Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Great Grace: More Than a Feeling

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 are continuing in this extensive study of His great Grace. Let's examine another truth that will propel you to a deeper appreciation for His Grace, and a better understanding of its working in our lives. Let's look at some Scripture.

17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:17 NKJV

 Grace and Truth came through Jesus. Note that Law is on one side and Grace and Truth are on the other. This also reveals Truth is on the side of Grace, not Law. 

 We've talked extensively about Grace. What about Truth? Just what is this Truth? Let me share a progression of passages to elaborate. 

17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. John 17:17 NKJV 
According to the Lord Jesus Christ, Truth is the Word of God. Of course, we know Jesus is the Word made flesh. Jesus is the person of Grace. He is the Word manifest. This doesn't alter the fact that the Scriptures are also referred to as the truth. 

 If Truth is God's Word, what always accompanies the Word?
17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:17

 Why point out all these passages? Looking at John 1:17, I see the Lord revealing to us this New Covenant. Note He made a dividing line. He distinguishes Grace and Truth from the Mosaic Law. That means the Old Covenant was a Covenant established by Law and activated in the life of men by performance, effort, Law observance, and obedience. 

We see examples of His Grace and mercy and loving kindness throughout the Old because that is the Father's nature. However, the Old was not a Covenant of Grace. The Old consisted of men, through effort doing something and God responding.

 The New Covenant was established by Grace. It is a Covenant of Grace. It isn't a relationship rooted in our observance of all the rules and regulations. It isn't God blessing us because of our goodness or faithfulness but His Goodness and faithfulness. It isn't us finding favor by our achievements but us walking in divine favor because of Jesus's achievements. We are in a Covenant cut between the Father and the Son where we are the beneficiaries. 

 If the Old was established by Law and activated by personal efforts and works, then how is this New Covenant activated in our lives? Understand the Covenant has already been ratified by the Lord Jesus Christ. The only way to walk in the benefits is to receive it. How do we receive it? By faith. The New Covenant was established by Grace but is activated in our lives by Faith.

 Look at what Paul said about this Grace, here. Paul declared it clearly, we have access into Grace by faith. If we journey through all the Epistles we see this New Covenant emphasizing Faith and Grace. The two go hand in hand.

 Since faith comes by hearing the Word, and the Word is the Truth, Then could it be stated the Law came by Moses but Grace and Faith came by Jesus Christ? I don't see this adding to or taking away from the Scripture. 

 I believe this is a dimension of Grace we need to really explore. Because when faith has been taught in the past, it was always void of Grace. Often times faith has been about us doing things to ensure we were in faith. Grace and faith were meant to operate together.

Feelings, nothing more than a feeling...

  Look at religious tradition. They can't accept that we are righteous by faith alone. It needs to be accompanied by something outward. That is why we have seen a resurgence by some advocating a return to observance of Jewish customs and feast days. 

 It appeals to some because one's "righteousness" is easily observable. One can visibly see a person keeping a certain day or abiding by the ritualistic religiosity of men's tradition.  It's much easier and less messy when they see a believer at their lowest point, to simply dismiss them and write them off. 

 It's much more of a challenge to walk by faith. It is more difficult for our minds to agree with what the Word says about a believer in the face of their current behavior. God's Word declares they're righteous, they're accepted in the Beloved, that His Finished Work has made them holy once for all time.

 Grace is messy. Restoration is dirty work. It is getting down in the muck and the mire and saying to people God still loves you and you're precious in His sight. It takes faith to agree with and to declare what God said about that person. 

 Another area where feelings dominate is in our personal relationship with God. Do you recall when you first received Jesus? That moment when you felt brand new? That moment when you sensed the burden lift? Or when you received the Baptism in the Spirit? Often times throughout our walk with God we have a tendency to try and recapture those same emotions.

We base our spiritual development and maturity on the level of "passion" we presently possess. Some go so far as to question their very salvation because they don't always have the "excitement" they had the first few days of their salvation. We sing songs bemoaning our lack of zeal, crying out take me back dear Lord to the place where I first received you.

