what performance is. Now, look at your walk with God. Is it based or rooted upon your abilities to carry out or accomplish an action or task? Let that sink in. Allow that to penetrate your thinking. 

 Is the healing of your body contingent upon you carrying out a task? Is God supplying your needs dependant upon you accomplishing an action? Is His favor upon you based on how many tasks you carry out? If this is so then that begs the question just how many tasks or actions must we complete? How often are we to be engaging in accomplishing a task? How do we know when we have done enough to merit or achieve this favor?

 Under the Old, men had to complete tasks or actions to approach God. In the New, God abides within us. Why the need for ritual then? What do I mean by ritual? Ritual is when we are relating to God with steps and formulas and actions to get God's attention. Rituals and checklists go hand in hand. Did I make the right confession? Did I do this step first? Did I miss a step?

I know what the religious mind is thinking. Hey, the Word does give a checklist under the New of how to please God. Does it? Hebrews 11:6 and Romans 8 are the references. Hebrews declared it was impossible to please God without faith. Romans states we can't please God if we are in the flesh. People love to take these out of context and setting. Paul said we aren't in the flesh if we are in Christ. Certainly, if we are in the flesh, a mindset apart from God, a mindset that disagrees with righteousness by faith but embraces righteousness by works we can't please God because we can't ever do enough or perform just right to please God. Hebrews is only saying God is only pleased when we agree with God when we believe Him. When we believe what He has said. 

 See how easy it is to take such encouraging words and then see them as regulations? It then turns us into performing just right to be accepted. It sets us up to engage in rituals to find ourselves more pleasing to our Father.  

 Instead of seeing the Word as mere regulations see the heart of Paul and Peter and James. Even the commands to walk in love and walk away from the way the World does things aren't designed as rules. Often times, the Word is reminding us of our identity in Christ. They are giving us instructions to further advance into maturity and fruitful living. Pursuing sinful passions are fruitless and not fun. What's fun about adultery? Yea, spouse leaves you and children's innocence is shattered and their trust is weakened, sounds like a great way to live, huh? Of course not! 

 When we are in a performance rooted faith we see the Word as regulation. We will create checklists to observe to the letter and formulate rituals to carry out religiously. If that is you, let that go. Come back to God as a simple child and daddy relationship. In a healthy relationship, how many chores or tasks do you need to complete to receive your Earthly father's love and acceptance? What rituals then do you need to perform or checklists do you need to keep in order to get God's attention and receive of His great love?

 Come to the Grace side of the Christian life. We rest in His loving promises and what He has already accomplished in the Finished Work. We don't have to complete enough tasks to enter into His presence. We don't have to fulfill a checklist for God to receive our praise and worship. We don't have to engage in some ritual in order to receive from our good Father's Gracious hands. 

 He has us engraved in the palm of His hands. We are ever on His mind. We are the apple of His eye. We can't achieve or merit or perform enough to receive what has freely been given in the Finished Work. To be totally free from this performance thinking, ask yourself when I am praying or when I am offering my praise, am I coming to God, petitioning Him based on how well I have behaved, performed, or completed a checklist or specific requirement? Or am I coming to my Father based on Jesus' perfect performance and obedience? Come to the Father, petition God, offer up praise to Him based on Jesus and not your efforts or works and you will always find fulfillment and blessing and exceeding goodness and Grace!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Great Grace: What About the Cross?

33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 NKJV

 In the recent weeks, we've been studying God's great Grace. We have seen how we are greatly freed from Law and have great liberty wherein we aren't required to observe a certain day or week in order to walk in greater intimacy with our Father. 

 We've also begun detailing the various performance and works centered teachings of man. In doing so, I want to provide a clear and balanced view. Is God's great Grace a license to sin or an excuse to become slothful or lazy? No, Grace is no license to sin, nor is it an excuse to be lazy. For further study see here and here

 Now that we have added clarity to the track we are on, I sense the leading to examine another teaching that I see has transformed into a performance mindset. Now I am not seeking to condemn or attack other believers. One sure way to know you're maturing in your walk with God is the ability to realize there are truths that are rooted in God's Word but men can take these same truths out of balance and out of context and create extremes, but that doesn't take away the validity of the original truths found in Scripture. 