For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV

  Paul said on three occasions that the righteous live by faith. We don't walk by our senses. Our salvation isn't based on feelings. Our righteousness isn't rooted in our emotions. 

 We may not always feel righteous, or look righteous or sometimes act righteous but that doesn't alter what God's Word declared. It decreed we are the righteousness of God in Christ because we believed in Him and received His free gift. We are to place our complete trust, and confidence in that Word, not in fickle feelings. 

 What about a passionate walk? In reality, what most people call passion is more often than not merely a reference to some kind of feeling. Are you saved? Do you know you're forgiven and eternally secure? Do you know you are righteous in Him? Do you know He gave you His authority to accomplish His plan and purpose in your life? Do you know You're completely loved and accepted with Him? Does this make you thankful? Does this bring a rest and refreshing? Then relax you're already in a fruitful, exciting relationship with Father God. There is no need to try and drum up some feeling to convince yourself you're zealous for God.

 Please don't misunderstand me. God made us, He gave us emotions. They are wonderful. They are a great way to express ourselves in this present world. I am not advocating we abandon emotions. I am only saying don't let them lead you and dominate you. Instead be fully persuaded of what He says. 

 In summation, sometimes our emotions will agree with what God said about us but sometimes our feelings are fickle and they will disagree with what He said about us. Stay with what the Word says about us in those times. Sometimes religious tradition will not agree with what God said about us because they are focusing on the outward. Faith says, I know I may have messed up or blown it but I am still His beloved. I am still accepted, loved and the righteousness of God in Him. Abide in Grace and walk by faith. 
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Great Grace: Grace Works

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 are continuing our study of His great Grace. As of late, we have been examining the role of works in light of Grace and the Finished Work. What place do works have in this New Covenant?

Ditches, extremes, imbalance. 

 When it comes to works, two extremes sadly are all we really see. It is either Grace plus works equals reception of salvation, Divine favor, peace, wholeness and God's love. Or it is Grace means no work of any kind. Just do nothing. Even prayer or reading the Scriptures are self-effort or performance and legalism. 

 Grace is amazing. Grace is good news. It is the glad news that unworthy, lost, spiritually dead humanity has been offered a completely free gift of new life, acceptance, right standing, and peace. Grace doesn't need mankind to add to it to make it seem more appealing. 

 Frequently, I proclaim the good news that we are accepted by His work, not ours. We are blessed because He is faithful not because we are. We receive favor, peace and all other benefits of this redemption because He is good not because we are. This is the good news Gospel.

 So then what do we do with Paul, the Apostle of Grace words in Philippians?
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; Philippians 2:12 NKJV

This passage has been used to frighten saints that if they don't work right they will forfeit their salvation. That they will lose it if they aren't found faithful. That God will test them and see them wanting and their fruit not developed. He will then be so displeased He will toss them aside. Is this the right image? Is this what Paul is conveying?
 Certainly not! Remember Jesus words. He declared He would never cast us out. He said we are forever secure in His hands and the hands of the Father. This passage isn't about scaring the Saints into believing we will lose our salvation. In Him, we are eternally secure!

 What Paul didn't say is work for your salvation in fear and trembling. He didn't say work out someone else's salvation with fear. This is the nagging of a parent or spouse or friend, the doom, and gloom preaching with its pointed finger. We will never see fruit produced by scaring folk into right living or nagging them and constantly reminding them how much they are always missing it.

 Has Paul the Apostle of Grace abandoned the message of Grace in exchange of a mixed message of performance and achievement? Paul is consistent with his message throughout the Epistles. What then is he teaching?

 I would like you to read this passage in full context. That is the only way we can fully grasp what Paul is actually saying. Philippians 2:1-15.

In full context, what is evident? Paul is addressing our outward walk. It can't mean work to achieve the blessing or favor. It is also clear that he isn't saying work for your salvation or work to maintain it. He says work out your salvation. Clearly, if it's "your salvation" then you obviously possess it and there is no indication that it is in jeopardy to be lost. 

 Paul is telling us to be who we are in Christ. It is not a performance based relationship. Now, this may surprise you but this phrase "work out" in the Greek means to perform, to accomplish, to achieve. To do that in which something results. Now we can't change this definition. And we can't alter the Grace Gospel. So how does this fit?