 I want to examine the modern understanding of faith. What is faith? Faith isn't your particular religious persuasion such as Baptist or Pentecostal. Faith isn't blind. We know in whom we have believed. Faith is simply knowing and trusting God. Faith is taking God at His Word. Faith is also acting on your beliefs. 

 These corresponding actions of faith are what I want to examine in detail. It seems to some that corresponding actions of faith are the source of all blessings. Listening to some, it appears that all one need do is spend enough time meditating the Scriptures, confessing those promise passages, give consistent donations, and perform some sort of action proving you believe what you say you believe and then all of God's promises will be yours. Now all the while you are steadily doing this, you must also never let anger overtake you, causing you to enter into strife or unforgiveness toward another. You must also remain sin free for the most part. Now for my question.

What about the Cross?

 In all these equations about doing in order to activate and receive God's promises where is the Cross? It appears that our receiving the benefits of blessing, favor, provision and healing is rooted in our actions. Modern faith teaching has transformed into a works and performance system that tries to merit God's blessings. 

 We can see that faith teaching has disconnected from Grace and the Finished Work. One reason for this disconnect is this concept that healing and provision and other blessings are rewards from God. If healing is a reward it stands to reason why some see that if one is failing or fouling up in an area of their life that God is now limited and can't bless that individual. For Him to bless such an individual would mean God is rewarding bad or immoral behavior. 

 Another reason for the disconnect is that some have seen great progress, in their view, due to their spiritual disciplines. Anything that would dare suggest that those aren't necessary must be in error. They will accuse you of promoting slothfulness and will tell you that we must do our part to receive the blessing and have success in life. So you best get busy bub!

 Another reason for this disconnect is their image of God. Yes, He is loving and good. He won't make you sick or send destruction your way. However, He is a stern and austere taskmaster. Faith has no feelings. If you fail or falter, you blew it. You got to start over from the beginning. God demands perfect faith from you or you won't receive. If you sinned, He will withhold blessings and healing and none of your prayers will be answered until you get right with Him.

What about Jesus and the Finished Work?

 Sadly, if you sincerely took a large percentage of modern faith teaching and removed Jesus' death and burial and resurrection from the equation, the teaching would not change much. In other words, what they're teaching is a diluted form of Old Covenant relationship with God. Think of it, under the Old, they confessed the Word, they meditated on the Word, they acted on what the Lord told them, they gave in order to receive blessing and protection. 

 Under the Old, man would act and then God would respond. Man would perfectly obey the statutes and God would respond with blessing. Modern faith teaching has regressed into relating to God with this type of Old Covenant thinking and action.

 Where is Jesus? Where is what He has done the focus? It appears all the source of blessing is men's works. Are healing and the blessings a reward? Are the spiritual disciplines you engage in the complete source of your progress? Is God this austere taskmaster?

 Under the Old, we would have to act and then God would respond. In this glorious New Covenant, Jesus already acted on our behalf. So now we respond to what Grace and the Finished Work has already completed and provided. The word response is the key. We aren't working to earn or achieve anything. Why did God establish the New Covenant if it was going to function exactly the same as the Old apart from animal sacrifices?

 Healing and provision are not rewards. Rewards connote the idea of a wage earned or achieved. If we could earn healing, blessings or anything from God, then why did we need Jesus to die for us? Spiritual disciplines are merely responses to what Jesus has already done. In reality, they are just us cooperating with the leading and guiding of the Spirit. Also, they aren't the same for each individual person in Christ. Meaning, what He leads me to do may not be what He guides you to do. The point is we should be following after Him. It is about a relationship. 

 God is a good Father. He isn't the taskmaster. Yes, God may be displeased with our actions or choices but those aren't who we are. He is never disappointed in us, His children. Imagine, if you will, an earthly father who discovers his son has gotten bad grades in school or has broken a valuable item in the home, or has been caught watching something he shouldn't be. Perhaps dad finds out the older son was showing off foolishly and damaged their vehicle. 