 It may sound cliche, but this is the only way I can say it. It is to work out of you what has already been worked into you. This Grace has already been given. We have the very life and nature of God within us. We are perfectly remade, righteous and holy. In other words, cooperate with God and bear the fruit of this recreated heart. Now to do this we are going to have to give diligence. 

 This isn't performance and self-effort. This is being who He already made us. How then do we give all diligence to bear fruit? It is by devoting our time to renew our minds with His Word. It is by spending time in His presence in sweet communion and fulfilling fellowship via prayer and praise and worship and adoration of our good and loving Father. In a nutshell, it's changing our thinking from the fleshy way this World thinks and the wrong thinking inspired by the enemy. 

 I must emphasize, this is not the toiling, the striving, the "hamster wheel" burn out inducing self-efforts of religious duty. This is a relationship with our Father. His Grace produces an empowerment. Live in and operate out of this Grace. Spending time with the Father, reading His Word, choosing love over strife and bitterness, saying no to the flesh (that old thinking from our old nature), isn't burdensome nor is it legalistic bondage. It is the fruitful new life in Christ.

 A brief note about the phrase "with fear and trembling". Is Paul teaching we need to be fearful of God? Should we be living in insecurity? No this is reverential awe of a Holy God and King who so loved us He gave His own Son. It is honoring the free gift.

 In the Greek to tremble carries with it the idea of knowing the reality that, "If there is a way, I can and probably will screw this up, falter and fail. I can't do this on my own." This fear and trembling are a reverential honor of realizing our shortcomings and inability to save ourselves and putting all our trust and confidence in His faithfulness and keeping power. It is a holy awe of His Grace! Don't make light of Grace. Without Him, we could never overcome or produce any fruit, no matter the amount of discipline and diligence we possess and exercise. 

 In summation, Paul is wanting us to bear fruit so we can be a bright light to a Lost World. God wants us to be the light in a darkened World. This is why bearing fruit is so vital. God wants to reach the lost. As wicked as sometimes men are, God sees them as lost and desires for them to come and receive the free gift of Grace. So let's give all diligence to bearing the fruit we already have within so we can be a beacon of hope for this World.
image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Great Grace: "Religious Grace"

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 are continuing our study of His great Grace. Last week we began touching on the tender subject of Grace and works. You can read it here. While researching the delicate balance of Grace and works I made an observation that I sense needs to be addressed.

 Since the inception of this revelation, this revolution, this divine awakening, this reformation of Grace no sincere and fair minded believer can deny the impact it has had on the Body of Christ. Believers have reexamined their walk with God. Many reports of a fresh renewal and awakening of a personal relationship with God abound. Awareness of His Grace or the lack thereof is on the minds of believers.

In this environment, a response is necessary. Many embrace the revelation and reality of His great Grace. Some, sadly, distort and pervert Pure Grace with foolish philosophies like inclusionism or universal salvation. Still others, many in church hierarchies stubbornly reject Grace, preferring legalism and self-efforts and performance driven traditions. 

 Yet because of the immense impact and in some circles great excitement of Grace, traditional religion must have a response. They can't just preach against Grace. They can't just label it as heresy and move on. They don't want to isolate potential members to their churches. What is their solution?

Religious Grace

 They can't have that Radical Grace wreck all their traditions. They instead must adapt and rearrange wording to appear gracious. Let me give you an example to help illustrate this point.

 In days gone by, the Charismatic movement and Word of Faith message like a wave overtook the Body of Christ. I will admit there was some excess in Faith circles and Charismatic meetings. That said these were genuine moves of God. I learned about the operation of His Gifts in the Charismatic church. I discovered who I was in Christ, what I have in Him because of redemption, and the authority of the believer in Faith circles. I realized I could trust God and take Him at His Word.

 These moves became immensely influential in the Body of Christ as a whole. I observed over the years, their influence on some church groups and various denominations. For example, I saw many church groups began affirming who they were in Christ in their church meetings and Bible studies. Granted they didn't accept much of what Bro Kenneth E. Hagin or Frederick K.C. Price said but they sure liked the results of adopting some of the same practices in their meetings. 