 How long should it be before this father allows his child back in his presence? How many dishes does his child need to wash or how many floors does he need to sweep, or how many chores does he need to complete before he can come before his father, sit on his knee and hug him and receive affection? Well, what if the son is in a rebellious streak you may ask? Should the father then say: "I won't allow him at the dinner table or have any interaction with him or even allow him to abide in this house until he apologizes!"?  Is that the loving response? Remember it is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance. God isn't separating or distancing Himself from us when we miss it.

 Now we are seeing more clearly how faith teaching has drifted away from the Finished Work. We see that it trusts in human efforts and actions to produce the blessings of God and not the Finished Work of Christ. This produces spiritual pride. It also produces a competitive atmosphere, "Look at what my faith produced." Because the Word reveals principles to develop faith, people mistakenly believe faith originated within themselves. 
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; Ephesians 2:8 NASB

Paul clearly reveals that it is none of us and all of Him. There has been some controversy as to what Paul is saying is not of ourselves. Is it the Grace? What about the salvation? Is it faith? This passage is revealing that the Grace, the faith, and our salvation is not of ourselves it is all the gift of God. We have nowhere to boast.

 No one no matter how much they devote to meditation and confession can boast as to what their faith accomplished. It was His faith that He gave us at the point of salvation. It is Him leading and guiding us which causes our faith to grow. We have nowhere to boast.

 So what about the Cross? Is your faith in what you do? Is your faith in how flawless your behavior is while you are believing for a promise to manifest? Our faith needs to be in Him, the source of it all, the redemption, the Finished Work. What about faith in the Word? I have faith in God's Word but it's rooted in the understanding that without the Finished Work there would be no New Covenant Scripture. The authority of the Word is based on who God is and what He accomplished in the work of redemption.

 I have actually heard one of these faith/prosperity preachers sincerely tell folk that they need to move on from the Cross to the more important stuff. If the faith teaching you follow can still operate uninterrupted if the Finished Work was removed from the equation, know you have an Old Covenant faith concept. In this New Covenant, He has done it all, and we simply respond by believing He accomplished what He set out to do and acting accordingly. 

 We need to get back to focusing on the Cross. Without the Cross, there would be no gift of righteousness. There would be no healing, no provisions, no forgiveness, no blessings, no favor, no God abiding within us. Put Jesus back in the center. He is the source of all blessings, not our works. Our actions are responses to what He already accomplished in the Finished Work. If our trust is in our actions then we are asking God to bless us on the basis of how well we perform. I look at what Jesus accomplished and trust in His obedience on my behalf and trust in His merits and not my own. Greater Grace, a greater focus on Jesus and the Finished Work.
Image courtesy of Naypong at

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Great Grace: Greatly Refreshed

33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 NKJV

We've been in an ongoing study of the great Grace of God. We have seen how this Grace is greater than all of our failures. We saw this Grace has freed us from Old Covenant Law. 

 In our last study, we saw two reasons religion adds performance and works to the Gospel. Walking by sight not trusting the Lord to work in His people and Christian guilt. I sense the Lord leading me to further explore the legalism that is weighing down the Body of Christ.

 Law, Lordship Salvation, and legalism add burdensome weight to the life of the believer. God's great Grace brings greater refreshing. What do I mean by Law and Lordship Salvation, and legalism exactly? What burdens am I referencing? 

 Law demands but Grace supplies. Law is that demanding but offering no help or ability to keep the "rules" system. Lordship Salvation is front loading the Gospel message with lists of demands and requirements that one must meet in order to first be saved. Legalism is religious concepts where believers must prove themselves worthy recipients of salvation. 

 Are you abiding by God's commands? Are you committed enough? Are you dedicated enough? How obedient are you? How is your Christian conduct? Careful how you respond? In some circles, it could mean you're not truly or sincerely saved.

 I want to address your commitment, your consecration to Christ. I want to address your obedience, your performance, and perseverance, (take note these words make the acronym COPS, for they represent Law and legality). These are scary words in some circles. They drum up images of our often failures and missteps. Our broken promises and the half measured successes and on and off again commitments. 

 Now, I am not saying this to reinforce some failure mindset. I am not saying this to encourage foolish living. I am just talking plainly about where we've all been. Maybe you're there now. I have been here too many times to mention. The point is we can all if we are honest enough admit that none of us has done exceeding abundantly well in the commitment and performance department. 

 Religion though uses the standards of commitment and obedience as measuring tools to determine our worth and value in the Kingdom. This brings me to another motive or reason for this burdensome performance based faith. Jesus walked this Earth. He was perfectly obedient and fully committed to His Father. Some say He was 100% yielded so a 100% of God flowed through. So these leaders create a religious system for men to follow so they too can one day be 100% yielded. 

 In order to achieve this yieldedness, one must pay a high price. This price is the cutting away from anything natural or carnal. If you are enjoying life then something's wrong.

 Gnosticism was the serious error that was creeping into the Early Church. John dealt with it extensively. They felt all things physical or natural, of the Earth realm, was wicked and therefore no way would God ever become flesh. Flesh is wicked. They believed sin was in this natural arena only and not in the spiritual realm so they denied the existence of sin. That is what 1 John 1 was addressing. What I want to point out is that the Gnostics eschewed this physical realm as wicked and something to avoid at all cost.

 Today we see a diluted but similar viewpoint in religious circles. If you enjoy things of this planet and the World you obviously aren't committed enough. Do you enjoy watching movies or TV? Are you a sports fan? Do you follow a sports team? Well, that is carnal and hinders your consecration. I mean if you have time to watch a ball game you have time to study, to fast, to pray, to witness to someone.

 Religion cringes at the idea of a Christian enjoying their everyday life. Want to go fishing on a Sunday morning? Where is your commitment? Do you enjoy an alcoholic beverage? Do you have tattoos? You have committed the unpardonable sin! You are not truly dedicated!

 You see the burdensome weight of religion? Great Grace brings great refreshing. Grace removes this burden to perform and keep the rules and obligations of man. I probably need to devote an entire blog post to alcohol and tattoos. 

 Let me suffice it to say that enjoying a beverage or getting some artwork inked onto your skin isn't going to interrupt God's fellowship with you or cause Him to love you less. Look there exists no clear passage forbidding alcohol or tattoos in the New Covenant. The issue with alcohol is to use your liberty with wisdom and love. We don't want to cause a weaker brother to stumble so don't flaunt your freedom in their face. On the other hand, alcohol can be unprofitable if you use it as an occasion to gratify the flesh (that mindset that is apart from God), that is using one area of liberty to justify other areas of clear sin. That said, drinking alcohol won't defile you or make you unworthy in God's eyes. Look, God created this Earth for us. In moderation, we can enjoy alcoholic beverages with friends and relax and enjoy each other's fellowship.

Greatly Refreshed

 Where religion and tradition bring crushing burden, Grace brings refreshing. It removes crushing burdens of performance weighing us down. Grace brings refreshing where we can begin to enjoy life and each other and our relationship with our good Father. God isn't looking to see how well you followed up on your commitment. He isn't checking up on your progress, shaming you, saying other believers have grown and overcome in this area why are you still struggling? I can't stress this enough. It is about a relationship, not pledges and promises on our part to do more, do better, get it together, to be more pleasing if we can just have a little more time.

 This New Covenant brings great refreshing and blessing. No longer is it about our work or how well we perform. It's a rest. It's a wonderful life-giving relationship with Almighty God.

Old: Ministry of condemnation
New: Ministry of Righteousness

Old: Ministry of death
New: Ministry of the Spirit

Old: Sins are not forgotten but remembered to the third and fourth generations
New: Merciful to our unrighteousness and our sins and iniquities will He remember no more

Old: Law written in stone
New: Law written in our hearts

Old: If you forsake Him, He will forsake you
New: He will never leave you or forsake you

Religion is about upholding the standard. It is about meeting the requirements. It's about fulfilling all the obligations. Nowhere in this equation is there love and mercy and above all relationship. 

 God is all about relationship. His Grace brings great refreshing. Our Christian walk becomes refreshing and rewarding again when we bring Grace back into the equation. When Jesus is the center of all we do we will experience the peace that surpasses understanding and will find love and acceptance and a rich, more meaningful Christian life.