 Presently, His great Grace is impacting the Church and the World alike. People are coming to receive the free gift of life in Christ. Believers are being freed from performance concepts and awakening to a sweet, life changing relationship with their Father. Not wanting to miss out traditional religion has now begun to adopt some of the language of Grace in their midst. 

 This is what I mean by religious Grace. You can see it on the signs outside their churches, they will place some hint of Grace in their wording. These are merely catchy slogans. They adopt the language of Grace but not the revelation and reality of Grace.

 The truth is religion cannot deny or do away with their  requirements and rituals. They may wear casual clothes, smile with perfect teeth and style hair, but don't be fooled. They still cling to their religious tradition. 

 They're easy to detect, just listen to them. 
"Yes we're righteous, but more importantly we must be living righteously."
"Righteousness is what He did, holiness is what we do."
"We're saved by grace but sanctified by the Law."
"Grace needs balance and boundaries."

 Another way to detect the pseudo grace folk is to see how they define Grace. When they begin to alter the definition of Grace from unearned, undeserved, unmerited favor to something else beware. They put emphasis on what Grace produces not what it is. 

 I've heard preachers discount and downright deny Grace is the unmerited favor of God. They try to define Grace as an ability gift, as divine enablement. What are they really doing?

 Religious Grace simply alters the definition and impact of Grace in favor of keeping their standards. Religion accepts a watered down version of Grace. They formulate a grace wherein all the rules, the regulations, the creeds, and the traditions of their particular church group are still intact and in effect. 

Religion expresses Grace this way; grace is great, we concede, but you need to still be observing this or practicing that. To them, Grace is merely an empowerment to observe and keep all the rules. It's not Grace that produces change and growth. It is your effort, your striving, your determination, and discipline. 

 Be aware. Don't accept a substitute for Radical Grace. See how Paul distinguish true Grace vs religious grace: 

And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. Romans 11:6 NKJV

And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved. Romans 11:6 NLT

 Grace is Grace, and works are works. Religious performance "grace" is not Grace at all. It is a mixture. Our Father isn't a harsh taskmaster driving us to produce fruit. Grace, the unearned and unmerited favor of God deposits fruit in our heart. Grace's divine influence produces new desires. It compels us through love to follow the good path of righteousness and peace. 

 In summation, embrace the pure Radical Grace of God. Don't accept substitutes. Don't follow a Grace mixed with men's standards, rules, rituals or regulations. Don't be misled by definitions of Grace that allow for the traditions and rituals of religion to stand alongside the free gift of Grace. If it's Grace, it is free, undeserved and impossible to achieve or earn. If you're hearing a message that says we can achieve more favor, blessing or peace by our doing more, working harder, performing better, realize you're not hearing pure Grace. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Great Grace: Understanding the exceeding greatness of His Grace

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

Continuing in our study of His great Grace, allow me to ask, just what is Grace? Do you truly understand His Grace? Have you grasped its greatness in the life of the Christian?

What is Grace?

 Many would respond with this definition. Grace is divine empowerment. It is God enabling you to do what He tells you to do. It is God giving you the ability to fulfill all His requirements and commands. 

 That is incorrect. That is not the definition of Grace. Grace produces an empowerment and an enablement. So that is what it does but that is not what it is. 

 Grace is His unmerited, unearned, undeserved favor and goodness and loving kindness. The divine influence upon the new creation heart of the believer produces an empowerment and enablement. To be clear this enablement isn't the Spirit within us, equipped with His Grace, empowering us to keep the Mosaic Law or the commandments of men. Divine enablement is there to fulfill the perfect plan and purpose of God for our lives.

 Grace reveals our perfect right standing with God. Because of His Grace and Finished Work we have been made perfectly acceptable to our Father. We are totally forgiven of all our sins, past present and future. We are completely secure in Him never fearing the loss of our salvation. As His children, we know God as Father and rest knowing He will never be angry or disappointed with us.

Grace is great but what about works? This is where contention is birthed. As men, like a pendulum, we swing back and forth pondering just what is our part to play? Exactly what is expected of us? Is it Grace plus works? Grace minus any works? What is the balance?