 Under Grace, we no longer have the crushing burdens of guilt, obligation, and performance weighing us down. We have freedom from shame, fear, and condemnation. With Jesus, we experience the fullness of joy.
You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11 NASB
Great Grace has brought to us Great refreshing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Great Grace: So Great Salvation

33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 NKJV

 In the recent weeks, we've been engaged in a study of God's great Grace. We've seen that Grace is greater than our failures. We have seen that Grace has freed us from the Old Covenant Law. We have seen that Grace has brought liberty whereof we are not required to observe any special day or partake of any type of ceremony to advance in faith or achieve a deeper spiritual intimacy with God.

 God's Grace is greater than we can fathom. Grace is so far reaching and knows no boundaries. It turns the hardest and coldest hearts. His Grace stoops to the lowest most undeserving one offering hope and new life. His Grace has appeared to all men in the person of Jesus Christ.

 In spite of this great Grace being revealed so many still only see Grace as a minor portion of the Gospel. That it was only part of the motivation that moved God to pay the price and offer new life. It is only utilized for the Gospel invite but once received it is no longer consequential. Devotion and consecration are what is paramount and is all that is of significance. Personal commitment and devotion and determination are what the Christian life is founded on.

 There is no place for Grace for believers. Think openly and with honesty. We hold our hands out offering hope for hopelessness and light in the darkness. We strive to bring in the multitudes to hear the good news. There is a Savior. There is forgiveness, we proclaim. We are quick to declare there is nothing you have done that will disqualify you from receiving. Then, the lost, the hurting, the sinner hears and responds with open hearts and hesitantly comes forth and receives this good news. 

 Then the lost who is now found sees there is no longer a place for Grace for believers. You've responded, now the open hands with their invitation of unconditional love and acceptance close and a finger comes forth pointing out all your flaws and misdeeds. The open hands become clinched fists angrily preaching about the lack of devotion and commitment among the found. Finally, these open hands sometimes become hands closed clinching stones to throw at the fallen among us.

Freely Given Freely Receive

 The truth is God's Grace is greater than our flaws. His Grace is greater than any achievements we strive for. His Grace is greater than our commitments. Because we try, we promise, we make pledges but we in our fleshly frailness often times come up short. Grace says He is the missing element in any and all equations.

 The Gospel is Grace from start to finish. The Christian life is predicated on the great Grace of Almighty God. No amount of devotion causes His favor or love or mercy or hope to shine more upon us. The way His favor and love and blessings flow upon us in a greater measure is when we simply agree with Him and identify with who we already are, the righteousness of God in Christ.

 The ministers and believers who see Grace as a minor part of the Gospel are missing it in a couple of ways. One, they are walking by sight not faith in God's Word. His Word declared we who believe are righteous and holy and redeemed and eternally secure. Many times they walk by their senses and see the failures and shortcomings of the Church. So they attempt to front load the Gospel. They teach if a believer isn't committed or devoted or persevering to the level they deem acceptable they must not really be saved. I've even heard a minister once say if a professing Christian was caught up in a specific sin or they didn't believe exactly what he did they weren't "true" Christians. They were merely a "believer". They were some type of lower class Christian.

Secondly, they are entrenched in Christian guilt. Because those of us in the West aren't being driven from our homes or being massacred or beheaded for our faith we aren't truly dedicated. The believers who have suffered so much in certain nations hostile to Christians are the real Christians. One theologian that is immensely popular coined this phrase "cheap grace" in this vein. Because Christians don't stand up and allow themselves to be murdered they must not be truly committed.

 They make catchy slogans. Things like Christ died for you will you die for Him? I trust that you can see this Christian guilt. This guilt in my view is what is motivating some of this extreme commitment and consecration and devotion and persevering achievement goals intending to prove one's genuine salvation.  

 The truth is God's Grace freely offers all who will hear and respond new life. We freely receive all He accomplished for us. There is no commitment or obedience requirement to receive salvation. Salvation isn't Jesus plus your commitment to long-term obedience to God. It isn't Jesus plus your achievements and consecration. It is not Jesus plus your bravery and courage enough to suffer and die. It is Jesus plus nothing. Salvation is by Grace through faith. 

 Free your mind from this never ending treadmill of duty and achievement syndrome. Reject any guilt over any blessings and goodness you have because of where you live and what Christ has done. Christ doesn't need our help to perfect us or mature us. Maturity and growth come simply by renewing our minds to our new identity in Him. When we acknowledge as often as we can who we are in Him growth occurs. 

 As for those suffering for their faith, we do all we can to help. We provide aid and support through charitable means. We pray in faith for their protection. What we don't do is create a theology of works to compensate for us not "suffering enough". 

 Brethren, renew your minds to this great Grace. Understand where the "you're not trying hard enough", "there is still much more to do" mindsets originate from. Those looking at behavior instead of trusting God's Word and His Spirit to renew and awaken and bring growth and change. Or it's rooted in those so entrenched in guilt for freedoms and blessings they have. We no longer have to prove our worth. God freely giving us His own Son reveals our worth to our good Father. So simply and freely receive all His Grace has purchased and provided. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Great Grace: Greater Liberty

33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 NKJV

 We've been in a study of the great Grace of Almighty God, our good Father. We began last week looking at our great freedom from the Law. The legalistic Judaizers often reject the concept clearly detailed in the New Covenant that the Law and Old Covenant is fulfilled in Christ. The Old has been abolished, has come to an end in light of the activation of the New Covenant.

 Now let's establish something that is true that is not contrary to the New Covenant. You see the legalists often look for ways to ensnare us and claim New Covenant Grace is a false teaching. Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe. That is the clear New Covenant truth. In the Law, though we can clearly see the perfect righteous moral standard of God. 

 What I mean by this, is that the moral aspects of the Ten Commandments such as not committing adultery or murder are a standard seen in the New. Let me say it as clear as possible to not confuse you. The Love of God abiding in our hearts, and the Spirit directing our paths would never lead us into any sexual immorality. It wouldn't ever lead us into lying or cheating or taking advantage knowingly of anyone. 

 That said we still can't say rightly that we abide by the "moral" components of the Mosaic Law. Because some of the 613 commands have nothing to do with any ceremony or sacrificial procedure and are not listed in the "big ten" but have a seemingly "moral" aspect to them.  For instance, the commands that men must not trim the sides of their temple or clip the edges of their beards is a moral command given so as to not appear as the Gentiles. So is it a sin today if Christian men don't have properly shaped facial hair?

Rightly dividing the Word of God would end so much of the debate and confusion in the Body of Christ. When Paul in his Epistles references behavior he is not saying anything unusual or what we haven't seen recorded in Scripture since Genesis. It's pretty basic and is summed up by the royal law of love. If we love people we won't betray them or take advantage of them. That should settle the debate about the place of the Law in the life of the believer. 

 Sadly, this is insufficient for the legalists and Judaizers. These Legalists want to take the Church backward. They are steadily teaching that Christians would grow more and experience a deeper spiritual walk with God if they just followed the Mosaic Law and observed Sabbath days and Feasts days. Let's establish once again the truth, we as Christians aren't anti-semitic. As Christians, we believe the whole Bible. I affirm Israel is the land God gave the Jews. We stand with them and support them. God made a Covenant with Abraham and will ultimately fulfill all the promises to Israel when Jesus returns.

Sabbath observance and celebration of Feast days?

 As for New Covenant believers, what then has the manners and customs and practices of the Old Covenant to do with the Church? They do have significance. They are shadows and types that point us to something. The shadows pointed to the Substance. The Substance is the Lord Jesus Christ. 

 This truth doesn't seem to penetrate the thinking of the legalistic Judaizers. The plain truth is that the Feast days and Sabbath and Passover and Seder meal have significant educational value to the Believer. They point to and illustrate Jesus perfect redemptive work. The problem is that the legalists teach that there exist a deeper spiritual intimacy and understanding with God when we actually observe and celebrate these things.

 Some even go a step further and teach that if we don't keep Sabbath we are disobeying the Commandment of God. This is dangerous deception creeping into the Church. The legalists point to Paul and his life often to prove their stance.