 I would like to give an illustration of divine Grace. Look at the life story of Team Hoyt, the father, and son athletic duo. Rick Hoyt was born with Cerebral Palsy and through the aid of modern medicine, he was able to communicate with his parents. In 1977, Rick told his father Dick that he wanted to participate in a 5 K benefit run for a Lacrosse player who was paralyzed in an accident. His father agreed and he pushed his son in a wheelchair, When the race was over Rick told his father being in the race was the first time he didn't feel disabled. Ever since then Team Hoyt has run in over a thousand races including marathons and triathlons.  
See the video here (grab a tissue, Grace is amazing), and their site here.

If you viewed the video, did you see how his father pushed him in the race? How he pulled him in the raft? That is the picture of us and Father God. He is carrying us through this life. He is pushing us in the race. He is pulling us in the raft over the waters. That is divine Grace. Us resting in Him, realizing without Him within us, moving upon us, gifting us, granting us His favor we could do nothing. 

 Sadly, the way some ministers preach and the words some believers say it seems that they, figuratively speaking, see themselves as the one pushing Jesus in the chair or pulling Him in the raft. Seems they are saying "Hey Jesus I got this. I can do this." "Jesus I will help you. I will accomplish this." 

 Then this opens the contentious debate about Grace vs Works. Do works have a place in the life of the believer? Is Radical Grace a do nothing Gospel? This is the challenge. I am confident that I haven't painted the Gospel of His Grace as a message advocating a lifestyle like the beatniks, hippies, or "deadbeats". That is the passive, anything goes, no standard, no fruit or growth type mindset. 

 That said, I also don't want to revert back to the struggling mindset so many have as Christians. The performance-based faith we were freed from. The achieve to receive, strive to arrive, fake it till you make it, earn it mantras have produced nothing but burn out, and religion not a relationship.

Look at 2 Peter 1, here. Take the time to read through these ten verses. The Grace vs Works argument centers on this one statement from Peter. 
...giving all diligence,...2 Peter 1:5 NKJV
 See it's right there. We need to give diligence. We need to work and strive and struggle. Certainly, I won't agree with that view. What Peter did say though doesn't change. He did state give all diligence. 

 What then did Peter mean? The word diligence here is speaking of earnest haste. Be quick to add to your faith. Peter's words aren't contrary to the Gospel. Those advocating a works-based relationship with God are omitting some important truths. 
 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 2 Peter 1:5 KJV
Peter says and besides this give all diligence. Besides what? Look at the context. 
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, 2 Peter 1:2 KJV
 The full context reveals because of the gift of righteousness and Jesus giving us His faith, and the Grace of God multiplied to us we have exceeding precious promises. These promises make us partakers of His divine nature. 

 What Peter is advocating is once the foundation of Grace is firmly established be quick to add to your faith. Be diligent to grow up in Him. Think of this though, where do we get the moral excellence, the self-control, the patience, the Godliness or piety, the love for the brethren and the World that Peter commands us to add to our faith? 

 This is why it is all by Grace. Without His fruit within us, without His guiding us, without His wisdom and instruction how can we achieve self-control or patience? That is the error some are ignorantly committed. They feel these attributes come because of our efforts, and spiritual disciplines. 
30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 1 Corinthians 1:30 NASB

 I submit to you they are already deposited into your spirit at salvation. We just need to be diligent to mature into who He says we are and who He made us already. Think of this, how much more fruitful would we be in holiness if we weren't so busy striving and struggling to achieve holiness and just realize He already made us holy in the Finished Work? If my foundation is holiness, then my maturity is in becoming more and more like I already am inward. 

 In summation, just how great is His Grace? It is above all we can even grasp. We can do nothing apart from Him. That is how exceeding it is. Is the Grace Gospel then discouraging works or efforts? It is only rightly dividing what works are. There is an effort that is divinely enabled and then there is self-effort wherein we strive to be what He has already made us. Want to mature? Add to your faith the attributes Peter reveals? Then begin renewing your mind to who you are in Him. Continually acknowledge who you are in Him and grow in this knowledge and fruit will bloom and overflow. 
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