 They point to Acts 21, that Paul entered the temple and supposedly took part in a Jewish ceremonial practice. They also reference Paul looking to go to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost in Acts 20. They also note Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 16 that he wanted to abide in one place until Pentecost. In Acts 18  Paul noted he desired to be in Jerusalem for the feast or festival. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul talks about keeping the Feast.

 The Judaizers also share other common themes, that observing the Sabbath or Feast holy days aren't burdensome. They say how burdensome is taking a day off? How burdensome is it to celebrate a feast? They also proclaim on all their web pages and sermons that the Sabbath and Feast days aren't for Israel under the Old. They proclaim that these Feast days and the Sabbath is the Lord's Sabbath and the Feasts are the Feast's of the Lord. They are to be observed forever.

 I have basically summed up the arguments for observing the Old Covenant practices. Now, are these points valid? Not a single one. This is because the Judaizers fail to rightly divide the Word and keep the passages in Context.

 When you have time study the passages about the Feast's of the Lord in Leviticus 23. Now, what you will see is a common theme spread throughout each feast. Offering a sacrifice and the command to not work, but to rest. What does this prove? What does this point to? All of these Sabbath and Feast days point to the Finished Work of Jesus. That in Christ we rest because the work is complete and Jesus has done it all and we can do nothing to earn, achieve, or merit His love, redemption or provision.

Answering the legalist's objections to Grace

Let me very briefly answer the objections about Paul's life. First, Luke, writing the book of Acts used the Hebrew calendar as an indication of time and documenting events on Paul's journey. Paul was using Jewish feast days as an indication of dating and time. As for going into the temple in Acts 21, Paul was fulfilling James' request in order to keep the peace between Jew and Gentile. This principle is the true motive and answer for why Paul did what he did. 

 In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is making a referencing to the Passover feast, in order to encourage the church at Corinth to remove the leaven or serious sexual immorality they'd allowed to fester in their midst. As for the objection that keeping these customs aren't burdensome, look back again at Peter's words in Acts 15. 
10 So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? Acts 15:10 NLT
 Peter's words decimate the claim that observing Feast days and keeping Sabbath are not burdensome. The problem is the legalistic Judaizers are doing exactly what the Pharisee and Sadducee had done when Jesus walked the Earth. They had diluted the Law into a standard that man could keep. Teaching today that we should keep Feasts days is to dilute the perfect, impossible standard of the Law.
 As for the objection that these are the Lord's Feasts and Sabbath and they are forever, God was talking directly to Israel. They were forever in their generations. When Jesus came these customs found their fulfillment in Christ. To celebrate them today is to take the glory away from the Finished Work. For us to observe these customs is for us to celebrate something that was designed to look forward to an event to come. It is actually dishonoring Christ to keep Sabbath days and observe Feast days.
10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. Galatians 4:10 NLT
16 So don’t let anyone criticize you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating Jewish holidays and feasts or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.  17 For these were only temporary rules that ended when Christ came. They were only shadows of the real thing—of Christ himself. Colossians 2:16-17 TLB
Those looking to keep Sabbath days and Celebrate the feast days are walking by sight and not faith. They are saying the shadow is more real and relevant than the substance which is Christ and His Finished Work. That the shadow offers more Revelation and in-depth intimacy than the substance who is Jesus. They say they are just honoring Israel and the Old Covenant words. 

 If they want to show honor then honor God's New Covenant, which is a Covenant of faith not sight. To embrace shadows and not the substance is to walk in unbelief. Under the Old, you could "see" your righteousness by how you kept the holy days, honored the Sabbath, and abstained from forbidden foods. It is not a light thing to God to try to mix the Covenants and to teach the Saints that keeping or honoring or observing holy days, feasts, manners and customs is honoring God and His Word when the substance has already appeared and fulfilled all the shadows by His redemptive Work. We are to honor the Finished Work and His New Covenant and keep it free from mixture and error.  

 Under Grace, there exist no form of greater spiritual blessings or intimacy or growth achieved for keeping Sabbath days or observing or participating in Feast day celebrations. We honor Christ. We honor His triumphant resurrection. We honor His defeat of the enemy satan. We honor the Finished Work, mixture free! This is great Grace, great liberty in Christ.
Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw at